It's the National Lottery Bailout

Rich or poor, employed or not, we are all participants in the national dialogue of who is too big to fail, what stimulus means and a host of other topical questions about who will win our latest national lottery: the bailout. All my money and most of my ego are smoldering ash. I know no bailout money is headed my way. On my desk, where there used to be brochures of exotic vacations offered by manufacturers

Rich or poor, employed or not, we are all participants in the national dialogue of who is too big to fail, what stimulus means and a host of other topical questions about who will win our latest national lottery: the bailout.

All my money and most of my ego are smoldering ash. I know no bailout money is headed my way.

On my desk, where there used to be brochures of exotic vacations offered by manufacturers hoping to motivate more new-car sales, are now just piles of bills. Memories of past rewards and travel are now reminders of how low we have sunk and how much our retail opportunity has changed.

I've just returned from a Denver mining convention. Yes, mining. Deep holes bored into the ground into which men and equipment are inserted and from which energy and money are pumped.

Why is a car guy off to listen to talk about geothermal progressions, fault migration and predictive plume algorithms? Here's a clue, it's not in pursuit of career in chemical engineering.

True to my craft, I'm angling for customers in need of vehicles and who have a shot at getting the money necessary to buy them during these troubled economic times. With little going on back home, I figure a dealer needs to hit the road and play away games if he expects any sort of volume. If the bailout isn't trickling your way, think about going where it's heading.

Bagging leads, recession or not, has always been about getting closer to where there's need and money. With President Obama's stimulus package focused on shovel-ready projects, I'm betting on business-to-business beating out household consumer demand by months, even years.

Even though our government is handing out money, little of it seems to be finding their way into showrooms and even less into the hands of traditional customers.

Survival of the franchise “showroom” system is, at best, questionable. The number of customers shopping at dealerships has been declining for years. The recent economic plunge just made it infinitely more tragic.

No one knows how long or how deep this recession will go, but it seems certain that energy, roads and military infrastructure projects will lead us back to economic health.

Over the next couple of years, the word “infrastructure” will become synonymous with national recovery. For starters, infrastructure sounds a whole lot more like a solution than “bailout,” and “stimulus.” As a dealer and taxpayer, I don't want to stimulate the economy, I want it to work; I need real sales, not handouts and trickle down.

Most dealers are waiting for the bailout money to flow into the wallets of our old customers, and then into their dealerships. So far, none of that is happening and it doesn't seem likely any time soon.

Scarier still, few retail analysts or experts are recommending investment strategies that include huge stores and big inventories.

So, while most of my fellow dealers are wringing their hands, anxiously praying for a brighter tomorrow from the dark recesses of their franchised offices, I'm taking my game on the road to recovery one customer at a time.

So far it's clear that no one brand is providing the answer in volume and no manufacturer seems to have a plan that deals effectively with all the costs facing dealerships. Unleashed to crushing inventory costs, I'm now making deals on what suits a customer's needs rather than risk losing a deal by pushing something I need to sell.

Because I've learned how not to lose a sale by forcing a good customer into a bad deal, I'm finding new markets. It's definitely not the plan the gang that used to send me on award trips are banking on, but it sure feels better than waiting for that crew to share their bailout dollars with a dealer whose demise appears integrally linked to their plan for grabbing the public dole.

Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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