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Feb. 14, 2005 – One is the loneliest number…

But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It can be very lonely in the dealer’s chair. Who can you really discuss the details of your business with? Your employees? Absolutely…on some subjects. Your spouse? At times. Your competitors? Not likely.
Jerry, a friend of mine, owns a multiple line dealership located in a moderate-sized city. At one time, Jerry was a very competitive motocross racer, who quickly understood that although the support of his pit crew was essential, winning was ultimately up to him. All competitors need the support of a team, but winning the race is a lonely, one-man job. Winners understand that.
Jerry was determined to find a way to turn his passion for motorcycles into a livelihood. Like many dealers in this business, Jerry started out working in a motorcycle shop. He began as a mechanic (before they came to be called technicians), spent time in parts, became a successful salesman, and then mortgaged everything to open his own place. Sound familiar?
Jerry has struggled for years to make his dream of owning a highly successful business come true. He is educated, hard-working and knowledgeable about his products. But his service department barely broke even and although the sales department was enthusiastic, the profits were mediocre. His factory reps visited regularly and offered advice but few of them had ever owned their own business or led an organization. His wife was supportive but it seemed that no one understood the big picture.
A loyal “pit crew” stood behind Jerry, but he was still riding alone. It was up to him to make the hard decisions and give good direction in order to grow the business, but he just wasn’t always sure about his strategy. As in any business, problems needed solutions and he didn’t know where to turn for the answers.
I spoke with Jerry not long ago and it seems things have changed. Sales have taken off and the service department is profitable. In fact, the entire dealership is having it’s best year ever and Jerry is feeling more like a winner all the time. I asked him what caused the big change.
“To tell you the truth,” he smiled, “I joined a 20 Group and they helped me turn my business around.”
I wanted to scream, “I told you so!” But, with great effort, I hit the Jake Brake. I had been after Jerry for several years to join a 20 Group, believing that the networking opportunity would be just what he needed to overcome the isolation that kept his business stagnant. He had resisted, because he thought he should be able to figure it out on his own. Pride over profit just didn’t make sense to me.
“Okay, okay…you were right,” Jerry continued. “I wish I had done this sooner.” He connected with 19 dealers from other markets who meet three times a year to discuss their businesses. They send their financials to a facilitator who assembles a report that compares their stats. The data and the facilitator’s analysis serve as a basis for the meetings.
“It’s pretty easy to identify your strengths and weaknesses when your numbers are compared to 19 others,” Jerry said. “The numbers don’t lie, so there’s no kidding yourself or anyone else. But the best part is, I can discuss my business concerns freely without worrying about confidentiality.”
At the first meeting, the group singled out Jerry’s service department for improvement. They made him commit to turning it around and then didn’t let him off the hook until it consistently made a profit. “It wasn’t just the peer pressure that helped,” Jerry said. “It was the advice, process ideas, and training resources that came from the group members. The mutual problem solving was great. Some of my ideas helped them and their feedback helped me.” Of course Jerry had to execute the plan, but the group gave him the confidence to do it.
Twenty Groups have been around the automotive and motorcycle businesses for over 30 years. Many dealers attribute much of their success to the motivation and help provided by their peers in 20 Groups. Others, like Jerry, have said their group saved them from failure. Once they are in a group, very few get out.
There’s a new player in the powersports business world that specializes in facilitating and moderating 20 Groups.
Performance, Inc. has joined forces with Lightspeed, the powersports dealer management systems software provider. What a combo: an industry icon that provides management software and a well-known company that tracks the numbers and helps dealers help themselves. Both are owned by dealership software giant ADP.
Performance Inc. facilitates 20 Groups from a variety of industries. Their portfolio includes auto dealers, as well as dealers of recreational vehicles, motor homes, truck accessories, heavy duty trucks, hardware stores, and boats. Makes you wonder what took them so long to come to the powersports world.
There will be some folks from Performance Inc. in the Lightspeed booth at Indy. They’ll be talking about the new ADP Lightspeed 20 Groups. I may be hanging around there myself. Stop by and meet the new “pit crew.” There’s no reason to sit in that lonely dealer’s chair any more. psb

Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 30 years, and he brings to this column his experience as owner, accountant, financial analyst, and computer program developer. For the past 10 years, he has been a ProQuest classroom instructor.

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