Ah, to be a dealer. Everyone wants to be one, but few understand what it takes to be a good one. And, well, I’m certainly in no position to offer any advice on what it takes to be a successful dealer, but I’ve worked for a few great ones in my career. In fact, I marvel at my current dealer here at Langdale Ford, Stephen Everett. He has an uncanny ability to surround himself with well-seasoned managers that he empowers to do the job.
Like most dealers, customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance to him. It’s what drives repeat and referral business. And according to Ford, our customer retention percentage is among the highest in the nation, so I guess we’re pretty good at it. But that doesn’t mean things run on autopilot.
I’ve written before that my dealer subscribes to a style of management coined by business guru Tom Peters. It’s called “management by walking around,” or MBWA. This business philosophy holds that you can learn an awful lot by simply taking a casual stroll through the operation on a regular basis. However, there’s nothing casual about this exercise.
See, since your money is paying the bills, you’re naturally more sensitive to waste and laziness. So issues spotted are quickly passed along to each department’s respective manager. As an extension of the dealer, those managers train subordinates on the culture they were trained to follow and maintain.
Now I don’t have the secret to instilling and maintaining culture, but I can tell you my dealer is pretty darn good at it. And one of his key tools for doing that is what I refer to as the “Dealer Mini 20 Group” meeting. I’d wager that some of you already do this or some variation of it at your store. If not, then read on.
At our store, every manager knows their department’s financial contribution to the overall operation. The thinking is the more you know, the more you’ll own your decisions. So every month, Everett will haul us in for a closed-door meeting. With our forecasts for every designated profit metric on display, the comptroller extracts the previous month’s numbers directly from the end-of-month financial report and displays them one spreadsheet at a time.
Those monthly forecasts are also calculated out for the entire year, so managers know how far ahead or behind those projections they are. And that goes for the manager of the body shop to the individual overseeing the Quick Lane. Yeah, those two critical business units don’t get absorbed into fixed operations.
And let me tell ya, it’s not fun being in that meeting when your department doesn’t meet forecast. Dealers who belong to a 20 Group know the feeling. The plus side of this exercise is we get to dissect and analyze our shortcomings with the help of the other managers in the room.
I must admit I wasn’t a fan of this meeting when Everett started it years ago. However, I always come away having learned something after licking the wounds of embarrassment. And over the years, I’ve watched individual departments grow as their managers learned the finer points of managing revenue.
But something else happened: We all learned about each other’s department and what it takes to keep them in the black. Hey, it’s easy to have tunnel vision when you’re focused on hitting your own objectives. But when you sit with your fellow managers and begin hearing about their problems, you gain a better appreciation for what they do and what they mean to the organization.
I know there are some dealers who keep their key people in the dark about the inner workings of the dealership. I’m glad my dealer isn’t one of them. The knowledge gained from those meetings provides me with the confidence I need to make the right decisions under stressful situations.
Hey, the more managers know about each department, the better their departments can work together for their mutual benefit as well as the dealer’s. Besides, what dealer doesn’t want his or her people to be as informed as possible?
Listen, success can’t be found at the bottom of a cereal box; it must be planned and executed on a regular basis. And the only way that can happen is if your managerial teams are informed and connected. And that, my friends, is how culture is instilled and maintained. Good luck, and keep closing!
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected]