I sold one of my stores, which is bitter sweet. But the deal is a triple win. Or at least the buyer and I are thrilled.
The third party, the manufacturer who brought us together as part of its national program to get new dealers in the family, won't know for a time whether it got its wish, or likes what it was wishing for.
Clearly, regarding this deal, it got a great dealer in a great facility in a great market. The buyer, for those same reasons, got a great store. The question is whether today's manufacturers are ready for sophisticated dealer business people.
This industry grew up on dealers' giddy enthusiasm. Sales incentives featuring exotic trips and Rolex watches were effective carrots. Dealers' hearts raced at the hint of a new contest. Reps would call in advance to whisper “now” would be a good time to stock up. Appreciative dealers did just that.
Then it began to change. “Big business” now owns and runs groups of stores. Big business is detached from the front lines. Dealers are emotional, big business calculating.
Today's dealership executives may browse the prize catalog. But when the juice isn't worth the squeeze, they pass and never fantasize over that diamond Rolex President model or the beach in Bora Bora.
Many multi-store executives wince when a new incentive contest is announced because they can't fit another prize trip into their calendar or don't relish losing a week's production from key employees. For them, the arrival of the contest is a test of how diplomatically to say “no thank you.”
Many new-age retailers are capitalists more than operators. They calculate return on investment before getting swept up in hype.
As I wear my prized Rolex and gaze at pictures of me and my wife Andrea enjoying exotic destinations with fellow dealers, I realize that my youthful enthusiasm marks me an endangered species. What follows are a few tongue-in-cheek ideas that may become extinct:
First: I don't care whether there is a profit in selling new cars as long as there's volume, a contest and a prize trip in it somewhere. I like complex factory programs. It's exciting to structure a sales campaign based on too little information given too late.
Second: I love big facilities; the kind that get your heart pumping with each mortgage payment. I revel in the awe that strike all those bankers and bean counters who question if any reasonable amount of business could make it work.
Third: I like marketing, the bolder the better. Show me a compelling TV ad with bells and buzzers, fan dancers and fireworks, plus a rock-bottom price, and I shiver with excitement. “News at 11, dealer runs out of cars selling 1,000 vehicles in an afternoon.”
Last: I love inventory. Colors, trim levels and a special edition or two, add certainty to my continued existence. All those possibilities make my customers giddy with choice and send my salesmen running all over to source that special one. When push comes to shove, and it does, there should be no doubt that whoever designs these cars is betting on the continued existence of independently capitalized dealers. No sane person, funding inventory on his own dime, would design this much choice.
The scary thing: Under all that sarcasm lies truth. People don't go into the car business because it pencils so well (it doesn't). They go into it because it's exciting. Yes, we need computers and spreadsheets to make it all work. But who thinks you can replace the fun of car dealering with utter hard-edged fiscal reality?
I love this business and can't conceive of any other way of life than being a dealer. Of course, part of my joy is grousing about how much better it was when dealers sold the cars and manufacturers just built them, and never the twain did meet.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.