Abe Lincoln once famously said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
The lesson there, of course, is that preparation and remaining ever-sharp is important to success — especially long-term success.
As the captain of the ship overseeing all the departments in the dealership, general managers know that in order to sustain a profitable business, continuous improvement is a must.
From simple things like driving the lot and signing checks to the more mundane tasks such as reviewing receivables, payables, warranty funding, rebates, and manufacturer programs — there are several functions GMs must do weekly, if not daily.
But in order to run a successful and efficient dealership that regularly delights customers and increases market share, GMs must stay ahead of the ever-changing industry trends. Here, we’ll share a few strategic insights GMs can use to improve their skills and drive their business forward.
Listen to Your Customers, Then Exceed Their Expectations
Regularly check your customer reviews on Google, Yelp, Edmunds, and DealerRater. It’s imperative you stay in the know on what they liked about their experience, what they didn’t like, and if they had expectations you couldn’t meet.
Try to acknowledge all reviews and personally respond to the negative ones with an effort to remedy the issue — get on the phone if necessary. Before you reach out, talk to any of your managers or employees who may have been mentioned in the reviews (good or bad) and understand their perspective.
With both the vehicle purchase and service experience, customers are increasingly demanding more convenience that requires innovation. Whether it’s a complete online buying option, outstanding amenities and incentives, more digital interactions, or pickup and delivery, surprising and delighting your customers should always be your top priority.
Hire (and Retain) Quality Employees
You could argue that no business benefits more from having a pleasant and knowledgeable staff than auto dealerships. Customers are making big purchases, and odds are they’re already coming in with some preconceived (often negative) notions.
From lot attendants and clerks to service advisors and salespeople, every person in your dealership is responsible for creating an exceptional customer experience. Make sure you take the time to bring in people who have not only the right skillset and experience — but the right personality and attitude as well.
Hiring is getting harder at auto dealerships.
About 10% fewer people apply, yet dealers need an average of 25% more qualified applicants than they did in 2018.
Source: Hirelogy, a company that provides human-resource services to dealerships
According to Automotive News, the best ways to attract and keep the right employees at your dealership are to have:
- A strong culture
- An up-to-date job structure
- Effective leadership
Once you’ve assembled your “dream team,” do your best to keep them engaged, inspired, and motivated. Former GM and recognized sales and marketing trainer for auto professionals, Jim Ziegler, recommends regular meetings twice a week or more to rally the troops.
Ziegler recommends a variable meeting with department heads, including new-vehicle and pre-owned sales, fleet sales, F&I director, business development center (BDC) manager, and accounting chief to discuss:
- Inventory aging
- Trade-ins, including recon expense, time in service and wholesale profits and losses
- Who is driving our loaners, and why
- F&I product penetrations, per-copy average, and lease penetration
- Number of customers financed at 72- and 84-month terms
- Contracts in transit, funding delays, and deals delivered but not approved
As well as a fixed ops meeting with the service manager, parts manager, body shop manager, and office manager or controller to discuss:
- Open parts counter tickets and repair orders, especially those older than 30 days
- Average hours per RO
- Average dollars per customer-pay RO
- In-and-out times for quick lube
- Inventory of spare parts and fluids techs are storing at their workstations for side jobs
This regular and open communication will show you’re invested in your team and allow you to better lead from a position of knowledge and trust while fostering a sense of camaraderie and empowerment among your employees.
Regular Networking, Events, and Conferences
Referring back to our opening quote, dealers who fail to develop and grow professionally will have a difficult time staying sharp. Attending at least one annual conference (be it virtual or in-person) is a surefire way to reconnect with your peers, attend interactive workshops, hear from some visionary keynote speakers, obtain professional certification, discover new technologies, get actionable takeaways and best practices to immediately implement at your dealership, and more. Getting out of the office for a few days for an industry event can also be a great way to recharge the batteries.
A few of the top automotive industry conferences that will help you keep your dealership competitive include:
- Driving Sales Executive Summit
- The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention
- The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIAD) Convention
- Digital Dealer
The NADA 20 Group is a great way for dealership GMs to network, get proven advice, and “learn from legends.”
Beyond events like these, many GMs find it beneficial to join membership organizations like NADA 20 Group to “learn from legends” and regularly connect with fellow professionals to benchmark, validate, and improve.
Actively Observe and Implement Industry Trends
Good GMs try to stay active on social media and through all types of online content sources. Follow relevant organizations and thought leaders on Twitter, subscribe to newsletters, Google alerts, and keep your RSS feed filled with industry and marketing news. The more informed you are when it comes to changes and developments in the automotive industry, the more proactive you can be in taking advantage of opportunities and mitigating potential pitfalls.
Speaking of Google, social media, and other online platforms, the onus on GMs to understand effective marketing (especially digital advertising) can make or break their dealership’s success. GMs should meet with marketing and BDC managers on a regular basis so they have total visibility and full understanding of how marketing is performing within various digital channels:
- Ads on social media
- Google AdWords
- Third-party lead providers
As the digital landscape is always shifting, taking digital marketing courses and earning certifications can greatly increase your ability to understand and work with your marketing staff and manage vendor relationships.
Remain the Go-To Provider for Maintenance, Tires, and Repairs
If there’s one thing dealership GMs know for sure, it’s just how crucial service department customers are to their bottom-line success. If GMs can regularly get car buyers to come in for their first service and keep coming back until they’re ready for their next vehicle, they are far more likely to continually improve their overall performance.
Programs like DriveSure help GMs ensure vehicle owners come back for service by providing a suite of benefits that renew only when customers return for their scheduled maintenance.
For more tips on sharpening your skills, maximizing profits for your dealership, and becoming the go-to provider for maintenance and repairs, schedule a free consultation with a DriveSure expert today.
The 2020 Dealership Service Retention Report
INSIGHTS FROM NEARLY 2,000 DEALERSHIP CUSTOMERS
Learn why customers choose to return to their dealership for service and why they don’t. Plus, we reveal your biggest opportunities for encouraging customer loyalty.