We Baby Boomers live in a fast world. Give us what we want, quick and cheap, served well and brimming over with quality and we may come back for more.
We're accustomed to getting what we want at cut-rate costs. We have little concern when companies that cater to us collapse under the financial burden of serving us because, in our collective memory, there's always been a line of hungry companies eager to wait on us.
We firmly believe that for each manufacturer that we wear out and for every retailer that we grind down, there are countless more, eager to make up in volume for the losses we demanded of their predecessors.
The absurdity of this “something-for-nothing” expectation is evidenced by the anger we display when others visit their selfishness on us.
We expect 0 down, 0% interest and no payments until next year when we're buying, but, we demand double digit returns when investing.
We want a shorter work week on our job, but a longer warranty on our purchases.
We're none too happy no one has yet cracked the code of providing us with more 0-60 m.p.h. kick without wasting our money at the fuel pumps.
Our wants are simple: flawless quality, limitless warranties and endless free service. Meanwhile, we expect a healthy trade-in allowance plus lots of “new and improved” when we honor you by showing up for a replacement every couple of years.
Finally, how about bestowing us with honest politicians, trustworthy corporate executives, liberal bankers and free health care? We've heard that these things are our inalienable rights.
“All trades are created equally, miles shall reduce the purchase price of every used car, but not the value of the trade-in that created it.” Isn't that a clause in the U.S. Constitution?
Because profitably satisfying today's customers is almost unattainable, what's left for an honest dealer and his or her able manufacturer to do?
And why, in such a system, shouldn't smart dealers and manufacturers plot and scheme to grab a few bucks whenever they get the chance? After all, they live under the same constitutional umbrella as we; they're entitled to more pay for less output just like the rest of us. Aren't they?
Though the American consumer is only as loyal as his options, those options can be tilted in favor of honest values that are persuasive enough to produce a fair profit.
Sadly, a constant pressure from Wall Street linked to short-term bonuses for senior management doesn't bode well for long-term quality products and services.
The same fast-food mentality that today's consumers bring to the marketplace, today's business executives bring to the back office. This is why many smug and complacent American companies continue to give up ground to global-thinking companies. This is also why certain companies continue to find that the only sales tool that works for them is a rebate or a discount.
As you kick back and reflect on the things that made last year great (and those that didn't), remember to structure your '04 goals (and those who report to you) so that fast returns do not become more important than solid foundations.
Most of last year's get-rich-quick schemes were like most campaign promises — unreliable.
What paid off for me in 2003 (which proved to be a most profitable year) were the long-range strategies that sprung from a love of my customers, respect for my staff and support of my suppliers.
Corny as it sounds and tough as it is to believe, I'm entering '04 with renewed trust that my future will rest in the hands of those manufacturers, employees and bankers who will stand by me when others scream for immediate gains, and with those who trust in me while I'm building rather than waiting until I'm done.
My New Year's resolution for 2004 is to go long and to take all my supporters with me.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.