We've heard GM CEO Rick Wagoner's “Just-get-used-to-it” comments regarding giveback incentives. And I know that most of us have come to understand that in the car business one does what one must to get along.
What is startling about Wagoner's words is their unabashed, insensitive tone. It's been some time since GM or any of the big guys in the industry have been so “in your face” about what they intend to do. The rest of us be damned.
When did we turn the corner from “Excuse me, I'm sorry to have to do this, but…” to “Bend over.”?
My mother says good manners are more than saying “please” and “thank you.” I'm not innocent of the realization about business that we are not likely to survive on hugs and well wishes alone. But, when we give up even the appearances of concern for others, we've crossed the line.
Which brings me to the heart of this month's story.
If you log onto NetworkSolutions.com and type in your name and franchise, chances are you'll find out that you own your name and that all is right with the world. OK, at least you own your name; the world may still have a few kinks in it.
But what happens when you go to use your name only to find that you couldn't because someone else had tied it up? What if that someone else were your competitive next-door neighbor? How would you feel if your neighbor demanded something in exchange for your name?
A little while ago I checked out www.BrandowChevrolet.com and found that it had been registered to the Maguire Automotive Group. My facing/neighboring Chevrolet dealer is none other than Bob Maguire. His store bears his name, “Maguire” not my name “Brandow.” Yes, it is the Bob Maguire, 2001 NADA chairman and who everyone, including me, knew to be a stand up guy and straight shooter.
Being the generous (should I say naive?) guy that I am, I assumed that it was a big mistake. Maybe an overworked clerk pushed the wrong button, and presto-chango, MaguireChevy.com came out BrandowChevrolet.com. I'm figuring that I'll just tell the guys at Maguire Chevrolet in New Jersey and they'll trip over themselves with apologies and corrections.
I call Maguire's web guru. I give him all kinds of benefit of the doubt. “Perhaps you don't know this, but….”
But here's the shocker. This guy tells me flat-out that he did the dirty deed and did it with intent! He explains that he did it to me and to a bunch of other neighboring dealers. What's more he checks with Bob and comes back to me with a song and dance complete with negotiation tactics. I'm supposed to pay for my name?
It's not that some dealers unwittingly hire bad boys or that few dealers show the moral integrity to roust the evil doers who pay them tribute. The fascinating thing is how easy the World Wide Web makes it to do things like grab someone's name.
Automotive retail is hard in the best of times. What makes this tougher is not that everyone wants a free ride. It's that they so often get one. The result is that there is almost never a straight buck to be made. The pressure is terrible and thus most dealers succumb to the temptation to do something clever, something cute, something off center.
I don't know what Bob Maguire knew and when he knew it. At the least, it happened right under his nose and it was done to his advantage by his subordinate. But it's still going on.
They probably started out with a proud strategy of face-to-face competition.
Then something happened. Autobytel denied them leads. GM didn't protect their boundaries as defined by Project 2000. The imports flexed their muscle. So for now, survival tactics replace high standards.
Peter Brandow is a 25-year veteran dealer with stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.