What are your thoughts about the auto industry and COVID-19?
I’ve been in the industry for the lion’s share of my career. No one has seen anything like COVID-19 before. It has been an unforeseeably trying time and has changed us in a way that I think is forever. Many of us expected to see a move away from traditional brick and mortar stores towards more digital engagement on what we thought was a horizon of 12 or 15 years. This pandemic and the absence of a vaccine has forced us to leap forward three or four years into that future as we wait for a vaccine to feel truly safe. The model going forward, at least-for the near future, is going to be on the internet and digitally-based. People will be talking by phone, not walking the lot in person as often as they were doing before. We will have to be more transparent as we won’t always be able to meet in person. The winners will be the dealers who are willing to be flexible and adapt to the new environment, which includes meeting the demands of new consumer behaviors.
If you were a car dealer today, what would you do?
I would be doubling down on all the proactive forms of communication that I can use. Automotive technologies can empower sales staff to:
- Make informed calls to customers.
- Send direct mail pieces that are microtargeted based on consumer needs.
- Market through personalized email.
- Make social media posts.
- Use digital retargeting. For example, if you sent direct mail to the people on a list, utilize the same list to market digitally on social media.
- Enhance the dealership’s website.
I would put my time and resources toward any form of proactive communication I could to my customers, so I am not waiting for them to come to the lot. While consumers are hungry to buy cars, they may not be too excited about physically walking through the door. That means creating my own traffic and reaching out to existing and potential customers and not waiting for the phone to ring or door to swing.
What are your thoughts about recovery? How long will it take and what will it look like?
That’s a tough one. A lot of what we are seeing will be based on dealership inventory, individual state policies, and consumer confidence and response. Now that dealerships are open, the next question is whether they have enough inventory because inventory has been delayed. With that said, now is a good time for dealers to focus on their pre-owned inventory and move what they can from that lot. Also, we don’t know right now whether there will be a second wave of the pandemic. I recommend that dealers put together two sets of plans, one for the next 30-90 days and a second for the next 90-180 days.
Dealer plans should concentrate on the following:
- The individual state policies toward auto dealers
- Inventory availability
- Consumer confidence and response
- Contingencies should there be a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall or winter
If you could give the dealers any good news, what would it be?
I talk to dealerships and dealer relations managers around the country every day. Stores that are willing to adapt, and have adapted, are not only doing well and surviving, they are also thriving. When someone can out-sell year over year, that is very encouraging to hear. Despite everything that is going on, I am hearing about real successes on a micro level throughout the country. As I mentioned before, consumers are ready to buy cars again — you just need to meet their new demands of convenience and personalized experiences before the competition does.
Would you condense your experience in advising dealers into three pieces of advice?
My work for automotiveMastermind has taught me the following:
- Proactivity is king. Don’t wait for your customers to come to you or the lot. Reach out to them.
- Embrace digital transparency on your website.
- Be willing to accept the fact that things are changing and be ready to adapt to those changes.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
Things are potentially forever changed in our marketplace, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. Evolution can be a good thing. It provides opportunities. If you embrace those opportunities, you will find success.