Walk On the Wild Side

Folks go into the car business because they think it will be fun, easy and always changing. Don't hurt yourself laughing. I didn't say that the car biz delivers on that. But I'm certain that the No.1 reason we're in this crazy, frenetic, often-challenging industry is for the buzz and the easy money. So where's all that cash and cackling? Lately the laughs have been few and the money has been neither

Folks go into the car business because they think it will be fun, easy and always changing. Don't hurt yourself laughing. I didn't say that the car biz delivers on that.

But I'm certain that the No.1 reason we're in this crazy, frenetic, often-challenging industry is for the buzz and the easy money.

So where's all that cash and cackling? Lately the laughs have been few and the money has been neither effortlessly acquired nor dependable. But “fun and easy” is still the hook.

If you doubt it, listen at the back-office coffee urn, lend an ear to lunchroom banter or happen by the tech locker room at the end of the day. If your place is like mine, you'll hear laughter, funny stories, and dreams in the making. Whatever might be lacking in present reality is more than made up for in their certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow.

But to quote an old slogan: “Where's the beef?” Or to be a bit more current: “Who stole our cheese?”

From where I sit, the joy that was at the heart of North American automotive retailing has been stomped on by portion-controlled programs, just-good-enough products and group decision making.

Today's philosophy of “consensus building” has blunted our minds. The very idea of “consensus,” though saluted for its potential of general acceptance, has fathered little more than mediocre, common and typical products and programs. The very way that we build consensus chips away at the brilliance of innovation, replacing extraordinary ideas with the dull putty of average thinking.

I've studied films of focus groups and minutes of council meetings that have given birth to profoundly disappointing products.

Often I spot something very different than the conclusions that were drawn. Even when I don't, the marketplace overwhelmingly does. The greatest ideas often are lost in editing. Unfortunately, those ideas, the one's that catch my attention, the one's that might have made a difference, were dropped because they weren't commonly shared as the group consensus.

Who ever thought that buried in common ground were the roots of extraordinary results?

Looking around showrooms, I see a lot of “me too” stuff. Where are the bold innovators with the backbone to push a pony car, or to mainstream a minivan? Today's headlines and pitch lines are full of “mine's better than his.” “Different” is too risky, so “better” is the best we're doing.

Pitch lines of “zero, nothing, never” are byproducts of that same herd instinct driving our marketing. And “nothing” isn't just about the down payment. It defines our margins as well.

Who stole our cheese? I'll tell you. Passionless auditors praying to the gods of cold percentages and risk intolerance. Where are the fresh new ideas that used to be championed by young stallions hoping to break loose of the pack?

They've been pounded into the mush of consensus. Most would-be front-runners have given the lead to a stable of gray hairs interested in stock options, retirement plans and golden parachutes.

You say your showroom isn't the place to find fun and easy money these days? You haven't heard or added anything really new or novel recently?

Chances are you're listening to the same presenters and the same yes men that you've been hearing from for years.

Want new and novel to re-invigorate your world? Try something different. Send out a few provocative e-mails and see what comes back. Surf the Internet to areas you've not yet explored, looking for interest groups and unique products that you've not yet considered.

Walk on the wild side for a while. I guarantee you'll see a whole new world of fun, and may even spawn a whole new game plan for “easy” money.

Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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