On May 9, agents, agent principals, executives and trainers convened at the Venetian Palazzo in Las Vegas for Agent Summit 2016. The event, which attracted about 1,000 industry professionals, included more than two full days of educational sessions, networking breaks, meals and receptions.
As in years past, the agenda was built upon the agency and dealer development sessions the event has become known for. Many of those workshops and panel discussions will be covered in detail in upcoming issues of this magazine. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the speakers, sessions and networking opportunities that were unique to this year’s show and left a lasting impression on attendees.
Agent Principals Only Breakfast & Roundtable
Last year’s Agent Summit included the first Agent Principals Only session in the event’s brief history. It was such a big hit, organizers decided to expand its time slot and move it to the very beginning of the agenda.
The Agent Principals Only Breakfast & Roundtable began at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, May 9, with a half-hour breakfast. Agent principals in attendance were seated with owners of other agencies of like size and encouraged to discuss common opportunities and challenges.
Mike Godin, owner of Godin Dealer Services in Albuquerque, N.M., had one complaint about the breakfast: It wasn’t long enough. As the owner of a small agency, he says he attends Agent Summit to pick up new strategies for business development and values the opportunity to spend meaningful time with his peers.
“In an open forum like that, you tend to get two or three people who ask questions of the advisers up there, and sometimes it seems that it mostly applies to what the larger agencies are doing,” Godin says. “So sitting around a table with other agents and agencies of like size, to me, proved more beneficial.”
The breakfast was followed “From the Box to the Brand Sign, a 47-Year Journey,” a rousing address from V. Andy Gill, who began his automotive industry career in 1969 as one of the country’s first F&I managers. Gill would go on to form an agency, buy and sell three new-car dealerships, and, last year, join a mergers and acquisitions firm. Along the way, he has collected a lifetime of stories, many of which he shared with the Agent Summit crowd.
The Agent Principals Only portion of the agenda concluded with a panel comprised of Randy Crisorio, chief executive of United Development Systems (UDS) and chair of the Agent Summit advisory board, John Braganini of Great Lakes Companies, Joel Kansanback of Automotive Development Group (ADG) and Dealer Commitment Services’ Glen Tuscan. The high-powered group touched on a number of issues relating to agency ownership, hiring and recruiting, dealer acquisition, regulatory compliance and more.
“Agent Summit is one of the few opportunities in the F&I industry where you can meet and collaborate with all of our colleagues and competitors in one collegial setting,” says Tom O’Neil, owner of O’Neil Financial Services Agency, an Agent Summit regular and a panel moderator at this year’s event. “Everyone seems to let their natural guard down to enjoy the sharing of information and camaraderie.”
“I always find two or three issues that come down the line I haven’t thought of, seen yet, done yet,” Braganini adds. “The agents are always interested in sharing what they’re doing. Nobody seems to have any secrets anymore.”
Dave Anderson and David Horsager
On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Agent Summit attendees were treated to stirring motivational addresses delivered by Dave Anderson, president of Learn to Lead, and David Horsager, bestselling author of “The Trust Edge.”
“I loved all the sessions. I especially loved the hired speakers, Dave Anderson and David Horsager,” says Brian Crisorio, UDS’s vice president of marketing. “Their message goes beyond success in the workplace and can have positive effects on life in general.”
Anderson’s address, which was sponsored by EasyCare and GWC Warranty, began at 9:10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10. In “How to Master the Art of Execution,” Anderson didn’t draw exclusively from his experience in the auto industry — which includes management of several highly successful dealerships — choosing instead to touch on themes applicable to any business, personal goal or charitable endeavor.
“Dave Anderson is obviously one of our favorites. He just gets the point across quickly and efficiently,” says Larry Dorfman, CEO of APCO and the EasyCare brand. “He always causes me to look in the mirror and be honest regarding how well I am holding myself accountable to help others be accountable.”
“Anderson was terrific, no question,” adds Greg Gomer, president and owner of Boston-based Finance Solutions LLC. “He is always a pleasure to listen to.”
On Wednesday morning, David Horsager took to the stage to deliver “The Trust Edge,” a fast-paced, high-energy rundown of the principles behind his bestselling book of the same name. Horsager explained how trust is a precious commodity that can only be mined through honesty, accountability and gratitude.
“Listening to David Horsager speak, I couldn’t help but think about all my closest friends and business partners and the amount of trust equity we have built in each other,” says David Gesualdo, Agent Summit show chair and publisher of Agent Entrepreneur and F&I and Showroom. “I imagine everyone in the room felt the same way. It was an incredibly moving session.”
NADA’s Andrew Koblenz
What interest do agents have in regulatory compliance? Plenty, according to Andrew Koblenz, a longtime National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) executive who currently serves as the organization’s executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs and general counsel. For as long as agency revenue is driven by the sale of F&I products, there will be a pressing need for agents to help dealers create, implement and maintain processes that are compliant with the maze of regulations enforced by federal regulators such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“The session on compliance was extremely helpful as our business development managers look to assist the dealers in the educational process,” said Rod Heasley, president and CRO of KISS Concepts Group in Fairmont, N.C.
Koblenz presented “Solving the CFPB and Fair Credit Risk Problem” at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. His presentation, which was followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session, included a review of recent regulatory actions, steps banks and finance companies have taken to mitigate or eliminate risk, and new rules agents and dealers should follow. By acknowledging the CFPB’s concerns and self-policing, Koblenz argued, the industry can remain compliant while preserving the F&I process — which is of benefit to car buyers as well as retailers and providers.
“The whole industry should be taking note of what the agent brings as far as profitability, compliance and training. They deserve more recognition,” Tuscan says. “It’s great being surrounded by people who have their fingers on the pulse. I can’t get enough.”
Several attendees identified the two technology-focused sessions as among the most memorable of this year’s show. The first, “Next-Level Product Sales,” was delivered by Mike Burgiss, founder and general manager of MakeMyDeal, on Monday afternoon. It was followed by “Technology on the Move — New Horizons,” a panel discussion helmed by Randy Pazik, president and owner of Accelerated Profit Technologies.
“Certainly the sessions on technology are beneficial, because that’s a moving target,” Godin says. “We need to know how the providers are developing it and employing it in dealerships.”
Burgiss, who is an advocate of making more information about F&I products available online, says he realized speaking about a topic that can spur heated debate would be a challenge.
“As someone that's focused on technology, I often get misunderstood as someone portraying the idea that technology can replace face-to-face interaction,” he says. “There's no replacement for live interaction, just like there is no replacement for a live business manager in the sale of a vehicle and its associated aftermarket products.”
Instead, he argued, bringing parts of the F&I process forward can improve production by helping the finance office keep pace with the rapidly changing demands of car buyers. He says the agents in attendance offered “good engagement” and were receptive to his message, and the reviews back him up.
“Hearing the presentation from Mike Burgiss and speaking with other technology providers, it is clear that those guys are really working hard to stay on top of their game,” Brian Crisorio says. “Several years ago, the reaction would have been, ‘We don’t have to worry about that.’ The best point I’ve heard is the drive to put good information about F&I products and pricing online. If you don’t, all your customers are going to see are the complaints and negative information.”
Burgiss was immediately followed by “Technology on the Move — New Horizons,” for which Pazik was joined by StoneEagle’s Thomas Elliott, Kumar Kathinokkula of F&I Administration Solutions, Tony Luciano of Allstate Dealer Services, MaximTrak’s Jim Maxim Jr. and Carrie Profaizer of Protective Asset Protection.
In addition to discussing their companies’ latest efforts in the dealer technology space — including the showroom as well as the finance office — panelists discussed how the role of F&I professionals could change and grow.
“We heard in this exchange the same conversation that plays out in dealerships across the country,” Burgiss says. “The debate emerges between meeting consumer expectations through the use of online experiences versus the potential loss of control. Using technology as a communication platform leads to more engaged consumers who will buy more, and most importantly, allow dealers to maintain control of the deal structure and better manage their profitability.”
Networking and Exhibits
Demand for meeting space and exhibition opportunities forced organizers to open up the show’s floorplan by booking 13 private meeting rooms and opening a separate exhibit hall. Attendees agree the moves took the event’s networking opportunities to the next level.
“I think the show, every year, seems to step up and get better,” Godin says. “Certainly the venues are great and the separate exhibit hall was great. I would expect most of the exhibitors liked it.”
“If you had nothing but that, I could go out on that floor and, in two hours, I could talk to everybody that matters in our industry,” Braganini says, adding that he connected with 10 new providers in the expo hall and spoke with a number of industry professionals who were in transition and looking for their next opportunity. Finally, he adds, he picked up on a new theme: “The agent channel is consolidating, quickly.”
Gomer agrees, noting that it was “amazing” to hear how many attendees were looking for agencies to acquire.
Asked whether the new contacts he made justified the cost of the trip, Dorfman says he doesn’t measure Agent Summit in terms of immediate returns.
“We made some great contacts and have continuing conversations going on with some new opportunities, so that’s great,” he says. “Just as importantly, we had some valuable time to meet up with current partners and others we know and spend some time talking about the business.”
“This is such a small fraternity of F&I agents that the meeting feels more like a reunion,” O’Neil adds. “It is always interesting to see where everyone is coming from and where their businesses will be going forward.”
Braganini agrees, noting that the event offers agents of any size a unique opportunity to keep pace with their partners and competitors in a business that has, in recent decades, been subject to sweeping changes at every level.
“If you don’t go, you reposition yourself in the industry and in the overall food chain. Our industry is highly dynamic. It’s constantly changing,” Braganini says. “You can look to printed media and email and different things like that as a source of maintaining your level of awareness, but there is no substitute for spending three or four hours talking to your peers and your providers. … When I go, I don’t know where or why it happens, but I always leave with three or four takeaways that pay for the trip 25 times over.”