As I write this, it is January of 2015. I first landed at a desk in a Honda motorcycle dealership in January of 1972, and have been in the industry almost every day since. That’s 43 years in motorcycle.
So, what has changed? Let’s take a look.
In 1972 there was no computer system available for motorcycle. Auto had it, but it cost $100,000 or more, and was out of reach for any motorcycle dealership. I know. I worked for ADP right out of college, and the thought of marketing to motorcycle was laughable.
So, no computer system. That meant that all accounting was done with a #3 pencil and 13-column accounting paper. Or perhaps a legal size 4-column pad for journal entries. Parts invoices were listed, footed and cross-footed by hand. You did it twice to prove your balances. If you didn’t get the same total, you started over. I had a permanent half-moon dent in the finger where my pencil lay.
Major unit deals were hand calculated and handwritten. Contracts were handwritten, with payments interpolated from payment books you carried in your hip pocket next to a blue book. If the customer at pickup wanted to add something to the deal, he had to pay cash, or you gave it to him. It was just too hard to re-do the contract.
Repair orders were handwritten. Amounts were figured on electronic desk calculators that were just coming into use in the early 1970s. Four-function handheld calculators were not available until the mid-’70s, and they cost $350 each. RO’s were extended and totaled by hand.
Part numbers were looked up in printed catalogs that stretched 5 feet or more left to right across a low table. They were dirty from years of use, and gave only part number, cost and MSRP. If you wanted to bump the price, you did it by hand or a calculator. This had to be done in full view of the customer at the point of sale. You had no system showing parts on hand, so you had to walk the aisles to see if you had the part in stock. Your customer was left on hold or sitting at the counter.
Obsolescence was continual and ever growing. Worst, without a proper posting system, parts that sat for years and finally sold were often immediately re-order back for stock — where they sat for years more. When space ran out, you pulled a trailer close and tossed all the old stuff. The trailer went to the metal recycling yard, and the parts were sold for a penny a pound. You gave the money to the techs for pizza money.
To find a part not in stock, you called other dealers. They took the call, went back to their shelves, tried to find the part, and then returned to say whether they found it or not. If they didn’t have it, you called another dealer. Each call would take from 5 to 10 minutes. Then, if they had it, you sent a runner to pick it up. Major units the same. You could trade side covers for color some times, but usually had to drive to pick up the unit. If you were in a bind, you went as far as needed to find it. For me that was about 300 miles, Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On Christmas Eve. My mistake on what I had in stock. Oversold by 1. You get in the truck, and you go.
Finance and insurance products — if you sold them — were all hand calculated. The interest rate was given to you by the lender. There was no odd-day interest. You could not back in to a payment amount. “Out-the-door” deals were almost impossible to calculate, especially when a trade was involved. Service Contracts, Credit Life, Accident and Health and all other add-ons were a pain because the contract had to be written before the customer arrived. If they said no, you had to start all over. You handed the customer $20, told them to go have lunch on you, and come back in an hour.
Floor checks were unannounced, and caused much anxiety because you were always behind getting units paid off. The floor checkers changed frequently, but you could always spot them by the clipboard they carried in their hand. They were mad when they arrived; they didn’t believe a thing you said, and they were suspicious when they left, especially about the checks you told them you had just put in the mail. One new floorplan checker — a nice looking young lady with pretty hair —arrived at my store in high heels and a white dress. It was raining. My inventory was stacked outside in crates three high. Got to hand it to her, she had game. Was willing to try. But of course it didn’t work. She came back in, dripping wet, hair plastered down and freezing, asked for some help, and every tech in the shop offered his coat and volunteered to put her up on the forklift so she could read the VINs. I think I lost six labor hours that day. But I sure had happy mechanics.
As you read this, is there any doubt in your mind about what the computer has done for us in our stores? Can you imagine handling your volume all by hand?
Yeah. Me neither.
But it didn’t come easily. And I am proud to have been associated with some very bright people who listened to my needs in that small Honda dealership, joined me to change our world, and who continue to this day to keep it all running. In fact, there are 160 very bright people who surround me at this moment, who keep it all running smoothly for 3,000 dealerships in three different industries.
So what am I trying to say here?
Here it is. After 16 years and 192 columns in these pages, I have decided to wrap it up and get serious about this Grandpa stuff. With 29 grandkids, I have had some good practice, but now it is time to go full time. Others will take my place on this page, but I find myself a bit melancholy reflecting on the years that have past and composing these last words for you. And the thought that comes to my mind is…
This wasn’t a job. This was a ride.
And what a ride. What a long, beautiful, interesting, fascinating ride.
Thank you. Thank you all.
And, my best to each of you on your own ride — providing exhilarating recreation experiences to good people. What could be better?
Gotta run. Grandkids want to help me pick some pears.
Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 40 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at CDK Global Recreation. Contact him at Harold.Ethington@cdk.com.