If you don’t know who Larry, Curly and Moe were, you might be a millennial. Early in the morning or late at night when I’m scanning through the upper tier of cable channels, I still sometimes come across an old “Three Stooges” short. And I can’t turn away. These guys were masters of slapstick, an art form left over from the vaudeville era.
Hard to say which one was the biggest idiot, but I think most fans will agree it was Curly, whose famous “n’yuk n’yuk n’yuk” laugh became a Stooges trademark. This comic trio was so absurd that you felt ashamed to admit you watched them. Of course you did, though. You couldn’t help yourself.
The Three Stooges are long gone, but their legacy lives on in the so-called “disrupters” who are trying to wring the profitability out of your operation.
The latest acceleration of stupidity into reality is the race to completely automate the sales and F&I process and transact and contract the sale online. Now that these modern-day Stooges have the technology figured out, they are in a race to see who can come to market first.
As always, the manufacturers are on the frontlines. But this time it’s the vendors that are frothing at the mouth to roll out new features. I’m talking about everybody from lead providers to web developers and even some of the CRMs. They are grabbing their forks and knives, putting on bibs, and taking seats at the table. And the main course is you.
I know what some of you out there are thinking: “There goes Ziegler again. He’s just raging against the machine, ranting about schemes and plots and sinister scenarios against the dealers.”
Yes, I have often been accused of all that. But before you join the chorus, take a look at my track record. I call them as I see them and I am usually proven right. You can call me a crackpot, but I’ve been warning you about this repeatedly. You can dismiss this page as commentary and opinion, but it’s fast becoming industry news, because the techno geeks are doing their work right out in the open.
The lead providers are leading the charge, touting “total transactional websites” as something you’re going to be happy about. But they are not the only ones, believe me. It is a mass conspiracy.
Let me ask a question: Who keeps the finance grosses and the finance product sales in an online transaction? Who determines the gross profit on the sale? Finally, how much do the geeks intend to skim off of what they give you for the privilege of doing the heavy lifting and taking all the risk?
Of course, the ultimate objective is to eliminate the F&I department by convincing dealers it is more cost-effective to let the sales team handle it. Believe it or not, some dealers have actually taken the bait and tried it.
Unfortunately, no website ever bumped a customer’s monthly payment by $100, rehashed a deal with a bank or finance company to get the contract bought, or asked for a bigger down payment. Most finance customers don’t make $150,000 a year and show up with an 800 credit score. If yours do, then God bless you. Online transactions will work just fine at your dealership.
But if you are like most of us, you have to work to put these deals together. You know how to switch credit-challenged customers to a more realistic car selection. Tell me how that’s going to happen in a total online transaction? It’s going to blow the deal up, because car buyers are not realistic. What the goofball contingent doesn’t get is we sell cars because we persuade people, change their minds, work the finance sources, and bring them into reality.
The disrupters who fail to account for these factors when they reinvent car sales are, in reality, nuisances. They will see marginal returns as they invent new ways to steal dealers’ profits. Will they be successful? Yes, because there will always be a certain percentage of consumers who have the income, education and creditworthiness to use them. But they are going to screw up our business, just like the stooges before them.
In the end, we, the dealer people, will have to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess, and the vendors and manufacturers who created it will move on to the next pratfall. N’yuk n’yuk n’yuk!
Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems Inc. Contact him at [email protected].