So, my publisher wanted me to brag about Industry Summit 2012. Yes, we had more than 1,000 people and more than twice as many booths in the exhibit hall than last year, but I’m not the type of person to brag. It’s just not me. Besides, there’s an even bigger topic I need to address.
What I’d like to focus on is the mobile menu, or the “interactive tablet” menu, as Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS)’ Matt Nowicki asked me to call it. I did question his request, by the way. Heck, if you didn’t want your “tablet” menu to be mobile, why put it on a tablet? Well, it took a while, but I think I now understand.
As you’ll see in our post-show coverage, two of our conference’s panel sessions were dedicated to “interactive” menus. Serving as the moderator, I could practically see the thoughts and questions swirling in the heads of those in attendance. They couldn’t poke holes in our panelists’ mobile-menu pitches fast enough.
The main question audience members had was, why? The panel, which included executives from IAS, The Impact Group, OptionSoft, MaximTrak and iTapMenu, responded by saying their creations represented a natural evolution of the menu.
Attendees also quizzed menu makers about the process they built around the menu. They responded by saying their designs were meant to mesh with each dealership’s existing process. The only one to really promote the mobility of his tablet solution was McCool, who believes F&I managers should get out of their offices to present product. But the process he’s built does bring the customer back into the F&I office.
McCool also said that the F&I menu is long overdue for an update, which didn’t go over well with one panelist.
“The paper menu, you’re right, doesn’t really have a lot of gloss to it,” said Tom Wilson, dealership development manager for American Financial and Automotive Services and the only non-software maker on the panel. “But a lot of F&I managers, frankly, like that, because they don’t want it being the center of attention.”
Audience members also questioned whether the tablet menu would pave the way for the dreaded hybrid manager, where the duties of sales and F&I are combined. Menu makers said that’s not what they’re after. They also responded to questions about compliance, as audience members raised questions about payment packing and other regulatory issues.
My question is, how does the paper menu stop those things from happening? We know it doesn’t. Just like success depends on the talent of the producer, so does ethics and compliance. And that’s why I believe we’re arguing about the wrong thing when debating the tablet menu.
To me, the debate is really about paper vs. electronic, not about whether it’s time to move the F&I process into the showroom. Yes, I’m sure dealers will be tempted to do that with a mobile menu, but like I said, a paper menu doesn’t stop that from happening, either.
See, when I first joined the magazine seven years ago, I was told the hot technology in F&I was the electronic menu. As I was told, F&I managers simply turned their computer screens toward the customer before running through their presentations. I later learned that if it was happening, it wasn’t happening in every F&I office.
To me, the “interactive tablet” menu represents one of the missing links to the electronic menu. As The Impact Group’s Mark Thorpe and MaximTrak’s Jim Maxim, Jr., said, some of their dealer customers present their menus on a 50-inch flat screen. But with the mobile menu, you can add touchscreen capabilities, which is what solution’s like Reynolds & Reynolds’ docuPAD offers. It runs on a 32-inch touchscreen display that’s placed on the F&I manager’s desk.
And as we debate paper vs. electronic, you need to consider the features today’s electronic menu delivers, such as fuel savings calculators and connections to sites like Edmunds.com, which is what Thorpe’s Fusion menu offers.
You also have to keep in mind that the developers of these tablet solutions aren’t software geeks who know nothing about the realities of the F&I office. Heck, Thorpe and OptionSoft’s Nick Sennett both spent time in the F&I office, and McCool served as an agent before founding iTapMenu. Nowicki works for a company that doubles as an F&I product provider, while Maxim helped develop Maxim Automotive Group’s F&I training and development programs.So, these guys understand the dangers of unwinding more than three decades’ worth of best practices.
Is this debate over? Not by a long shot. But having discussions like the one we had at the conference is what progressive industries do. And I was proud to be a part of it.