Now that I'm past 50 I've come to understand that it's not just a 49th birthday that I've passed.
Past 50 you have no business enlisting in the army; fighting anything but a backache after a night in a foxhole just isn't in the cards anymore. These days I'm a better candidate for the “grand” category of parenting than for the daily rigors of chasing toddlers around a playground. Despite Disney ads to the contrary, I've long ago lost interest in amusement rides, especially those that end with a splash.
All this has less to do with aging than it does with diminished capacity to greet BS with a polite smile. I don't think it's just the heat of September that has me steamed over the factory's repeated attempts to goose my sales department with dealer-pay contests sporting $2,000 entrance fees (and it ain't a voluntary sign-up, if you know what I mean).
Those “incentives” rank with product poor launches that push me to readiness before sufficient product arrives, and costly sales aids that prompt perfectly content showroom customers to consider product choices that are not in stock (or worse yet, not available).
I'm also vexed by the notion that I should both satisfy customers with fairhandedness and yet compete with the dogs that ransack my marketplace with slimy sales tactics encouraged by factory applause over volume.
I suppose that I've grown to understand the difference between a sustainable marketing strategy and a quick fix. Unfortunately, what's become way too common in retailing are a whole lot of hollow “words, words, words” followed by a generous slug of dealer contribution. The usual result is either a false benefit for the customer or zero profit for the retailer. And I'm doubtful that the manufacturer racks up much profit either, given the cost of ads on the major networks these days.
I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but perhaps the Saturn folks and the Hyundai folks (no disrespect for their step sister Kia), and the early generation of Five-Star pioneers at Chrysler all had it right. That ‘it’ in today's conquest sales is a reduced cost and improved dealership experience of ownership. The cup holder wars, speaker battles and even horsepower races are old hat. The numbers of people in my market who are serious about changing brands based on a technology breakthrough or increase in the number of car speakers are very few and as easily lost as found.
What's even thinner are the times that technology innovation can be pulled off as a marketing edge rather than something that scares more shoppers off a first-year buy than it pulls them in with the allure of being the first to buy.
What I'm looking for are real breakthroughs in the area of zero-cost maintenance policies for customers. Imagine tires, wiper blades, filters, flushes, hoses and state inspections all free for the lifetime of your car. Just add gas and go.
I'm talking about a vehicle that takes responsibility for itself offered by a manufacturer and dealer who team up to take the customer out of the maintenance equation when the car doesn't do what a car ought to do. That's right, free loaner cars too.
Most folks to whom I sell would love selecting a vehicle based on its subtle sophistication, its sound system and the buttery softness of its leather seating. But sadly, they have to choose between putting sneakers on their kids and pampering themselves with such niceties.
Don't get me wrong, buttery leather and an individual entertainment system for each passenger are great, but they pale by comparison to being balled out of a jam the morning your car won't get you to work. What are the chances that an average driver is going to get all mushy over this year's shade of blue when the dealership up the street is offering free service pick up and delivery to your home or office?
The time has come to realize that I'm not the only thing around here that's maturing; so is our industry that passed a century mark (as I passed its mid-point). It's about time that the naïve ‘words, words, words’ of our youth were replaced by the solid reasoning of mature experience. There's a strategy in quietly delivering affordable dependability that will outlive the next up-and-comer who screams in our ears about zero down and half off.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.