What 5 Things Should Car Dealers Focus On for 2018?

In a recent CBT News interview (that aired this week), Joe Gumm asked me the following question:

“We’re about two months from wrapping up 2017; and some dealers are already thinking about 2018. So, if you had a top five list of things dealerships need in order to be successful from this point on, what would they be?”

You can view my answers to that question or the entire interview by following this link: https://cbtnews.com/steve-stauning-comes-leads-website-two-goals/ (Joe’s question starts at the 6:41 mark).

Of course, with any video interview, there’s only so much you can share in the short time provided. So, when an OEM client asked me to expand on my Top 5 list for 2018, I obliged. Here is my (expanded) list of the Top 5 things I would focus on in 2018 if I was a dealer:

The Top 5 Things Car Dealers Should Focus on in 2018

#1 Be the Best at the Basics

Too often I see dealership managers (especially those involved in your digital marketing or internet sales) spending an inordinate amount of time in search of the next shiny object that they believe will give them a competitive advantage. What these well-meaning managers don’t understand is that no dealer has ever sustainably grown sales, increased profits, reduced turnover or cut costs at rates better than their market solely because of any outside product or service.

Every dealer has the same access to the same vendors. If there’s something that really works, it’s a matter of weeks before every dealer has it.

The dealers who win in any market (including those winning as sales flatten) execute the best when it comes to the basics. They are simply out-executing every one of their competitors on everything from closing percentage of Traditional Ups to the time it takes them to get a trade vehicle through recon.

Think about the example I used in the interview: When you see great NFL quarterbacks at practice, they’re not wasting time working on trick plays, they’re spending almost all their time working on the basics. They’re focused on repetition; the boring stuff like taking snaps, handoffs and hitting their receivers’ passing routes.

They know that screwing up the basics kills the play, loses them the game and ends their season.

This same focus on perfecting the basics holds true for businesses like dealerships. Those at the top of their respective industry don’t waste time working on the “razzle-dazzle;” they continue to practice, focus on and enforce the basics.

So, in 2018, be the best at the basics and everything else will fall into place.

#2 Make the Overriding Goal to ‘Wow Everyone’

Right now, for some of you, the primary goal of your managers might be something like “How can we sell one more vehicle?” Not a bad goal, mind you. It shows a level of dissatisfaction that’s required to grow market share.

For 2018, I recommend you change your overriding goal to “How can we absolutely wow everyone who walks into our dealership today?”

As vehicles become commoditized, consumers will go where they enjoy the experience. This means your focus should not just be on selling a car, but also making the experience pleasurable for the customer. In automotive retail – where most buyers don’t like the experience – this would truly be a “wow.” (Oh, and this goal includes service, parts and body shop customers, as well as the delivery people your team interacts with. Genuinely work to wow everyone and ‘selling one more car’ becomes much easier.)

#3 Significantly Shorten the Road-to-the-Sale

For crap’s sake; if we can’t wow every customer, can we at least shorten the road-to-the-sale in 2018? If for no other reason, than to sell more cars with fewer people?

Think about it. You have top sellers who are stuck at 25 or 30 or 35 units per month not because they’re running out of Ups, but because they are running out of time. Your road-to-the-sale is simply too long. Your customers don’t like it and your people don’t like it.

Oh, and your prospects no longer need a drawn-out process to become buyers. They’re showing up on your lot ready to test drive (having already completed their needs analysis and product selection) and your team is taking them back to the beginning.

Some progressive dealers will shorten this process by introducing self-desking and allowing the salesperson to also act as the F&I manager; as these have been shown to improve closing percentages, grosses and CSI for some stores. But, if you’re not quite ready for this, can you at least work eliminate the F&I wait time in 2018? Is that asking too much?

#4 Add Accountability to Vendor Reviews

Every month your marketing vendors and lead providers send you some pretty graphs and slick reports. Some of the vendors (if you’re a big enough customer) will actually sit down with you or members of your team to review these documents.

Currently, these vendor reviews happen with relatively little accountability in most stores.

Beginning right now and continuing into 2018 and beyond, I recommend you add some accountability to your marketing reviews. This means telling the vendor to stop simply sending you their pretty graphs and to start answering the question: How many cars did you sell me last month?

For those vendors who cannot answer this question with any clarity, follow up with “Then why should I keep using your service? What value did you bring me last month?” (If they can’t answer this one, you have a pretty easy decision to make.)

For those who can tell you how many cars their service sold for you last month, reply to their answer with “Great, show me.”

Congratulations, you now have accountability in your marketing spend.

#5 Diversify

Vehicle margins continue to shrink, and everyone seems to be gunning for the “traditional dealer.” If you haven’t already figured it out, it’s time to begin diversifying your business.

For some of you, this may mean you make a stronger push into other areas of automotive retail like significantly growing your used vehicle business or adding online parts & accessories sales. For those already successfully doing these, it’s time to look outside of traditional automotive for more profit growth.

Whether that means investing in powersports and RVs or something else, it’s important to understand that retail is retail. If you only look at yourself as a Ford Dealer and not (more generally) as a retailer, you’re going to be trapped in whatever direction automotive heads over the coming years.

The truth is you’re not just a Ford Dealer; you’re a retailer just like the Starbucks on the corner. (Of course, there’s nothing that says your plans should only include retail; though it is where your teams’ expertise likely is strongest.)

Understanding this, and given that so many people believe new car dealers should go the way of Blockbuster Video stores, where would you like to see your business empire in five or ten years?

My hope for you is that you don’t end up like that guy in your town who used to own three video stores or a couple of bookstores or the local hardware store. Because, if that guy didn’t diversify his business five or ten years before his industry began to face disruption, he’s probably managing a shift at Taco Bell right about now.

Diversify your business and you’ll win in any market.