How is Fuse empowering dealerships and transforming the retail experience of car buying? What technology shifts are shaping the future of fintech in the automotive world?
And what is the secret behind Fuse’s Finance Management System?
These are just a few of the questions we asked Colton Ray, CEO of Fuse.
Colton has been working in the automotive industry for over 20 years. In 2001, he made his start as a detail and lot technician at Wayzata Nissan. After working his way up to become New Car Sales Manager at Nissan, he joined Walser Automotive Group in 2017, where he held senior positions in sales and marketing before being promoted to Chief Merchandising Officer in 2019.
Colton joined Fuse in early 2021 as CEO and focuses his attention on enabling dealerships to convert more deals with higher margins while improving the overall customer experience.
In our recent sit down, Colton discusses industry expectations for 2022, how dealerships can provide a more streamlined digital retail experience, and how dealerships will benefit from the Fuse platform.
First of all, how did you get here?
My career started in dealerships. I spent 20 years working in automotive retail and had a front row seat to the car buying experience.
Perks of being the desk manager, right?
Fast forward a few years, and I started witnessing the rise of new technology. Thanks to the internet and the accessibility of information, our customers became more educated buyers. They had more options in the marketplace. As a result, they started looking at dealerships differently.
Differently? How So?
Well, it’s no secret that consumers are pretty disenchanted with dealerships right now.
Surveys show 61% of Americans feel like they’re being taken advantage of at a car dealership. 34% of millennials would rather wait in line at the DMV than visit a dealership. 26% would rather do their taxes.
Here’s something even more extreme: 1 in 4 Generation X Americans claimed they’d rather get a root canal than negotiate with a car dealer.
But the worst part is, only 44% of people buying cars from dealerships are happy with their purchase.
So what does this mean for dealerships?
We’re clearly at an inflection point for dealerships.
In my opinion, traditional dealerships are at risk of extinction if they don’t focus on speed of transaction and inventory turnover.
Over time, they’ll get increasingly less allocation. And as we know, this problem has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the ongoing shortages plaguing vehicle production.
Conversely, the dealerships that have a fast, easy, and repeatable transaction model will win the day.
Ultimately, it’s a war of old and new school paradigms.
Do you think the “old school” dealerships will want to evolve?
I’m confident many will. It’s more a matter of when than if.
The more progressive dealerships will adapt first — if they haven’t already. We’re seeing a lot of that right now. It’s exciting.
Over time, the traditional dealerships will find that if they cling to their legacy systems and processes, they’ll risk the future of their business. Their client bases are simply going to shrink.
On a fundamental level, the difference is clear: do you want to reduce your average vehicle transaction time to 30 minutes? Or, do you want to maintain the status quo where customers spend 3+ hours — or sometimes an entire Saturday — at the dealership doing paperwork?
I’ll just say this: I’d personally never go back to that style of selling.
What fintech themes are at play in 2022? And where does Fuse stand in all of it?
From a 30,000 foot perspective, there are three key elements coalescing: customer experience, automation, and collaboration.
Fuse is standing right in the middle of that triumvirate, and we’re really excited about it.
Customer experience is our guiding light — it always has been — and we believe that automation, AI, and business intelligence are the primary ways to enhance it.
What makes automation so essential?
Automation is a game changer for two key reasons.
For starters, it allows us to speed up the purchasing process. In fact, Fuse can complete the purchase process in as little as 15 minutes with our 100% automated credit decisioning and proprietary digital documentation process.
That’s a big one.
The second thing is that automation enables us to immediately provide multiple finance repayment options. It’s like using Priceline, Kayak, or Expedia — exclusively for cars.
You mentioned collaboration. How does that factor in?
Collaboration is the connection between customer experience and automation. It unifies these disparate silos.
When you boil it down, we’re digitally transforming the car financing journey.
There’s a revolutionary component here, and Fuse is the connective tissue that facilitates end-to-end collaboration from start to finish.
But let’s be real. Technology itself doesn’t solve any problems unless it’s deployed in the right way.
In order to consistently fulfill our mission, we will continue partnering with financial institutions and promoting seamless connectivity with legacy dealership software.
So where does Fuse stand between Fintech and Retail Tech?
At Fuse, fintech and retail tech are colliding in some seriously exciting ways.
For one thing, we employ cutting-edge retail technology that transforms the in-store and online customer experience.
And while other products and vendors may prioritize lead generation, we’re singularly focused on connecting legacy systems to the Fuse platform. In other words, we’re creating an effortlessly repeatable process that allows customers to purchase vehicles within a single-screen experience.
On the fintech side, our platform is built to assess and automate credit application submissions and connect customers directly with lenders.
Practically speaking, customers can receive multiple real-time lending decisions, sign actual retail installment contracts, and complete the entire transaction in under 30 minutes.
Fuse, therefore, is both fintech and retail tech. It’s a hybrid.
To put it another way, our retail tech digitally transforms the buyer experience — whether online or in-store — in a single-screen experience. Then, our fintech side empowers customers to complete the entire vehicle transaction within that single screen.
What do dealerships find most appealing in Fuse?
Most dealerships are in pursuit of a common goal: to reduce the time to complete a transaction while simultaneously increasing profitability.
No one wants customers sitting around — especially right now. The more customers dealerships can move through their store, the more money they make.
That’s the ultimate goal.
Fuse helps advance that goal by blending business process workflows with a fully-automated credit decision and proprietary digital documentation process.
This reduces transaction times, increases profitability, and enhances ease of doing business (for both the dealership and the consumer).
Can you talk a little bit about the FMS — “Finance Management System”?
We always joke about this — as if we need another acronym in this industry.
I mean, there’s CRM, DMS, CPO, VDP, PVR…the list goes on.
But here’s the important thing: the acronyms aren’t the problems. It’s the systems that are holding dealerships back.
For example, guess how many passwords it takes for a dealer employee to complete one vehicle transaction.
At least 15. The average sales manager needs 15 unique passwords to access all of the systems they use to sell a car.
I can’t even remember my Netflix password.
Right? Imagine the countless hours wasted on logging into these systems — let alone the time lost when employees forget or misplace the actual usernames and passwords.
For years, we’ve been saying there’s a missing component for dealerships. There’s no connectivity — no glue — nothing that bridges the gaps between all of the relevant finance and accounting legacy systems.
That’s really why we built the Fuse system: to unite those disparate elements into what we call the FMS, the Finance Management System.
The FMS essentially connects inventory syndication and our payment engine to the DMS, so applications can be sent through RouteOne and Dealertrack and deliver instantaneous decisions.
It’s not only fast. It’s easily replicable, so anybody and everybody can step into a dealership and sell cars more efficiently.
It’s how Fuse helps dealers go from ‘hello’ to signatures in under an hour.