I'm stumped. For the first time I can remember I have no new angle on what's going on. Perhaps it's simply that everything I'm seeing, we've all seen before.
Or perhaps it's because there's actually nothing noteworthy going on at this moment in time. This despite the fact that the domestic auto industry is in serious need of innovation, revitalization and leadership and that the car business seems to have surrendered completely and unconditionally to the truck, minivan and Sport Ute business.
If you're not selling trucks and Utes, you better be selling imports or used cars. One proof of the need for change is simply that, despite some of the best new vehicle sales in history, we are all struggling for adequate profitability. It appears that there's nothing more novel going on than rebates and sub-vented interest rates on the national platter. That's why, like all the rest of you, I'm mystified.
Fortunately, I'm bewildered on the beach in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico contemplating the meaning of life as a car dealer. I know what you're thinking, but, this is where I happen to be spending quality family time and like it or not, I'm a car guy so even my existential moments have automotive themes.
As I'm sitting on the beach, folks around me are body surfing, deep sea fishing, cultivating a savage tan and watching whales. I'm stuck on wondering who sold this resort its fleet of vans, what's the going rate for an A-class mechanic in Mexico City and how quickly can I translate my newest web site into Spanish.
These were my thoughts when right then and there it occurred to me that this is what makes a car guy a dealer and this is exactly what is missing from our manufacturer's sales efforts.
Car dealers are all about the art of the deal. We search for the angle, we calculate, we negotiate and we're at it all the time and everywhere. It's how we're hard wired.
On the other hand, our manufacturing partners seem to possess patience and the belief that marketing that doesn't work well today may, nonetheless, work well enough tomorrow.
More odd still is their belief that programs that are home runs should be cancelled before they run out so as to capitalize on the free ride from their momentum. Often there isn't enough momentum for both the dealer and the manufacturer to profit. So an unsuspecting dealer is prone to have a lot of leftover inventory at the end of a great push. I guess that's the free momentum.
But I stray. Vacation thinking does that. One minute you're choosing which tequila you want in your next margarita and the next minute you're wondering whether the bar you're in has a mailing list that you can get your hands on, or a web site that you can link to.
The tough part about making a living in the car business is that you spend most of the time simply calculating the angle right in front of you and the rest of your time negotiating to harvest its advantage.
Over the last 30 years I've watched financial tides turn on simcon tops, door edge guards and pin stripes, tire upgrades, stereo systems, extended warranties, salvage, program cars, gray market cars, exporting, importing, used high line cars, pickups and conversion vans, off shore warranty companies, Sport Utes, the Internet, business development, and most recently, special finance.
Each opportunity — and there have been hundreds of them — came with a window through which thousands poured before the window shut. There is never a question of whether it will go on forever; the question is can you get in before the crowds kill the advantage and then how long it will be before the next golden moment.
What makes today so bothersome is that everyone seems to have tied a knot on the end of their ropes and proceeded to dust off old tricks while waiting for something to catch their notice. All the new age technology and connectivity of the past few years seems to have been put back in the wrapper and up on the shelf. We are in a hang-loose mode.
With luck I'll find something hiding behind the usual clutter at this year's NADA convention. In fact I'm certain I will and when I do, you'll read about it right here. Until then, I think Cuervo Gold without salt will do for the next round. After that, I think I'll check out whether the new American/Mexican trade agreement allows for cross border Internet sales. Hasta luego Amigos.
Peter Brandow is a 25-year veteran dealer with stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is president and CEO of Brandow Companies.