Reynolds & Reynolds was pretty sure it was on to something when it debuted a new product, docuPAD, four years ago.

The dealership information technology provider touted it as a new way to sell F&I products and transact business by using a supersized interactive touchscreen computer tablet that lies flat on a desk right in front of the customer.

It allows customers to go through product menus and watch related videos with the F&I manager guiding, not controlling, the process. It also allows for digital  financing and a paperless completion of purchase and lease documents. (Customers get a thumb drive rather than a stack of paperwork.) 

The feeling at Reynolds’ Dayton, OH, headquarters on the eve of docuPAD’s 2013 product launch was that the market would welcome it. Market research indicated the same thing although, as business history shows, unpleasant surprises can occur when market-research predictions meet the real market.

Turns out, the company optimism and the predictive market research for the 45-in. x 29-in. x 1-in. (114-cm x 74-cm x 2.5-cm) device were spot-on: docuPAD was a hit. And it still is.      

“It’s clearly one of our flagship products,” says Kasi Edwards, Reynolds’ vice president-marketing. “It’s an incredible solution.”

The “solution” aims to address a long-standing problem for the dealership F&I office. It’s a vital profit center, yet many customers do not particularly enjoy the F&I process. Surveys indicate some customers loathe going into the F&I “box” to get pitched aftermarket products and protection services for their newly purchased vehicle.

The docuPAD system is designed to alter the process by making it easier on customers, engage them and spur their interest. For the dealer, it offers the opportunity to make more money in part on the premise that people who are at ease and become familiar with a product are more likely to buy it.       

New functionalities beyond the presentation of F&I products include A-to-Z electronic-workflow capabilities that eliminate paperwork, avoid document-related goofs and expedite the complicated and compliance-demanding process of buying a car.

“In the last year, docuPAD has become the standard of the industry,” says Jonathan Strawsburg, Reynolds vice president-product planning. “It now has high name recognition. It’s starting to have a material impact on the industry.”

About 1.2 million deals were done on the system last year. “We expect that to be higher this year,” Strawsburg says.

Adds Reynolds President Ron Lamb: “The No.1 thing that gets dealers’ attention is making more money, and docuPAD has lived up to the billing. It’s a home run.”

Use is widespread. A docuPAD at a dealership near a Navajo reservation uses the Navajo language. Elsewhere in U.S. ethnic enclaves, docuPAD uses Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese and Korean.

Its success is a case of high technology meeting human psychology.

Anthony Patterson, vice president-operations for the 13-franchise Patterson Auto Group in Wichita Falls, TX, tells WardsAuto he uses it to alleviate customers’ boxed-in perceptions during the F&I process. 

Dealers can customize their own docuPAD videos or choose from a library of them Reynolds offers. Videos range from explaining the value of products to dealers introducing themselves. Florida megadealer Larry Morgan does that: In his video message to customers, he even provides his mobile phone number, telling them, “If you ever need me, call me.” Some have.

Dealers can tailor presentations for individual customers and highlight what they are interested in.

The use of docuPAD allows consumers to take some control of the process, but not all of it, says Tom Schwartz, Reynolds’ communication director. “The trick is, F&I managers don’t lose control. They still oversee the thing. But consumers drive part of it, and that goes a long way in raising comfort levels.”

In such a nontraditional approach, “F&I is not being done to you,” Lamb says. “You are educating yourself. Consumers don’t want slick presentations anymore. They want to be properly informed.”

Even the best F&I operations have their share of customers who walk in, cross their arms and say, “I’m not buying anything.” But Lamb says docuPAD disarms them.   

“Because that presentation is so engaging, inside of about 60 seconds, they start leaning forward,” he says. “They get engaged. We’ve tapped into the psychographics of how consumers think. They pick up the stylus and push the buttons, and all of a sudden, it takes care of itself.”

Lamb tells of a dealer visiting the Reynolds exhibit area on the floor of the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in January.

“He said, ‘I’m here to see docuPAD.’ I asked why. He said, ‘I have no idea, but a dealer buddy said I’m an idiot for not having it.’”

Consumer-behavior research during the docuPAD product development included determining the device’s optimal size and how close it should bring the F&I manager and consumer.

Some automakers – notably Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz – are urging their dealers to use handheld computer tablets to move the sales and F&I process along.

But Lamb points out a certain shortcoming with such standard-sized devices.

“One of the things we hear a lot is, ‘I need an iPad in F&I,’” he says. “But here’s the problem with jointly using an iPad. It can bring people too close to each other. It runs the risk of invading the customers’ space when a dealership person is leaning in on someone who may be a stranger. We’ve done a lot of research on this.”

In the right hands, docuPAD “can make a great F&I manager phenomenal,” Lamb says.

Can it make a bad F&I manager good? “It will force everyone to be at least average,” he says.

Reynolds recently launched a new offering, docuPAD Utilization Report. It gives dealers an analysis of how F&I managers are using the system, how effectively they’re showing products and how much money they’re making. Many dealers use the reports as a training tool, Schwartz says.

While docuPAD is a runaway hit, Reynolds has faced a challenge or two in selling its all-encompassing Retail Management System, which takes dealership-management systems to a new level.

It is an end-to-end network that features integrated e-workflow software affecting all dealership departments. It was introduced in 2014 and has undergone a series of enhancements since then.

“It is hitting its stride (in the marketplace),” Lamb says. “It took five years to get the underlying architecture built by a lot of really smart people. It fundamentally changes the way a dealership is run. ”

Edwards calls it a single-system alternative to “spaghetti systems all over the place.”

Dealers individually can purchase RMS’s 11 different functionalities or buy the whole thing.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the customer experience end to end,” Lamb says. “It is music to my ears when dealers come in and say, ‘I want to buy it all.’”

At its Dayton headquarters, Reynolds’ built a mock dealership of the future to demonstrate and highlight the interconnectivity of RMS.

“The problem when we first introduced RMS was that we were explaining and showing it the way we did the DMS,” Lamb says. “I said to the team, ‘How can we demonstrate this system that provides a Disney-like customer experience if we’re handcuffed to the old way we used to do it? So we said, ‘Let’s build the dealership of the future.’ And we did.”     

sfinlay@wardsauto.com