There’s often a logical explanation for why a dealership customer must wait to see the finance and insurance manager to complete the car purchase.

On busy days, the F&I office can get backed up. “And good F&I managers will tell you they need at least 15 to 20 minutes to prepare a presentation, get forms ready and become familiar with what’s going on,” says Ron Lamb, president of information-technology provider Reynolds & Reynolds.

Whatever the reason, most customers dislike the wait. They consider it wasted time. That’s manifested in low customer-satisfaction scoring.

“They’re looking at their watch,” says Lamb who proposes they look at something more engaging. “There’s an opportunity here in that dead time to provide a tool to allow customers to do some Amazon.com-type accessory shopping.”

He’s referring to a Reynolds touch-screen product called AddOnAuto, an enhanced digital accessories configurator. It shows customers what their car will look like with any number of accessories, including window tint, custom paint, interior illumination, body-side molding and exhaust-pipe upgrades.

Its software is compatible with assorted computer devices, such as tablets and PCs.

“People have a hoot using it,” Lamb says. “They don’t feel they’re wasting their time. The wait to get into the F&I office goes poof, just like that”

Moreover, they’re primed to buy accessories. The F&I manager can take it from there, using AddOnAuto to convert the digital shopping into a purchase.

Automotive accessories are a $40 billion business, but dealerships aren’t a big part of it.

“The reality is that only 5% of the accessory revenue goes to dealers,” Lamb says.

The rest goes to independent aftermarket shops and suppliers, with most purchases taking place within the first 90 days of ownership.

Six out of 10 consumers who purchase accessories for their vehicle spend at least $1,500 on them, according to a Reynolds’ trend report.

“In Texas, you see people driving around in accessorized vehicles, and it looks like the accessories cost more than the vehicle. So there’s a real opportunity for dealers,” Lamb says.

Buying accessories from a dealership makes more financial sense for the customer because the store can meld the costs into vehicle monthly payments, says Jon Strawsburg, Reynolds vice president-product planning,

“There’s a financial benefit to consumers in that they don’t go down the street and put $1,600 in accessories on a credit card with an 18% revolving interest rate. It fits it into the entire purchase.”

Why don’t dealers sell more accessories? Reasons vary.

Because of the high number of accessory products and providers, it’s hard to keep track of them all without the type of software AddOnAuto offers, Lamb says. “Otherwise, you cannot make sense of all that and consistently present it to a customer.”

Another reason for overall weak dealership accessory sales is that the goods sometimes are overpriced. That can occur when various dealership departments assess their individual charges.

“Every involved department gets a cut,” Strawsburg says. “It gets overpriced. What should be a $1,200 step-side bumper becomes a $3,000 step-side bumper that can’t be sold.”

Reynolds touts AddOnAuto as the dealership-management system of accessories.

“It is difficult for dealers to get into the accessory business on their own, develop supplier relationships, the ordering channels, credit, all of it,” Strawburg says. “Our pitch is we simplify it.

“It makes it possible to have a huge selection you can really sell. The management of the supply is the secret sauce.”

Mechanical engineer Sidney Haider founded AddOnAuto. Reynolds purchased the software system, further developed it and put it on a platform.

It’s a tough sale if a dealership customer doesn’t know what accessories are available, says Haider, now a Reynolds vice president.

“The customer has to be aware of the product for you to sell it to them,” he says. “Their interest typically is focused on the vehicle, not necessarily the accessories. So it’s up to the dealership to let them know what’s available, so they can make that car their (customized) car.”

Accessory-Sales Best Practices

Besides providing an engaging presentation and taking advantage of wait time,

Reynolds recommends these accessory-sales best practices:

  • Assign a champion to monitor all aspects of the business.
  • Ease the financial pain by calculating enhancements into overall financing and monthly payments, while also providing the upfront price.
  • Ensure sales, financing and the installation process are seamlessly coordinated across the entire dealership, facilitating the efforts of everyone involved.

Lamb encourages dealerships to establish accessories as a new profit center, along with sales, service and F&I.

“You train on how to sell accessories, establish new pay plans and new profitability by department,” he says. “You literally set it up as a new business, and once you do, it works really well.”

He notes vehicle sales are expected to reach nearly 17 million units this year, but then start tapering off.

“We’re trying to make dealers aware that, as much fun as this is now in good times, we’re coming to a point where there are not going to be 10% more people coming in for a new car each year,” Lamb says. “It may only be 1% or 2% or 0%. So how do you increase your profits on throughput? Accessories represent an opportunity.”

The Most Popular Accessories

Reynolds tracks accessory trends and reports them on a periodic basis. Here’s data from the latest report:

  • The top three categories in factory-exterior items are protection products, such as splash guards, door-edge guards and bumper protectors.
  • By a wide margin, exhaust upgrades are No.1 on the list of factory performance accessories. That’s followed by superchargers and air intakes.
  • Floor mats continue to dominate across all U.S. regions, except for the South, where window tint takes the top spot.
  • Toyota handily is the most popular brand to accessorize, followed by Honda, Ford, Acura, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Ram, Scion and Jeep.
  • The most popular vehicles to accessorize are the Toyota Camry sedan, Honda CR-V cross/utility vehicle and Ford F-150 pickup truck.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com