Helping Dealers Navigate Their Way Back
Paul Stern May 15, 2020

Paul Stern has seen it all.  There are very few individuals that really deserve that accolade, but Paul is certainly one of them.  Over the past 50 years as Paul rose from salesperson to Dealer Group owner, including a stint as president of the TADA, he saw our industry rise and fall and managed to guide his businesses through the good times and the bad.  As businesses start to gear up for a hopeful return to some form of normalcy, Paul discusses how he managed to pick-up his businesses after each downturn and recession.

Engage Your Team

This might seem obvious, but your business is only as strong as your team.  Every member of your team is continuing to go through an incredibly stressful period of their lives.  The uncertainty alone is enough to build up anxiety and stress levels.  It’s essential that you are there for your team and engage with them all on a one to one basis every day.

This practice will create a wonderful sense of loyalty from your team members and build in them a sense of wanting to be successful for the company, their colleagues and the brand.

Create a Positivity Team

Think about creating a working group made up of individuals from across your business departments, to focus on creating positivity internally and within the community.  The team can focus on initiatives to keep moral high at the store through commitment and participation events as well as coming up with ideas for engaging the local community.  They can also focus on the delivery of the “we’re open and safe” messages.  This is about the constant engagement of your team to relieve anxiety, increase loyalty and re-enforce trust messages to your customers.

Be Spotless

Your dealership must; Look right. Smell Right. Feel Right.  Given that we are working through a global health pandemic, it makes sense that the clean presentation of your dealership and your products is fundamental to you re-establishing the trust of your customers.  Dealers that get this right will be able to ramp up at a much faster rate than those that don’t.

From a Marketing perspective, don’t hide the measures you’re doing to keep your business clean and your customers safe.  Shout about them.  Utilize short video clips on your website and across social media to demonstrate what you’re doing to keep your local community safe.  Use high visibility policy signs throughout your dealership.

Make sure that all service customers vehicles are fully cleaned before they are handed back, every time!  Use this opportunity to re-enforce the message that your business does everything to reduce the risk to customers health and safety.  Customers will reward this with priceless word of mouth promotion for your store.

Reset Your Expenses

Use this time to review your accounts department with a view to cutting any excess expenses.  Take advice from your Accountants, CFO and Controllers about where you can trim expenses.  You might not want to follow all the advice, but you do need to see this as a real opportunity to hit the reset button with your accounting.  You should look to renegotiate all contracts and contract terms, where possible defer contracts and payments and take advantage of all government programs.

Caution: do not use this as a time to completely reset your staffing pay plans as this can seriously back-fire.  Remember point 1 above, now is a time to engage with your employees, provide support and build loyalty.

Aftersales is Key

With vehicles sales slowing or even stopped in some cases, your service and parts departments have never been more critical to your long-term success.  Now is an excellent time to seriously look at your Absorption rate and do whatever you can to improve it.

Consider motivating your advisors and mechanics so that they view each vehicle as their own.  Booking rates and Fixed Right First Time rates are essential so incentivize for them.

Use social media to convey the positive messages about cleanliness, safety and trust to help attract service customers to your store.  But, don’t forget the power of the phone!  Use it to call your customers and talk to them about their needs and what you can do for them.

Get Back to Marketing

Marketing is typically one of the first things to get cut in a downturn.  If that’s a decision you made, ok, but you must ramp your marketing efforts back up as quickly as possible.  Not only to promote that you are a “safe business” as mentioned above, but also to get back to promoting your core products.  There are plenty of great financing deals for customers now and if you’re not telling your customers about your offers, your competitors are.

Just like reviewing your general expenses, you should review your marketing plan for the rest of the year to ensure your plan meets the demands of the new normal.  A strong digital presence is essential to make up for the traffic you’re not seeing in your stores.

Embrace Online Sales and Remote Delivery

Whether you want to or not, dealers must embrace online vehicle sales and remote delivery.  You’ve probably been forced, over the past few weeks, to accelerate your online sales abilities and if this is the case, spend the necessary time to review your policies and improve them where required.  Chances are your speedy roll-out means that they’re ok for now, but they might be missing some of the efficiencies required for long term success.

Finally, as you get back to your corner office in a building that’s been half or fully closed for the past month or two, don’t get complacent.  Start preparing now for a possible winter return of the virus in force.  Get your processes and plans in place so next time, you are ready and prepared!

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