Why have so few of us dealers let our factory partners know our candid views on what it will take to rebuild the business?
Long ago, in response to a silence that followed a factory executive's question put to a room of dealers, I rose and offered my candid thoughts. Were I smarter, I would have known better.
Soon afterwards, I got a call informing me that I would do well to quietly decline future invitations until, at least, a certain factory manager moved to other points on the globe.
My opinion, though seemingly asked for, was not wanted. Factory questions are often rhetorical or only intended to test dealer resistance before moving forward anyway.
Besides flushing out the fools (in this case, me), the anticipated responses are either silence or applause, not contrary opinion.
The singular purpose of a dealer meeting is to inspire dealers to buy more inventory. All else is window dressing to add credibility to the inventory-buying proposition.
More seasoned now, I do not air quite so much advice in public places and avoid most factory gatherings altogether so as not to offend, but also not to allow my silence to be mistaken for assent.
Notwithstanding the golden rule of silence, my feelings bleed through these columns, in spite of ample motivation for me to stop writing. It being no secret that, when provoked, I've bitten a few feeding hands. I take very seriously the brotherhood of dealers and my devotion to our craft.
It pains me when we give in to manufacturers, customers and employees who push us around.
When we overstock, undercharge or overpay, and then applaud those who take most advantage of us, we damage our opportunity.
Everyone knows that filling our lots without careful study of supply and demand will not produce profitable sales. Neither will pandering to aggressively unhappy customers nor retaining inept sales people.
No, friendly factory rep, I cannot take so much of your allocation these days. I predict that this is the year of the dealer trade or the program car and predict you'll eventually thank us for resisting the kind of inventory that would force us into unfriendly sales tactics.
Yes, informed customer, without tricking you by rebates and over-allowances it does seem that our deal is less than others have presented, but we will not deceive you and then act hurt when you call us sleazy.
And no, unproductive salesperson, we cannot pay you in spite of a lack of sales just because you show up. In fact, after months of missing the mark, we recommend you find another career.
I've given in to plentiful inventory that didn't satisfy customer or salesperson, nor commanded a price that helps the bottom line.
I've added complexity and variety to selling schemes in hopes that incremental deals would result.
And I've retained feeble sales people in hopes that their limitations wouldn't show.
All of this has done little more than allow me to get through the day. What's worse, it has enabled my competition to get stronger.
Fortunes are not the result of luck. Their likelihood is not improved by blind allegiance to improbable products and programs. You might stumble onto opportunity, but only through hard work and candor will you sustain or grow it.
When 25% of my brother dealers are unprofitable and a much higher percentage lose money in their new-car operations, if we suffer in silence we cannot blame our manufacturers for concluding that we don't need to make money right now.
This is especially true when we skulk around as if it were our fault, while celebrating our manufacturing partner's efforts.
Perhaps like movie theaters that make their money on popcorn while giving ticket revenues to the film makers, too many dealers have accepted the decline of our franchises' profitability, believing we are not deserving.
One wonders if our manufacturers read our good manners as approval?
Peter Brandow is a dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.