November was a very busy month that brought me into contact with a large and varied group of dealers.
Early in the month I conducted a two-day conference for the sales managers of dealerships using our call center. That was immediately followed by attending the HD-1 20 club meeting, as a dealer member and a partner in four dealerships active in that group. Later in the month I had a chance to attend and speak at the annual meeting of the Virginia Motorcycle Dealers Association followed by the same opportunity with the Florida Motorcycle Dealers Association.
What is particularly startling is the dealers’ perception of how things are. We, as an industry, have experienced good and bad times. Today it is obvious, at least from a dealer’s perspective, that we are experiencing both.
When speaking to each group my opening comment was “things are very different than they were five years ago.” It is always nice to start off with everyone agreeing with you. My follow-up question was: “Since we all agree that things are different, what are you doing differently?”
I have devoted a lot of ink in many of these columns this year to the changes I think need to be made. Maybe you agree with what I have written or maybe you have a better idea, or at least a different one. Having no idea will cause you a lot of pain. The marketplace has changed. You have to respect the fact that customers have a lot more information available to them and ready buying opportunities right from their laptop or blackberry. If you are operating like you did in the past, times are bad.
After speaking to the Florida Association I received a nice e-mail from a young woman who had attended. She was a manager in a relatively new dealership and had gone back to the store and had the management team buy into the new approach I had presented. She thanked me and posed the question, “Why wouldn’t every dealer do it?” My answer: What’s now required does not suit many longtime operators.
There is no way around the need for a strong sales aptitude and orientation. If there is a common denominator amongst dealers having a record year in 2007, it is the dealer principal is on top of and driving the sales process. If there is a common thread amongst those struggling, it is that they are allowing the sales team to be in control. Staffing levels, structure and pay plans all have to be revised to reflect what is currently required. The sales team will never drive those changes.
The truth is a large number of dealers hide from the sales process, in the same way I have always hidden from the mechanical aspects of the business. Whenever I have attempted to perform any mechanical task, I misplace the wrench I was working with, continually drop screws, nuts and washers, and in the end make a mess of whatever I was trying to do. So, I have always endeavored to hire the best service manager I could find, paid him well and stayed out of his way. So, why does that approach not work with the sales manager for the dealer who has as much sales aptitude as I have mechanical?
I do not have the ability to answer that in the space available here. What I am finding is our business is evolving in a way that is very unfair to many genuinely great people who were in many ways the driving force for our product gaining the overall acceptance it now enjoys. The skill sets that are essential today were not required as we propelled ourselves into the mainstream. Having arrived off the freeway with the big box store you need more than the passion, which was enough to get you this far.
I appreciate that making the needed changes for the coming year will, for many, be as hard as it is going to be for me when I try to assemble my new 2008 Yellow Super Glide FXDC that Santa is shipping down to me in St. Croix (fortunately Roy Nicholson and Orville Sheldon are my neighbors). I will keep trying to share what is working, and my New Year’s wish will be that I will succeed in getting that message to more of my old friends.
I’ll be seeing ya
I will be at the Canadian National Dealers meeting Jan. 30-31 in Toronto and at the North & South Carolina Dealers Association meeting Feb. 9 in Charlotte. Cheers, Ed.
Ed Lemco has been involved with the powersports industry for more than 30 years. Lemco, the former owner of Lemco Management Group, is the founder and executive director of the National Council of Motorcycle Dealer Associations. Lemco currently operates a call center for dealers in St Croix. psb