By MARK J. SHEFFIELD
Normally you see a problem coming at you, but COVID-19 swooped in from the periphery and it’s catching many dealers unprepared. Scientists have long predicted a global pandemic, but like most other agencies, they had to make do with the funding they were given. There’s only so much money to go around.
Mixed messaging from Washington, D.C., has placed a bigger burden on elected officials in each state, and this means that there’s not one piece of global advice that works for everyone. When I served in the U.S. Army, we often talked about the Ground Truth. This phrase refers to knowing what’s going on around you based on your own observations and then making decisions off that data.
COVID-19 is here and it’s going to be hanging out for a while. As business owners, what can we do? While we at Spader Business Management are in the process of working on a comprehensive list, here’s some things to get you started.
• Be a leader — Panic benefits no one. With your employees, be honest with them that these are uncertain times, but project optimism about the future. Communication really is key. Talk to your employees. America is a great country and we will adapt and overcome.
• Be a resource — Social media has some positive traits, but during an emergency it allows the rapid spread of falsehoods and panic. Meet with your teams and pass on legitimate data from authorities on the current situation. COVID-19 has only been active for about 90 days. There is still much to learn. It’s doubtful your Facebook friends know more than the CDC.
• Know the rules of the game — Congress has yet to finalize the first aid package to help deal with this situation, but it should provide needed relief to many small business with the inclusion of business tax credits for sick pay, expanded unemployment insurance and other benefits. This is a fast-moving landscape and the bill is written in legal language. Reach out to your industry organizations as they have the legal expertise to explain what the final legislation will mean to you.
• Optimize your cash position — Draw down lines of credits before bank lending tightens up. File those outstanding warranty claims. Submit all outstanding finance contracts. Talk to your floorplan lenders about limiting curtailments. Reach out to the OEMs about free floorplan extensions. Attempt to collect on all outstanding receivables.
• Review outstanding orders — Business is going to slow down, but it’s not going to stop. Look at any outstanding vehicle orders you might have and determine if you really need them. Cut back on stocking orders for parts and accessories.
• Have a written fall back plan — If your business must close for 30 days, what will you do (and can you operate at partial staffing levels)? How long will you maintain employee payrolls before you move staff to unemployment. What changes at 60 days, 90 days? Map out these plans and be ready to act before those times arrive. Without a written plan, you are more likely to adjust based on the news of the day, while ignoring the bigger picture.
Even at this time of great uncertainty, not a day goes by where I don’t hear from 20 Group members who tell me that business continues to remain strong. Every generation must deal with a crisis — 9/11, the Great Recession and now Covid-19.
Most of us have dealt with these problems and come through the other side. The biggest concern for most dealers is the uncertainty about the future, but looking back we had the same concerns about prior issues.
Each of us will soon be tasked with making critical moral and ethical decisions that may not be easy. Not every dealer is going to survive, but the ones who do will be the ones that prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. As the owner or GM of a dealership, it’s important to recognize that your employees look at you for leadership and guidance. Know the Ground Truth, make rational and thought out decisions, be a leader.
Mark J. Sheffield is a U.S. Army Veteran and former dealer principal who currently facilitates multiple 20-groups for Spader Business Management. When he’s not assisting with dealership performance, he can be found at the rifle range or digging holes with his backhoe. Contact him at MSheffield@Spader.com.