Channel | Highlights

Meeting of the Minds

By: Sylvia Alarid

Born out of last year’s F&I Conference and Expo, the industry’s first agent-only conference promises to go where no other show has gone before.

In his Feb. 1, 2011, blog post, Gregory Arroyo, executive editor of F&I and Showroom magazine, used the term “The MEETING” to frame the industry’s first agent-only conference. But it was a meeting that took place last September during the magazine’s annual F&I Conference and Expo that was responsible for the creation of a new summit geared exclusively to agents.

Participating in that meeting were representatives of F&I and Showroom and Agent Entrepreneur, a new e-zine dedicated to the agent community. The Agent Summit’s eventual media partners discussed the possibility of coordinating a separate show that would provide a forum for agents to roll up their sleeves and dig into issues impacting their segment of the industry.

“I remember putting together workshop descriptions for last year’s Agent Symposium, the one-day event we put on before the F&I conference,” said Arroyo. “And while talking to one of the trainers we invited to the show to get some input, I was amazed to hear him describe how much life had changed for agents. He said the situation had created a training gap in the dealer world, because agencies were either folding or eliminating their training services.”

In many respects, agents became a forgotten segment during all the turmoil that struck the industry in the last few years. It’s one of the reasons why event organizers wanted to create an event that served to unite the agent community. Most importantly, the event had to provide a setting that would allow agents to really dig into the issues impacting their business.

“Think of this event as a closed-door meeting for agents, one where they’ll be able to learn, discuss, debate and, more importantly, to network,” said Adam Kimber, publisher of Agent Entrepreneur.

Rising From the Ashes

Between dealership closures and the credit crisis, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the agent community. The biggest threat to their livelihoods was the alleged policies some lenders issued during the downturn. Some sources either limited or prohibited advances on many of the F&I products agents delivered to dealers.

David Robertson, director of the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals, was at the center of the issue, as he, along with a group of agents, attempted to mount a legal response to these policies. He’ll be one of the featured speakers during a special panel that aims to address that very issue. Joining Robertson on the panel will be Stephen Amos, president of GSFSGroup; Bob Corbin, president and CEO of Innovative Aftermarket Systems; Johnny Garlich, president and CEO of Heart Dealer Financial Services; and David Mathews, president and CEO of United Car Care.

“That’s why this show is so unique,” said Arroyo, the panel’s moderator. “The agent community really needs a venue to discuss this issue. My hope is that a solution to this problem will begin to take shape by the time we’re done.”

The race between menu providers to electronically connect F&I product providers to dealers will also take center stage at the conference. For agents, the advent of e-contracting provided them with a new reporting tool that allowed them to peer deeper into the operations of their customers. The problem is dealer usage of e-contracting, e-remittance and e-rating solutions remains low.

Offering his thoughts on how menu providers can increase usage of these systems will be Steve Veldkamp, director of training for Great Lakes Companies. He will be joined by Dave Duncan, senior vice president of Safe-Guard Products International; Matt Nowicki, IT director for Innovative Aftermarket Systems; Brian Reed, CEO of Intersection Technologies; and David Trinder, CEO of F&I Administration Solutions.

Getting Back to Business

The Agent Summit’s advisory board made clear its desire for the summit’s agenda to take on a getting-back-to business tone — a request echoed by AE’s Kimber. Sitting in a packed room inside the Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino last year for the Agent Symposium, it was clear to him that agents were ready to get back to business.

“I could tell that agents were ready to get back in the saddle,” said Kimber. “However, because dealers were at the F&I conference, agents also needed to think about prospecting. And that’s the beauty of the new conference; agents will be able to focus on learning, not picking up new business.”

Setting the tone for the two-day event will be celebrated sales trainer Joe Verde, who will deliver a special keynote address titled, “Helping Your Dealers From Recovery to Growth.” Verde joins six other renowned trainers who will be leading the event’s educational workshops. The lineup includes George Angus of Team One Group; Luis Garcia, director of training for Safe-Guard Products International; Gerry Gould, director of training for United Development Systems; Rick McCormick, F&I magazine contributor and account manager for Reahard & Associates; John Vecchioni, director of F&I development at United Car Care; and Robert Harkins, compliance guru and president of RAH Consulting.

“The idea of bringing together the top trainers in the business was born out of last year’s F&I Conference and Expo, and it was well received,” Arroyo noted. “These seven individuals will address a host of issues, from developing training and compliance programs, to setting up the service department to drive F&I profits.”

Results of a new dealer study, conducted by Team One Group, will also be revealed at the conference during a special lunchtime presentation. The session will reveal key dealer insights on product needs, preferences on service contract offerings and chemical products, and dealer software and training needs.

Running an Agency

Staging an agent-only event also provided show organizers with the opportunity to delve into topics related to running an agency. Leading the way will be Randy Crisorio, president and CEO of United Development Systems. He will open up the second day of the Agent Summit with a special keynote address that will highlight the critical role agents and agencies play in the F&I distribution channel.

Crisorio will be followed by a panel that brings together five of the industry’s top agent executives, who will open up their playbooks on running a successful agency. Panelists include Christopher Blakely, president of Blakely Enterprises; David Griffiths, president of Profit Concepts; Gregg Lindo, senior vice president of Resources Management Group; Bob Loftus of Loftus and Associates; and Glen Tuscan, president of Dealer Commitment Services.

“The agencies these five individuals represent are highly successful, but we’re not asking them to simply share their theories and opinions on operating a successful agency,” Kimber said. “What we’ve asked them to do is share real-world ideas and processes that have produced tangible and measurable results.”

Keeping with that theme, event organizers have invited Tony Wanderon, the former president of Allstate Dealers Services, to lead a special lunchtime presentation on prepping one’s agency for sale. Wanderon, considered the industry’s GAP guru, will take attendees back to 1997, when he sold his former ERJ Insurance Group. Wanderon, a 24-year agent, administrator and insurance industry veteran, will talk about the steps he took to prepare his firm for sale, and the challenges and benefits of agent principals becoming employees rather than owners. He will also provide strategies on how agent principals can set up their companies to maximize their future market value.

Also invited to the conference is top reinsurance mind, Jim Smith. The chief executive officer for SouthwestRe will break down the different types of reinsurance offerings, and will provide attendees with a keen understanding of how reinsurance can bolster their firms’ value-added services.

“There were at least 20 great and timely topics that didn’t make the final cut,” Arroyo said. “Again, our advisory board did a solid job, and I’m confident we’re going to send some very motivated agents back into the field come Wednesday.”