DEERFIELD BEACH, FL - The sign outside the JM&A Group conference center sets the tone for the intense training sessions that go on inside:

"THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO PREPARE FOR IT."

F&I providers offer training and re-training sessions to dealer personnel, and dealers rate JM&A's as among the best for improving its students' performance in the intricate F&I selling process.

"The advanced courses for F&I managers are especially valuable, because the JM&A trainers keep them from getting stale by reminding them of best practices in presenting services and products," says Fred Ricart, co-owner of Ricart Ford, Columbus, OH, No.1 dealer on the 1998 Ward's Dealer Business Top 500.

Televised role-playing is one of the main keys used by JM&A to involve F&I students in learning and presenting the "menu" of items as effectively as possible.

While the TV classroom technique is nothing new, JM&A has expanded its use throughout the training process and is dedicating four 31 by 29 foot rooms to televised role playing in a new conference center opening this fall on the JM Family Enterprises main campus in Deerfield Beach.

"We are expanding our commitment to the potential F&I role as a profits producer for dealers in the 2000s. We plan to grow as a provider and trainer for dealers in all brands," says JM&A Group performance development center director Bruce Foster.

In reaching out to dealers beyond the Toyota and Lexus brand roots of JM Family's Southeast Toyota distributorship, JM&A has conducted training sessions within dealerships, such as Ricart Ford, and at hotels near dealerships, as was done in August for the Tom Kelley group based in Fort Wayne, IN, and for Autoland of New Jersey in Newark, NJ.

But a one-week "advanced" session in the old conference center on JM&A's campus elicited from the nine attendees a level of interface not often seen in sessions presented at home.

Trainer Justina Vignari ran the session.

She says, "With a small group we can engage all the students more in fine-tuning their presentations and mastering the do's and don'ts of each item on the menu. The students by week's end have covered a lot more ground and for the most part can go back to their stores as better-equipped F&I managers."

As the week went on, Ms. Vignari had written no less than 26 "broad sheets," which she put on display around the conference room.

Ms. Vignari honed her F&I skills as a business manager at Ed Morse and Maroone dealerships in the Fort Lauderdale area.

She joins students in critiquing videos of presentations and warns repeatedly against "gamesmanship" and "trickery" in F&I selling.

She tells participants, "Your dealership is counting on you to give your customers what they want, asking them questions and giving them straight answers.

"The best F&I managers repeat the same presentations every time. They don't change their presentations for a particular product.

"If customers like you and the way you are presenting the products, they will be more tempted to buy the service contract or the GAP insurance or the credit and disability coverage. People opt to buy if they are convinced the product is something they need."

Joining in the training portion is JM&A retail training supervisor Peter Chafetz, who details why F&I is so lucrative compared to new-unit sales.

Front-end grosses of $800 yield an average loss of $69 after costs on a new car and an average profit of $640 on an F&I sale, he tells the students.

"Customers dislike coming to dealerships because often they found F&I managers tap dancing around rates or telling them things were covered in service contracts when they weren't," Mr. Chafetz says.

"Don't do those things and you'll find you're better off, because the customers will appreciate the truth and become more amenable to buying what you have to sell."

Participant Jeronimo "Chief" Meija, of Stuart, FL, says JM&A is "very receptive to F&I managers' proposals for product changes and improvements."

Mr. Meija, business manager for Stuart Mitsubishi-Volkswagen-Jeep, cites a new JM&A lease vehicle "wear-and-tear" insurance package with an added protection for 1,000 miles driven beyond contract limits.

Ms. Vignari says F&I sellers must stay non-confrontational.

She explains, "The old days of slam-and-jam in F&I are gone. That's why women in particular have turned away from visiting dealerships. They've just bought a new car or truck and are in a good mood. F&I should be an extension of the good-feeling process."

Participant Elaine O'Bryan of San Swope Mitsubishi, Louisville, KY, says, "There are a lot of things F&I offers that women customers could need, such as maintenance and roadside coverage and credit life or disability insurance.

"There's no point in being adversarial."

Dwayne Robinson of Michael Jordan's RPM Nissan, Durham, NC, found that frequent role-playing during the week "was a real learning experience for me in how to present things. It's a better way to do the job."

Other students include Steve Moore, Jr., Chuck Dean Oldsmobile, Birmingham, AL; Dean Coleman, Slone Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Clarksville, IN; Tim Murphy, Lehman Suzuki-Subaru-Isuzu, Miami; Mark Piburn, Lakeland Toyota, Lakeland, FL; Greg Pereiro, Saturn of Louisville, KY, and Steve Stroud, Swope Pontiac-GMC, Louisville.