Late last year, when the publishers of this magazine approached me with an idea for a springtime training event, I was pretty excited. Dealer Summit was scheduled to start on May 3, and they wanted to kick it off with F&I Think Tank, an all-day, pre-conference event designed by and for F&I managers and directors at the top of our profession.
I was all ears, and the chance to take a business trip to the beautiful city of Tampa sealed the deal. Nothing like some Florida sunshine, a few cigars, and some friends to enjoy them with, all the while gathering some new knowledge. Just like you, I’m always looking to sharpen every tool in my kit.
The exchange of emails and telephone calls from everyone involved began revealing something great was in the works. We had no trouble signing up some of the industry’s best and brightest producers and top trainers to serve as speakers and panel moderators. As for topics, all the usual suspects — including objection-handling, closing techniques and compliance news — would have a place at the table, but the organizers were looking for a fresh approach that would enhance the experience for attendees. The organizers encouraged speakers and panel moderators to engage the audience in their presentations by inviting open participation.
The end result was perhaps the best and most informative show I’ve attended. The room quickly came alive with audience questions and comments directed not only at the podium but also toward each other. By the end of the day, discussion flowed so freely and spontaneously that the presenters rarely reached the end of their prepared remarks. While this may sound a little chaotic, it was anything but. I was approached by many people who were attending a training event for the first time. Without exception, they praised the format and free-flowing participation.
Our opening keynote speaker was Charlie Robinson of Resource Automotive. He recounted a brief history of where we’ve come from in F&I and where we’re likely headed. His vast experience as an industry leader and smooth, confident speaker was evident.
Among the more notable speakers of the day was G.P. Anderson of Thielen Motors in Park Rapids, Minn. His presentation, “Entering the House of Happiness,” was world-class. Recalling his time spent with reformed con artist Frank “Catch Me If You Can” Abagnale as a first-class communicator was spot-on. G.P.’s audience was spellbound. I’ve spent hours with him, and I can tell you he’s as genuine as they come.
The schedule was so power-packed with talent that we even had a lunch speaker in Demetrios Lahiri from American Financial & Automotive Services (AFAS). He took the podium to tackle the subject of deal management in F&I — specifically, how to ensure we get as many positive callbacks as possible by getting on the phones, rehashing marginal deals and submitting complete packets the first time, every time.
Lahiri was followed by an all-star trainers panel moderated by Robert Harkins of American Guardian Warranty Services and staffed by Luis Garcia of Avid Insurance, Gerry Gould of United Development Systems (UDS), and Rick McCormick from Reahard & Associates. This trio fielded some of the toughest questions from the audience I’ve ever heard. Glad I wasn’t on that panel.
No offense to Bob and his team, but I was even more excited about the next session. Dina Wilson, F&I director at Timbrook Automotive Group and former F&Idol award winner, led veteran F&I pros Diane Uzelac, Angela Barrett, and Teasha McMillion in a riveting panel discussion about the challenges women face in a male-dominated industry.
The schedule concluded with a panel comprised of some of the biggest compliance experts in the business, including Tom Hudson, James Ganther and David Robertson. One of the most enlightening speakers was Jane Vaden Thacher. She is the dealer principal of Vaden Automotive Group in Savannah, Ga. In a bold move, she shared the nine-store group’s complete 2015 numbers, including the organization’s net F&I profit per vehicle retailed of $1,712. The amazing thing about this group is that the average FICO score is less than 600. That is a huge task!
Based on the success of F&I Think Tank, I’m certain the planning team has got some pretty exciting things in store for next year, so stay tuned. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room on this page to write about everything we experienced, but I’m certain the editor will fill you in on some other stuff, so start making your plans for next year’s F&I Think Tank.
Until then, good luck and keep closing!