The same question seems to pop up every year: Are F&I’s days numbered? It was most recently posed to three dealer panelists in June at the National Automotive Finance Association’s annual conference.

I have to admit, I rolled my eyes when the question was uttered. I mean, last I heard, F&I departments are being relied on in a big way because of the beating margins are taking these days. I think the real question should be: Will there be a day when traditional salespeople are no longer needed?

I mean, who better to handle a deal from the time the customer sets foot on the dealership to the time of delivery? If you say it’s a salesperson, then maybe you haven’t been paying attention to our e-newsletter. Compliance is huge right now. Heck, we’re staring down the barrel of another regulatory shakeup, and financial reform legislation is the flavor of the month. Are F&I’s days numbered? Give me a break.

Now, if you were to ask me if there might be a day when F&I managers might need to expand their role, then I might have a different take. Your customers are already choosing the Internet over your dealership’s lot to shop inventory. So, again, are the days of the traditional salesperson numbered?

Am I going too far? Maybe. But I guess my opinion was born out of something I heard Kevin Westfall, an F&I and sales executive for AutoNation, say at the Vehicle Finance Conference back in February. With lenders considering the elimination of dealer participation, he said, his dealer group has moved away from being rate sellers to product sellers.

“Our products are designed to get people back [into the dealership],” said Westfall — who, by the way, will be a featured keynote speaker at our F&I Conference and Expo this year. It’s scheduled for Sept. 14-15 at the Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino.

Speaking of our conference, I have a couple of things I wanted to relay to you. When I heard Westfall talk about the importance of F&I, it got me thinking. How could I help dealers improve their chances in F&I? I could write stories that remind lenders that all the positives they’re touting these days have yet to reach dealers. I think I’ve done that, but what else?

Then it came to me. Why not transform this year’s conference into a two-day training summit? Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing. See, we’re bringing together some of the most recognized trainers in the business to lead more than 30 sessions on F&I sales techniques, deal structuring and more.

Listen, I know training budgets are tight these days, so I’m hoping you’ll see the benefit of what we’re doing. Heck, the advisory board we created pushed for it. In fact, they were the ones who helped guide us in developing this year’s agenda.

Because I only have about 700 words to play with here, I wanted to point out one other thing about this year’s agenda. We’re staging a panel discussion that will address that all-important question: What makes for an effective menu?

In my years here at the magazine, I have heard so many takes on what makes for a good menu. What I’ve come to believe is this: What’s effective really comes down your personal sales style. Unfortunately, what’s right for the dealership as a whole draws in a host of other questions, which is what the panel will discuss.

And I have to tell you, I’m expecting fireworks out of this panel. Serving as the moderator is Rick McCormick, a senior training consultant with Reahard and Associates — a training outfit which helped in the development of The Impact Group’s Fusion menu.

We also have “Mad” Marv Eleazer, an F&I pro from Valdosta, Ga. He believes that selling value is more important than having some snazzy menu, which is why he employs an Excel spreadsheet for his menu.

Then there’s Team One Group’s George Angus. His against-the-grain theory is that the “good-better-best”  approach doesn’t play well with the consumer psyche. He believes a menu that looks like a disclosure form is the best way to go.

Ron Martin will also be there to offer his two cents. I don’t think I need to tell you who he is, but these days, the celebrated trainer is focused on his software company, VisionMenu Inc. Joining him is Jim Maxim Jr. of Maxim Automotive and Patrick DeMarco, president of Ristken Software Services.

Now you know why I’m excited about this year’s show. By the way, I’m accepting nominations for our F&I Dealer of the Year award, which will be handed out at the show. E-mail me ([email protected]) or check out our Website,, for the form. You have until July 26 to get it back to me.