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Thursday, December 28, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 35

The First DealerTrack Innovation Conference
and the
Annual “F & I” Management & Technology Conference
and Expo

So just after finishing up the JD Power Internet Roundtable 2.0, and SEMA in Vegas, it was just about time for this year’s F & I Management and Technology Conference and Expo in at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (of course), November 8th through November 10th, once again masterfully created and conducted by Sherb Brown, Group Publisher and Dave Gesualdo, Associate Publisher, of F & I Management and Technology Magazine. This year, the (5th or 6th annual, I lost track) F & I Conference was preceded by a brand new “Innovation Conference” conducted by the DealerTrack organization, which started on November 7th and went through the November 8th, dovetailing into the opening reception for the F & I Conference.

While I have to admit, I didn’t attend a lot of the Innovation Conference, it did look like a very noteworthy and informative event that Mark O’Neil, the CEO and founder of DealerTrack organized, with kick off night at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay that featured Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts band, and a keynote and special “meet and greet” with management guru and business coach, Tom Peters. Including seminars on “Improving Inventory Turn and Dealership Profits,” “Lead Management Best Practices,” “eContracting and eDocs,” and special presentation on trends and projections by Microsoft (who has newly targeted dealership management systems as a growth area for their business, watch out Reynolds & Reynolds and ADP Automotive), a lot of good information was packed into couple of days.

On a personal note, I first met Mark O’Neil, way back when Carmax was first establish as pilot concept by Circuit City, when it went under the stealth name of “Sharp Motors” (named after the then current Circuit City CEO, Richard Sharp). Mark was the very first operating officer brought in (under the then Circuit City President, Austin Ligon), to organize and lead that automotive groundbreaking industry endeavor (in Richmond Virginia, 1993). It should remembered that, before AutoNation, before United Auto Group, etc., Carmax was the first used car megastore founded as a subsidiary of a public company, Circuit City, and Mark was the first leader to pioneer and make a success of what until then, was simply a concept. So Mark’s success as an industry trailblazer was already confirmed many years before he, with a group of cooperative founding finance institutions, created DealerTrack a half a decade a go and grew it to its current industry leading and dominant position as the online “F & I” company for franchise automotive retailers. DealerTrack’s market share in online F & I is truly phenomenal, I think I read that it approaches close to 85%, and, as successful public company, Mark is now leading the company in many other growth areas, including service contract sales, dealer inventory management, online marketing initiatives, etc. Guys like Mark O’Neil make the rest of us kind of look like we have been standing still the last fifteen years or so…

Bobit Media's F & I Conference Gets Bigger and Better Every Year

Like many industry conferences (the CAR Conference, the Limousine and Chaeuffer Show, etc.), the Bobit Media folks pioneered this conference on the dealership Finance and Insurance side of the business, and, like most all Bobit endeavors, this show gets bigger and more better every successive run. Wednesday night kicked off the opening reception for the F & I Conference with a keynote presentation by William Bradshaw, the current National Automotive Dealer Association (NADA) Chairman, with a speech entitled, “Consumer Awareness of Financing is a Top Priority.” Given the thesis of Mr. Bradshow’s talk, as I emphasized last year in outlining this conference, it should be said that most car retailers really want to do the right thing for customers in financing and outfitting new and used vehicles, but there are a few bad apples that really has provoked massive disclosure general regulations in this direction. Now even dealers in good faith transactions are subject to sanctions if they don’t follow the letter, as well as spirit, of these regulations, which provokes the real underlying need for conferences like this annual F & I show, which is probably why it gains in popularity every year.

The following day of the F & I Conference kicked off with a keynote presentation by Mark O’Neil, with a presentation entitled, “Why F & I is Vital Today and will Grow Tomorrow.” In simple words, in the current U.S. environment where the average new car dealer loses money on every new car sale, “F & I” is vital to keep the doors open, there can be no stronger motivation than that fact, to my way of thinking… A second keynote, by Kevin Westfall, Senior Vice President of Sales, AutoNation, was entitled simply, “How We Learned to Comply” – belying the fact that the current regulatory environment in this area is extensive, enforced, and for an automotive retailer trying to do it right, sometimes a bit confusing.

Break out sessions throughout the day included presentation entitled: “Avoiding F & I Pitfalls for Maximum PRV,” “Dealer Management’s Responsibilities to the F & I Manager,” “”How a One-Person F & I Manager Can Keep Sane & Be Profitable in a Busy Dealership,” “F & I Compensation for Results,” and my personal favorite, “Why and How to Attract Women to Automobile Sales.”

In addition at lunch on the first day RouteOne announced the winners of the “Captive” (automotive manufacturer affiliated), and Non-Captive, Finance Company of the Year Awards. Dealers elected GMAC as the winner of the Captive Finance Company of the Year, and Wells Fargo Auto Finance as the winner of the Non-Captive Finance Company of the Year.

The first day closed with another networking reception, after a few full group presentations, one of the more topical being on sub-prime financing, entitled “Connecting with the Best Non-Prime Sources when Prime Source says ‘NO’.” Back when I was a dealer, very few new car retailers would bother with any particular focus on getting sub-prime folks bought, and I don’t remember one in my local network that went the Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH is dealer self finance for customers who can’t get auto financing any other way) route. Today, on the other hand, I hear any dealer that doesn’t have a specialized expertise in sub-prime is missing a big chunk of business, and more new car franchise dealers are creating their own BHPH finance companies. The world has created more good people with bad credit over the last decade or so, and, I think, this is the retailers way of recognizing it and getting more people in transportation.

The second day, Friday, November 10th, had more topical presentations and break out sessions, including a group presentation on how to create a good F & I Manager, “Recruiting, Training & Incentivizing an Ideal F & I Manager,” and another that dealt with the rapidly changing and every more efficient technology of the business, entitled “Automating F & I for Compliance, Profit & Efficiency.”

I have to admit, having spent many consecutive days there, even I had to leave Las Vegas eventually, and I cut out early on the program to head back East – this was my loss. But I especially look forward to coming back to Vegas for the Bobit crew’s Conference of Automotive Remarketing, February 28 – March 1, 2007, this year at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, when the cold winds blow in the East, this conference will be hot…

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