Three top things I worry about are marketing, staffing and capital. The top three things my manufacturer asks about are inventory, warranty expense and customer satisfaction.
It is curious but unsurprising that the sharpest tools in my dealer information systems (for which I pay over $100,000 a year) are for inventory, warranty expense and customer satisfaction, but don't drill down on staffing, marketing or capital.
I spoke with the top brass of my information system firm about why important dealer information is given such a low priority. I concluded that even though they are called dealer information systems, they are really dealer-paid-for factory information systems.
They brilliantly provide information for factory audits, factory payments and factory ordering, but are woefully inadequate for helping dealers to spot lazy assets, flabby organization charts and stale marketing.
Dealer-paid-for factory information systems are not the only dealer-funded solutions that are thin on serving dealer needs.
An information technology firm designed my customer relationship management (CRM) system to handle Internet customers one at a time, as they show up (many through my manufacturer's web portal), and generally only when they declare their intentions.
Bulk leads are something other than customers, according to the IT firm's thinking. Prospecting to purchased data bases is outside the firm's vision. Its CRM product does slick stuff, but does not allow for a dealer to upload and manage leads without waiting for the firm to input them (and collect a per-record fee).
A couple of things limit the advancement of IT tools that would help dealers. Dealers usually buy what they have to, rather than what they need. With technology coming at us fast and furious, it's all we can do to keep up with existing factory programs.
Add up the cost of programs that are force fed to us, and there's very little appetite or budget for experimentation.
Pile on that most innovations come with a 36- to 72-month payment plan financed through a third party that cares little if you like what you're paying for or if it fills your future needs. One can see it is hard for a dealer to say “yes” to expensive innovation.
Another impediment is that software vendors are loath to take risks on dealer-centric products that they may never sell enough of to overcome their development cost.
It's a safer bet that products endorsed by manufacturers will sell, hence the line between dealer and manufacturer needs. Reynolds and Reynolds Co. abandoning a cutting-edge product line may have gone the other way were there more dealer support for the new product.
Adding to this abridgement of dealer intelligence is the inability within our retail-sales process to gather data worth computing. There's little value in what is currently captured and less in creating custom reports based on it.
Look at what we catalogue during our usual industry practices about who buys what, and why. Most showroom sales people control their leads from up-sheets, scraps of paper and memory. Once a deal is done, there is no record of what caused it, why a particular vehicle was purchased or which aspects of the deal mattered most or at all.
Imagine if there were accurate records of all important data. Think what marketing staffing and capital decisions might be shaped and what pitfalls might be avoided.
For example, consider what happens when a manufacturer discounts an ugly, unpopular, overpriced dog with zero down and an unbelievably low monthly payment.
Immediately, every dealer clamors for more, and payment-hungry customers line up. All of the sudden, advertising works, inventory moves and sales people are busy. Now think how many you'd want to restock after the incentives are dropped.
A great IT system helps dealers pay less, stock less, employ less and earn more. Few systems do that today, and that's not right.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer with stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.