My store outsells its minimum selling responsibility by a factor of two times, yet struggles for core product. not constrained hot product mind you, core product.
So I ask senior management for assistance in how to get more. Their response, a couple of weeks later and sent through this season's new rep assigned to my store, “It takes a long time for the system to recognize that you could sell more.”
It didn't faze them that I was buying the product that he couldn't build for me from other dealers who were being burdened by more of it than they needed or that I was asking for the assistance of how to move more of their product.
At their highest ranks, our suppliers put a great distance between themselves and us; they dispatch their lowest ranked staff to handle the dealership and the public.
Worse yet, typical of answers to dealer needs is, “I'll look into it,” “It's not my job,” “You're kidding, right?” and “Are you sure you want to ask that question.”
Occasionally, a naive representative might answer sincerely with something like, “They only solicit my opinion to hear whether I am, or my dealers are, trouble makers.”
Veterans learn quickly that helping dealers is secondary to their mission, not first on their list of things to accomplish. I don't mean to suggest that these incidents paint a complete picture of manufacturer's attitudes.
But, they do typify a recurring theme in the ongoing struggle of dealers trying to scrape a living from the crumbs of opportunity trailing behind our OEMs and of customers trying to make it through the arm wrestling that goes on in our showrooms.
So when I detect an attitude from my supplier that my request for help is not worth their time, I shrug it off as typical of their complete insensitivity to what it takes to sell vehicles one at a time.
I've even taken to chuckling (inwardly and silently) when one of my brother dealers boasts to a Detroit-type of his most recent success in sales. The enthusiastic dealer tries to impress his supplier that he sells a lot of vehicles per month and earns all the trips and the highest allocations of the hottest merchandise.
The Detroit-type tries hard to smile and look impressed. But he's really looking right through this dealer because he's thinking that the annual production of this “heavy hitter” is less than the number of cars that will fall off of trucks this season.
He's also longing for the time when he will no longer have to dance this dance with dealers. In truth dealers and manufacturers are mutually misunderstood and undervalued by each other, and worse yet, resent it.
Each are likely to prefer to be isolated from one another, and the Internet will probably soon be a tool of choice for their communication.
Many think this dynamic is as old as rocks and as unlikely to change. Not so. In a beta test last year in Washington D.C., 222 Chevy dealers banded together, pooled their inventory, and shared leads.
The usual group of factory/reps were replaced with higher ranking Detroit Harvard MBAs who were given a direct line to relevant information and top decision makers. They worked round the clock in the trenches with dealers and their sales staffs. They spent time in the showroom. They interacted with customers. They coached, trained and motivated. They built teams. And it worked!
Sadly, most Detroit types either never worked in the field or count their distance from it as the measure of their importance. Either way, the best and brightest are moved farther and farther from the front lines. Perhaps more harmful is the culture that is fostered by prizing the distance.
Many customers who have embraced the electronic marketplace are voting their dissatisfaction with the old ways rather than their love of things digital.
I've met few buyers who prefer the antiseptic world of keyboard and monitor to the hands-on joy of a demo drive. Similarly dealers are becoming dissatisfied with their interaction with their supplier for many of the same reasons.
So why do we tend to put our lowest ranked individuals between us and the results we seek? In a word, inertia. We keep on doing what we've always done.
Why did it work back when? Because all the tools were stacked in our favor. What's changed? The entire balance of information has shifted. The buyer has everything from superior information to expanded choice.
There are more products to choose from, more dealers selling those products and more financing options available. Why haven't more stores changed? Two reasons. Three if you include stupidity. The first reason is that most dealers are not losing money, they're just making less. Until the average dealer is truly unprofitable and desperate, real change will not likely occur.
Every change in the sales process, every mechanized, digitized or computerized sales tool, fuels the manufacturer's belief that one day they and the customer will align and eliminate the need for dealers.
But, manufacturers never seem to be able to sell things one at a time. So round they go promoting themselves further from the customer and investing more in customer contact tools that are blunted by dealers whose costs are swollen with antiquated people processes and stadium-size facilities.
So, I've taken to hanging on until there's better pickin's while quietly leveraging my own data bases, call centers and electronic tools to reach beyond the market that my OEM has whittled down for me.
At the same time, I'm sending my thoughts to the decision makers electronically. After all, if listening to a dealer, mouth to ear, filters out their objectivity, perhaps reading my opinions in this column or at www.WardsAuto.com will trick them into hearing a dealer's point of view.
Peter Brandow is a 25-year veteran dealer with stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is president and CEO of Brandow Companies.