As far as I can tell, real-time and just-in-time are simply about getting what you want when you want it. The Internet gives us a fighting chance at applying this notion to information and when that information is about a product or service the Net might also lead us smoothly to a great deal on the best stuff.
So, to the extent you're tied into the party line called the World Wide Web, one would think that getting information and products quickly should be a snap (or in this case, a “click”).
Nonetheless I'm dumbfounded by the difficulty that many of us struggle with to find out (often through complex and costly measures) exactly what's out there. Trouble is, we don't know what to plug into the damned computer to discover what our local dealer has on his lot and how much, he will take for it.
Most web sites have a splashy home page with some semblance of an index and maybe a little flash intro that sets the tone of what we might expect in terms of the company attitude.
However the problem remains that we don't know where we go for the nitty-gritty of pricing and assurance that the inventory is current. After all, there are as so many nuances to pricing with tiers that tie into credit rating and dealer volume and rebates and college grad discounts and all that, that there's no simple way for the forthright dealers to distinguish themselves from the horse thieves.
So the great digital hope that was to cut through all the hassle of haggle seems to be caught in a snag that no one — save a few “one-price-quoted-cheerfully-over-the-phone” dealers — have untangled.
My friends and critics say this view of mine is “dark but honest.” I hadn't thought of it that way, but I kind of like the sound of it. The “honesty” part suggests hope in the way that intelligence leads to solutions. The “dark” part seems fitting in that the path we car guys are on is not often lit. As we all know, things that go on in the dark are often more harmful than helpful.
So our 21st century virtual reality continues to bang around with those same confusions that the real world has long suffered; that being how to provide honesty and integrity in the fragmented world of over dealering, marketing clichés and hype.
In a year or two, some group or OEM will cut the bunk and try something novel. But, until then, franchised dealers will continue to marshal the marketplace as the armed forces of retail.
Dealers will provide the muscle that overcomes periodic mediocrity of product design and the greed of manufacturer over pricing.
In the short term, I suppose that the Toyota and Honda dealers will be kind of like the Coast Guard in that they have their moments of suspense but, generally speaking, they'll be handling crowd control and those few silly folks who forgot their flotation devices.
Chevrolet and Ford dealers will continue in the role of the Army, as they are about tanks and tonnage. All of the rest are special ops; a niche opportunity here, a covert mission there.
The interesting part of the new millennium retail battle zone is that the computer and its web of connectivity are still just a retail weapon that is only as good as the marksmen who aim it. So far, few have hit the target.
Peter Brandow is a 25-year veteran dealer with stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is president and CEO of Brandow Companies.