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Category Archive: General Management

Eric Schmitz

Revised OSHA Rule Brings Changes for Dealers

warningEffective January 1, 2015, OSHA will require all employers, including dealers, to report work-related fatalities to OSHA within eight hours and to report work-related hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of eye within 24 hours.

In the past, new and used car dealerships, among other industries, had been exempt from completing and posting the OSHA 300 log based on their Standard Industry Code (SIC). However, under the new regulatory change, dealerships have lost this exemption and must keep this accident and injury form up to date.

Injury reporting will also change under the new rule. Under the current regulation, employers are required to report work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees within eight hours of the event. Under the new rule, employers must report all work-related fatalities to OSHA within eight hours of the event and all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, as well as amputations and loss of an eye to OSHA within 24 hours of the event.

What is an OSHA 300 Log?

The OSHA 300 Log is used to catalog and classify injuries and illnesses of any full-time, contract, or temporary workers over the course of a full calendar year. This log is required even if Worker’s Compensation Loss Runs are maintained at your facility. OSHA 300 Logs are now required for all facilities to allow OSHA to track and measure injury and illness rates throughout the country for multiple industries. The OSHA 300 Log is a more reliable way to track theses rates than workers’ compensation records because workers’ compensation records vary from state to state. OSHA will use the data from the logs to determine the following:

  • The number of workers who are injured or made ill in the workplace.
  • The types of injuries and illnesses sustained.
  • Departments and jobs that have the highest occurrence of injuries and illnesses.
  • Priorities for correcting job hazards.

To stay compliant with the new rule, the following injuries and illnesses must be listed on the OSHA 300 Log:

  • Death
  • Work days missed
  • Restricted work
  • Job transfers
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Significant injury or illness diagnosed by a licensed medical professional

As the rule change approaches, KPA will be providing a variety of training and webinars. Please visit to view a webinar, or contact to learn more.

KPA is a business services provider for more than 5,100 automotive, truck and equipment dealerships, and service companies. KPA provides software and consulting services through two industry-specific product lines: HR Management and Environmental Health and Safety. KPA joined the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2012. To learn more, visit or call 866.356.1735



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Steven Banks

What to (Not) Expect When You Are Expecting (Success)

dealer laptop

Have you ever prepared extensively for a certain event only to be caught off guard by an unanticipated circumstance? Maybe you prepared for a recital, fully expecting a Tchaikovsky piece to come out of your fingers but mid-recital a contact lens popped out and you could no longer read the music; or, you trained all off-season for a sport and then ripped your ACL in your first real game putting you on the bench for the rest of the season. Or perhaps you practiced for hours rehearsing your greeting line for when you pick up your date only to slam her fingers in the door a few minutes afterwards – ruining everything. (By the way, if this happens to you, later in the date don’t offer to put her fingers in your ice cream cone to make them feel better. That just makes things awkward – trust me).

Thinking you are prepared for something and then getting blindsided by the unexpected is never fun. These kinds of things can destroy your morale, leave you feeling lost, and asking yourself “what the heck just happened?” But it doesn’t just happen on stage, on the field, or in your ’91 Mazda 626. It can happen anywhere, especially in the dealership.

Two questions you are probably asking yourself right now:

  • What kind of things should I be expecting in my dealership that I am currently not?
  • How do I make sure I’m prepared for when the unexpected does happen? (And it will.)

The answer to number one is: I have no idea! If we knew the answer to that, they no longer would be “unexpected circumstances,” right? It’s one thing to be cautious, but it’s another thing to sit around all day and dream up worse case scenarios; we don’t have time for speculation. Our main focus should be on point number two — expect the unexpected and be prepared at all times. I suppose now is the appropriate time for me to expand on this with a few actionable bullet points. So here are three ways you can ensure you are prepared when the worse-case scenario comes up:

Manage Your Data

Let’s say an unexpected situation comes up where you suddenly need to access every single car deal for the year; you need know how many and what percentage were cash deals and the details for each deal, and what percentage and how many were financed and who they were financed with. You have five minutes to get this, GO! How did you do?

That was the easy one; let’s try another. Now you need to be able to determine how many retail units you’ve sold MTD, know which have been booked and which haven’t even gone through accounting yet, what the gross is for both booked and unbooked, what your pace is for month end (from the perspective of units, gross, PVR, front end, and back end), get an aged receivable count and balance, get an aged inventory count (both new and used) with the vehicle details, know which of your salespersons haven’t sold a vehicle in over three days, and compare MTD pace to your forecast (if you even have a forecast).  Five minutes, GO!

Impossible? Not really, I can get all of that in two minutes and am happy to prove it anyone. There might be a select few of you out there who also could get that information on demand; however, I’m willing to bet that many of you would either panic or throw in the towel if you needed that information and needed it now. The beauty is, all of that information is available, and it resides in your DMS. The real question is, can you easily and efficiently access it without it being time consuming? If not, find a way to get the data out of your DMS and into your hands in an uncomplicated fashion.

Keep Records

This is very different than the aforementioned point. Managing your data is one thing, but making sure you are keeping your data is a completely different thing. If don’t have data, you can’t manage it. Is your information protected in the instance of a system crash? Or what happens when you switch DMS systems, are you absolutely certain that 100% of your data and records will be transferred over?  Be on the safe side, make sure your information is warehoused. Many vendors can do this for a nominal fee.

Know the Right People

You are in a legal bind, you have unexpected personnel turnover, you are going through a buy/sell, you realize your service matrix is as outdated as The Matrix movie. If you run or manage a dealership, you’re pretty smart, but none of us knows everything. Make sure you have solid relationships with the right consultants. Getting unbiased input from knowledgeable and credible sources when you need them can work wonders.

It’s tough being prepared for the unknown. But by taking the appropriate precautions you can almost eliminate the worse-case scenario, which isn’t to stop the unexpected, but to be prepared for when the unexpected happens. By ensuring you have a checkmark beside these three items, you are ensuring you have a great foundation for unanticipated circumstances. Oh, and honey, we’re having triplets!


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Steve Hall

Trying Something New?


Follow this Recipe for Better Results

Summer in Kansas City is the time to smoke, grill and barbecue. The other day I was putting together my special rib sauce and it occurred to me that cooking is a lot like managing. Cooking when you have a great recipe is a lot easier –­ and the results are consistently better ­if you’re following a plan and executing it flawlessly. My sauce recipe helps me stay focused and ensures a better outcome. Every time I think I can whip up my sauce without the recipe, I find myself leaving out an ingredient, not measuring properly or forgetting to watch it closely as it simmers.

Likewise, managing without a plan is hard. We operate in a people business and people can be messy. As a department Manager, you deal with varying personalities, mood swings and all of the other parts of a business that can be challenging, to say the least.

With this in mind, have you ever seen the manager that just seems to get results? No matter what they try, it just seems to work. Do they have a better plan or do they just do a better job with the plans they have? Granted, some plans or ideas are better than others, but even the best plans don’t stand a chance without proper communication and follow up. That’s the secret sauce – the key to their success.

At NCM Associates, we believe in Six Primary Elements of Effective Accountability Management. These elements are the foundation of solid business planning and will help you achieve any goal with greater ease. If you’re struggling to implement or execute your next plan, review these elements and become a better manager.

Plan your work and work your plan.

Do you have a plan for your department? Many managers come to work each day only to have the day rule them. I understand that circumstances come up and we must handle them, but do you take time to work “on” your business, not just “in” your business? A well-thought-out game plan is the first step. Decide what your goal is. Then you must plan the steps to get you there.

Is your plan written out? Well-written plans that are quantified will help keep you on track. This will serve as the roadmap towards your objectives. Quantification is used to put a dollar figure to your plan. This will justify why your efforts are worthwhile.

Clearly define and communicate your expectations.

Once you’ve thought through and written down your plan and are ready to take action to work the plan, the next step is to get everyone “on board” with the plan. We can’t be a one-person show. We must multiply our efforts through our staff. Oftentimes this is a point of failure. We think everyone understood what we said, but really, they didn’t. We may have spent a few days or even weeks thinking up and planning the new initiative and paying close attention to every detail. Then, when we go to launch it, we hold a “mandatory” meeting and in an hour expect everyone to be on board. Take time to do a better job getting their buy-in and then define their roles in very clear ways, with measureable expectations and deadlines.

Measure what you intend to manage.

What are the key components of the plan? How do you know if it’s working? The bottom line is that all plans must be measurable. Many times, good plans fade away, largely because people just can’t tell if they’re working. If you do a good job measuring results, now you will know if the plan is gaining traction and getting the results that you desire. As you see these results improving, it will help keep your attention and focus on the plan.

But how do you keep the team focused on the plan? Why not scoreboard it? In a common departmental area, away from customers, place a large whiteboard and start displaying the measureable results. Then every day, post the results. If the results aren’t what you desire, this will serve as a forum to bring the team into alignment with the needed actions to make the improvements. If the results are progressing as planned, use this as a celebration and encouragement tool. People love to see the score, to know if they are winning or not. Use their inner competitive desire to your advantage.

Inspect what you expect.

Now that you have a measurement tool in place, you need to inspect what you expect. Results will not just happen. If you’ve done a good job developing the plan, communicating the plan and deciding how you will measure the results, now you must inspect the activities that need to happen on a daily basis to end up with the desired results.

Do your associates know that you will be inspecting results and that you are committed to the plan? Or do they think it is just another whim that will quickly lose steam and fade away? For plans to work long-term, you must continually inspect what you expect.

Reward positive results and respond appropriately to negative results.

We believe that positive behavior that’s rewarded will be repeated and negative behavior that’s not effectively addressed will, likewise, be repeated.

Life is a balance; work should be a balance also. All too often we don’t hear anything about our performance or give feedback about our staff’s performance. Good or bad, it just seems to go unnoticed. That’s until someone does one too many bad things; then the hammer falls. We unload all of the built-up issues we haven’t addressed along the way. This outpouring of negative information hits them like a ton of bricks, whether it’s deserved or not.

Why do we do this? Doesn’t it make more sense to give consistent feedback for both positive and negative performance? If someone isn‘t following procedure, don’t we have the responsibility to let them know when it happens so that they can take corrective action? Just as important, when we find someone doing things right, isn’t that the best time to praise them? Employees feed off of this praise and usually try to do things right. Unfortunately, we all too often don’t communicate — and reinforce the behavior, whether right or wrong. Timely feedback will help keep your plan on track.

Develop and implement a systemic structure.

Dissimilar people operating within the same systemic structure will produce similar results. Are you process-oriented? Everyone has their own viewpoints and biases. A systemic structure will help keep everyone on the right track – your track. Set up processes to help you reach your goal. Once your processes are in place, you will need to consistently train, monitor and enhance these processes. You have to remember that processes will not survive on their own. They just seem to disappear over time.

This is commonly known as process evaporation. We hear explanations like, “We used to do it that way, but now we don’t. There was no real reason for the change — it just happened.” The only way to combat this is to continuously work on the processes. The processes must become part of your culture!

The next time you’re getting ready to launch that new initiative, take a few minutes to review these six elements. Taking these into account early in the process will help you achieve every goal quicker, with more ease and better results. That sounds like a recipe for success for any manager.

This article was originally published in Fixed Ops Magazine.

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Joe Basil

What Mode is Your Dealership Operating In?


As the great recession started to unfold in 2008 and 2009, gasoline prices rose above four dollars a gallon, the banking and housing industry began to collapse, unemployment rose and auto sales fell off the charts. Those dealerships that came out on the other end in strong financial shape recognized and acknowledged this change. They adapted to the changing economic environment by recognizing what mode they were in and shifting their business operating mode as needed.

Now that we have had four years of continued retail auto sales growth, those same dealers that successfully maneuvered their way through the recession are again studying the changing market conditions and adapting accordingly. They will continue to be successful because they consistently evaluate and assess the changing marketplace environment and reconcile that against the operating mode of their dealership.

So, one might ask what am I referring to by asking what “mode” a dealership may be in? Generally speaking, any business at any one point in time could be categorized in any of the four following modes: crisis, growth, profitability or maintenance.

Crisis mode would be a dealership or department that:

  • Has weak leadership throughout
  • Is consistently reactive versus proactive to market changes
  • Undercapitalized and short of cash
  • Has no strategy or direction
  • Has low or no hiring standards
  • Has over-aged inventory issues
  • Is liquidating its net worth on a daily basis

Growth mode would be a dealership or department that:

  • Has clear aggressive leadership
  • Is making long-term strategic decisions
  • Is properly capitalized
  • Is focused on growing their customer base, market share, and in turn, their enterprise value
  • Typically has very high standards that are consistently implemented through strong management teams
  • Is willing and able to make short-term sacrifices for long-term growth

Profitability mode would be a dealership or department that:

  • Has a time proven business model supported by a solid balance sheet
  • Is focused on and run by return on investment criteria, as opposed to sales volume or market share
  • Identifies opportunities for profit improvement at each and every transaction level within the dealership business process
  • Focuses on and invests in recruiting and developing top-performing employees

Maintenance mode would be a dealership or department that:

  • Might typically, but not necessarily have a strong balance sheet with excessive or lazy working capital
  • Does not focus on its market share position
  • Does not make decisions based on return on investment criteria
  • Consistently fails to recognize changes in the market and adapt accordingly
  • Makes little or no investment in training and developing the management team and employees
  • Complacently relies on an existing customer base
  • Carries excess over-aged and obsolete inventory

So based on these categories, which one might your dealership fall into? How did it get there? What will make it possible to maintain or change your position? It might be an interesting exercise to have your management team review these categories and determine which one they think their department falls into, compared to your assessment. A step further would be to have employees in each department determine what category they feel they are in, in comparison to their manager’s opinion.


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Dennis Kane

Are You Covered for Pollution?


Your service manager calls you and explains there has been a pollution incident with your waste oil. Do you have insurance coverage?

If you live in the United States, be afraid, because anyone with your EPA generator number who has picked up pollutants from your dealership has created a liability for you. Some greedy attorney will sue you for every dime you have earned. Our government will fine you, plus interest. The courts will imprison you, pending judgment, and your spouse will leave you for a rich plastic surgeon. I’m told fear and sex are the two best ways to get a dealer’s attention – the rest of this article has neither. But if I still have your attention, the following is worth reading!

Every dealership has pollution liability exposures, but many dealers don’t have insurance coverage for these complex and constantly emerging hazards. Many companies that have significant pollution exposures are required to buy pollution coverage (ie: those with underground tanks); however, for most dealerships, the decision to purchase insurance is voluntary.

This coverage is often overlooked by insurance agents because they don’t understand dealership pollution exposures or they don’t have access to markets that can provide cost effective coverage. Most garage liability carriers have standard pollution exclusions, so a separate policy is almost always required. There are many different types of coverages and policies depending on the complexity of your pollution exposures and hazards.

Every dealership has pollution exposures.

For example: solvents, caustics, cleaning agents, collision repair and painting operation, and petroleum products all can create pollution exposures. Results of pollution incidents include:

  • Damage to third party
  • Clean up costs of contaminated property
  • Off-site waste disposal clean up expense
  • Fines and penalties for violation and adverse public reactions

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act provides “cradle to grave” regulation of hazardous waste. It imposes strict waste management requirements upon generators and transporters of hazardous waste, and upon waste treatment storage and disposal facilities. This basically means that you own the liability for the lifetime of the pollutant. There is also strict joint and several liability with pollution incidents which means, regardless of who was negligent, you can be brought into the suit to defend and remediate the pollution incident.

At a minimum, every dealership needs three basic coverages.

First, your dealership property and damage to third party that originates at your property for bodily injury, property damage and clean-up costs. Second is transportation coverage from non-owned autos that pick up your pollutants and transport them to non-owned disposal sites for bodily injury, property damage and clean up cost. Third is non-owned disposal sites which offers coverage for properly permitted sites for bodily injury, property-damage and clean up resulting from pollution event on, under or migrating beyond the boundaries of disposal sites. In some instances, if you have underground tanks, you need specialized coverage.

Take the time at your next renewal to ask your agent to review the pollution coverages to make sure your exposures are covered and there are no surprises. Depending on the size of your dealership, pollution policy premiums start around two thousand dollars for one million dollars of coverage.


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Fred O'Dwyer

Is Everything Clear?


Not too long ago as I was listening to someone talk about how fundamental clarity is in fueling growth in a company. A bell went off somewhere inside me, for I knew I had heard something similar about the virtue of clarity inside growing businesses, even though it was a long time ago.

And then I remembered: Over 25 years ago I was taking a graduate level program at a local university on weekends, here in Kansas City, and was placed on a team with four other working professionals. Two of whom were senior executives at Marion Labs, founded by Kansas City’s most famous entrepreneur, Ewing Marion Kauffman. Kauffman, like many wildly successful American tycoons, began operations from scratch in his home. There, he started a pharmaceutical company and called it Marion Labs. It was 1950 and he began with all he could lay hands on, $5,000. About 40 years later, the company’s annual revenue was closing in on the $1 billion threshold, and was valued at $6.5 billion when it merged with Merrell-Dow. The employee count exceeded three thousand.

How did Marion Labs manage to sustain such a furious growth rate and still maintain almost unparalleled success along the way? I know the two execs with whom I shared several courses could tell you exactly why. They would attribute Marion’s success to the vision, principles, drive and energy of their founder, “Mr. K,” as they called him. Not only did my classmates feel a personal allegiance to Mr. K, they also felt they could follow Mr. K’s direction even when he wasn’t close to their divisions. And that’s because they could quote verbatim (and did so numerous times) their founder’s three core values and three clarities. Six simple principles that Mr. K developed for himself and for his business, and managed to instill in the Marion Labs associates to a remarkable degree. Not only could my buddies quote them, I knew they were part of their own core principles as well. I was able to find these six practices that guided Mr. K’s approach to business; practices that were in no small part responsible for the company’s huge success:

The Three Core Values

  1. Treat others as you want to be treated.
  2. Those that produce should share the rewards.
  3. Give back to the community.

The Three Core Clarities

  1. Clarity of Direction
  2. Clarity of Organization
  3. Clarity of Measurement.

Let’s take a look at how these six items might work for an auto dealership today.

The Three Core Values

The three core values are simple, right? Can you check them off this list with the thought that “Yep, we already do that.” Truth be told, for a long time now, growth-minded auto dealers and dealer groups have indeed adopted the same core values Mr. K. fashioned for his business a long time ago. Look at your ongoing efforts and programs to improve CSI and customer retention, as well as to offer more convenience and value when selling and delivering your products and services. These efforts easily fit into the first core value, which customers are quick to recognize and reward with continued business. Likewise, many of you have crafted excellent pay plans that handsomely reward those that produce, and in turn are rewarded with their loyalty to you. And auto dealers in general take a back seat to no one when it comes to developing ingenious programs to give back to the community in ways that not only help the community but energize a dealership’s customer base as well. If you have been focusing on instilling these values into your operations, you know that what goes around truly comes around. Mr. K. would be proud of you.

The Three Core Clarities

Can we also so easily put these on our “We already do that” list and move on? I think not, at least not in many cases. Each month I am privileged to present a few of NCM Institute’s core courses to a wide swath of dealership managers, ranging from seasoned veterans to newbie leaders and even to some soon-to-be leaders. While most of them exhibit strong leadership aptitudes and interpersonal skills, in my opinion, not all of them could recite their companies’ core clarities, like my Marion Labs friends of so long ago could so well deliver.

As a call to action for you today, consider for a while the following questions that, in my opinion, relate well to Mr. K’s Clarities of Direction, Organization and Measurement in an auto dealership today:

Is my management team, let alone my entire team of associates, absolutely clear about the direction in which we want to lead the company this year? The next five years?

Do we hold regular meetings with managers – and other meetings with the entire staff — to update them on progress toward our goals? Can my leadership team credibly and enthusiastically present company goals to those who report to them? Do they?

Does our company celebrate victories and work together as a team to overcome difficulties?

Do I assume that because I know who reports to whom inside the company, that everyone else must know this as well? Do I have and use organizational charts that clarify the company’s structure to all associates?

Do I have written job objectives that clearly outline each associate’s responsibilities and performance expectations?

Does each employee receive an individual consultation with his or her manager (at least monthly) so the manager can clarify how the employee’s efforts contributed to the company’s success – and to receive feedback from the employee as well?

Do my managers clearly understand the portion of the financial statement for which they are responsible? Do they realize what affects the financial data and how to improve results?

And do my managers daily measure the core activities in their departments that will clarify the financial results at month end?

There are without doubt several more clarity questions to ask ourselves here. Mr. K’s Clarities, in my opinion, are harder to instill into an organization than his Values. Perhaps it’s because Clarities are more like blocking and tackling, and not as flashy as running and passing. And that’s why otherwise good companies sometimes don’t work on them, or let them slip. Should they be surprised then when expected growth slows way below expectation? Could lack of these three simple clarities be the culprit? NCM Institute believes strongly enough in the principles behind these and other similar questions are presented to students in almost all our courses. In short, we wholeheartedly agree with Mr. K’s Three Clarities.

I do believe Mr. K. knew what he was doing when he developed these six basic principles for his business so long ago. If you want some more information about them, click here to learn more about Mr. K’s Formula for Success.


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Garry House

Are You of a Mind(set) to Grow?


Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University believes humans have essentially two mindsets, growth or fixed, and through her research with employees of Fortune 500 companies, she found that managers with a growth mindset are more innovative.

Why is this important? According to the author,

“Growth mindset managers create better work environments. They are more open to feedback from employees (because they’re interested in learning); they are better mentors (because they believe in development); and they are perceived by their workers as more fair (because they believe everyone has the capacity to improve). Furthermore, those who have a growth mindset acquire the skills for success.” [Source]

It seems our mindsets dictate how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to situations, ideas and other people. For example, someone with a fixed mindset may believe his or her intelligence or talents are predetermined (or fixed) – you’ve either got brains and talent or you don’t. Those traits, therefore, are as good as they will ever be, so there’s no need spending time and energy developing them further. People with fixed mindsets are what we might consider “set in their ways.”  They think they’ve got it all figured out and any challenge to their way of thinking is a personal affront.

By contrast, people with growth mindsets believe that brains and talent are just the starting point; these folks believe their basic abilities can be improved with hard work and dedication. For this reason, they love to learn, are open to new ideas and perspectives, and they don’t let failure set them back; they learn from mistakes and capitalize on those lessons to find new and better ways of doing things.

Apparently, we can have different mindsets about different things: I may have a fixed mindset about my golf game, but I have a growth mindset about how I run a dealership. And, we have the capacity to change from a fixed to a growth mindset.

As you might imagine, we don’t see that many with fixed mindsets in our classes at the NCM Institute. Here we see managers and dealers who want to learn new skills and better processes so they can improve their performance and enjoy greater personal and professional success. It’s not difficult to spot the ones with fixed mindsets, though. They are usually either very quiet or a bit combative when we expose their way of doing things as less efficient or effective.

Want to know how to spot your dealership’s innovators? Find the employees and managers in your dealership who don’t try to cover up their mistakes, but use them as lessons for improvement. Chances are, those are the ones with growth mindsets.  Harness their drive and enthusiasm by giving them every opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills where it will benefit you both.

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Tom Hopkins

Avoid Awkward Beginnings


When you meet someone for the first time in your dealership, your goal is three-fold. You want to get them to:

  1. Like you
  2. Trust you
  3. Want to listen to you

Those three elements are absolutely necessary in order for them to make a buying decision.

If they came in after calling and speaking with you, it’s likely you said the right things on the phone to get them to at least come in and see what you have available in both vehicles and terms. You’re starting out on the right foot here. They’ll be curious to learn more. That means they’ll be listening to you.

However, their curiosity will only take them so far. Once they’ve gotten the basic idea of what you have to offer, they’ll need to like and trust you enough to want to do business with you, rather than taking their newfound knowledge to another dealership to see what might be different or better there.

To help people to like you, you must be likable.

That’s pretty simple. Develop the traits you admire in someone you deem as being likable. These could be something as simple as having a relaxed manner. Understanding and using some of the more formal courtesies is also helpful. This includes introducing yourself with both your first and last name. Use the clients’ last names, ie. Mr. Smith, Ms. Jones. Then, ask for permission to use their first names.

Use their names a few times during your initial conversation.

I recommend this for two reasons. First, it will make them feel important. Second, it will help you remember their names. There’s little that’s more uncomfortable than making it to the paperwork stage of a sale and having to ask again what the buyers’ names are.

Another way to be likable is simply to smile.

This may seem obvious, but if your mind is on a personal matter or if you’re worried about meeting your quota this month, it’ll show in your face. Your face muscles will tense up. You won’t be smiling and the prospective clients will likely see dollar signs in your eyes. To avoid that situation, really look at your clients (don’t stare them down) and smile. You’ll be focused on them. Anything else that’s been on your mind will be forced away for the time being.

To begin building trust, establish common ground.

Seek areas of common ground by asking questions about the situation that has brought them in to see you. You need to determine their needs without coming across as if you’re interrogating them.

It happens plenty of times that a young couple will come in looking for a mini-van, but fall in love with an SUV. Someone else might come in seeking the same kind of vehicle they’ve driven for 15 years, even though their driving needs have changed. You could easily help them see the advantages of a different type of vehicle when you ask questions about their needs.

It won’t hurt, if in conversation, you are able to tell them about a situation with another client they may be familiar with (maybe a friend who referred them to you) where you demonstrated dependability. Be careful not to sound like you’re bragging. Use the term “we” as in “we, the company” when relaying information about other situations. That way, if they’re even the least bit shaky in their opinion of you, they’ll build faith in the fact that the company stands behind their promises.

Look and listen for ideas of what’s important to each client beyond their interest or need for a vehicle. If you don’t see or hear anything that you would feel comfortable asking about, don’t become anxious. You don’t want to create an awkward situation by looking like you’re struggling to come up with a subject. Avoid the weather unless there’s some unusual weather phenomenon occurring. It’s just too trite.

Train yourself to keep in mind: like me, trust me, want to listen to me when approaching every prospective client and you’ll soon find yourself doing the things you need to do to win them over.


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Wayne George

Positioning Your Store in the Recall Era


Every recall comes with a certain amount of pain and customer discontent. Some of the current recalls that have been announced are extremely volatile. So what, if anything, can you do to keep your entire store’s mindset positive and in a position to continue to thrive and grow?

Some of the ideas worth sharing are just a repeat and reinforcement of basic fundamentals when dealing with customers. During times of stress we will want our people executing fundamentals as opposed to showing frustrations with a challenging situation.

So where should we start?

Well, why not call a team (store) meeting and openly discuss what the most current recall is going to challenge everyone with? If we can clearly communicate the problem and provide everyone in the store with a common goal or two when dealing with these issues, we stand a better chance of retaining, or even recapturing an upset customer. Let the staff offer some of their own suggestions for ways to address the current recall. Some of the front-line folks might have better suggestions or solutions than we can provide them with. Insure the staff that the goal will be to come through the situation with a stronger, more loyal owner base. Keep them engaged and modify any plans quickly if unforeseen problems occur.

We will have a chance to “WOW” many customers during these events. So identify the most likely issues with the recall and make a plan to be sure that your people are empowered to turn a customer into a raving fan when the issues arise. You will also have the opportunity to re-engage with customers that, for whatever reason, have abandoned your store as their place for service. Everything possible should be done to recapture these defectors. New customers that have never been to your store will show up. If they are within a 5 to 10 mile radius of the store, be sure you have a plan to blow them away with customer service.

Make sure your people resist the urge to sell anything that is not safety related. Absolutely do your multi-point inspections, but turn down the sales pitch a notch or two. There can easily be a follow up on non-sold repair recommendations handled by your staff a few days later. Safety items, however, always need to be addressed.

Be sure your staff is taking the opportunity to verify, capture or update all contact information in your system regarding email, cell phone and physical address of every recall customer. Offer these folks some sort of “return visit” incentive. For example:

  • $15 off scheduled maintenance within the next 60 days
  • Free alignment checks
  • Discounted oil change packages

You get the idea. Have your people help with this promotion. And lastly, be sure you contact the customer after the visit and check on how everything went while they were in.

These are all basics, but in looking at the near future, we are in for many weeks and months of this — so let’s be sure the entire dealership staff is looking at this as a positive situation for the long term health of the store.


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Dale Pollak

A Way Forward for the Family Dealership Tradition


I’ve long been concerned that the economic realities of the car business make it increasingly difficult for the tradition of family-run dealerships to continue.

A focal point of this challenge, according to an article in Automotive News, is the rising values of the dealerships themselves. The article notes that the value of high-volume metro stores often run between $10 million to $30 million (depending on blue sky multiples), while the value of multi-store groups can easily surpass $100 million.

These valuations, the article states, make it difficult for trusted General Managers (GMs) to buy out the dealerships they’ve helped build, and they complicate family-focused exit strategies, particularly when dealers’ sons and daughters have varying levels of interest in taking over the operation.

Such difficulties contribute to this year’s growing tally of mergers and acquisitions in which larger groups, both public and private, effectively become the best and sometimes only capital-qualified candidates to acquire a dealership once a dealer has decided it’s time to sell.

The article also highlights the interests of private equity firms, including one with a background in the business, that are interested in helping GMs and less well-heeled family members own the family store. This development strikes me as a positive sign for the future of family-owned dealerships.

But the article doesn’t really address the larger, more pressing risks to family-focused dealers — how the rise of big dealer groups can change the game in a local market, and the challenges their operations pose for smaller dealers to compete effectively and remain profitable.

As we all know, the big dealership groups have deep pockets, which help them comply with costly factory mandates for facilities, personnel and process. The big groups are also increasingly adept at achieving a level of operational efficiency and profitability that often seems elusive to smaller dealers. In addition, the big groups are, in many ways, proactively pushing the industry forward as they try new things — including one-price sales processes and e-commerce platforms — to satisfy consumer desires for doing business differently than it’s been done in the past.

In the face of this ever-growing influence from big dealer groups, I’ve seen smaller, family-run dealerships thrive to the point where they doing better than ever because the larger operators spurred them to step up their game.

For each of these dealers, I would submit there are three key strategic imperatives they’ve adopted to drive their new, more successful way of doing business:

An Emphasis on Efficiency

Typically, the dealers make their used vehicle department the laboratory for creating, testing and perfecting a higher order of operational efficiencies. Through a combination of new technologies, higher levels of training and market-focused strategy, these dealers learn to acquire, recondition and retail used vehicles in a more time-efficient and cost-effective manner. Some end up doubling or tripling their used vehicle sales volumes and profitability, all while selling from a smaller, more market-attuned inventory.

In some cases, such successful velocity-focused experiments in used vehicles — and the cash flow improvements they generate — empower dealers to shift from just getting by to growing their businesses. They are able to acquire their less-productive competitors and, like the big dealer groups, begin to use their economies of scale as an advantage.

Disciplined, Market-Focused Management

This style of management goes hand-in-hand with the efforts by smaller dealers to emphasize efficiencies across all aspects of dealership operations. For example, these dealers will require managers to assess market conditions and data before they acquire a used vehicle or order a new vehicle from the factory. By doing so, the dealers eliminate stocking decisions based on guesses or gut instinct — factors that inevitably erode the goal of greater efficiency. Likewise, the dealers hold managers to a greater level of discipline; if they make a mistake, it’s their responsibility to correct it as quickly (and profitably) as possible. As this style of management becomes an operational standard in every department, the right decisions are often made faster, for the right reasons.

A Customer-Centric Culture

Given their size and scale, it’s sometimes difficult for larger dealer groups to ensure that every customer gets the top-tier experience they deserve. This reality offers an inherent advantage for smaller dealers, but it’s not an automatic. Today it takes more than a friendly handshake and smile to earn a customer’s business. Like their larger competitors, the highly successful smaller dealers are using new technology and tools to ensure every customer engagement reflects an understanding of their current and future needs, in both sales and service. In addition, this emphasis on the customer, when combined with the goal of greater efficiencies, is leading smaller dealers to undertake new ways to sell and service new/used vehicles that reflect customer desires for a faster and friendlier purchase process.

The successes smaller dealers have achieved by adopting these strategies give me confidence that the tradition of family-owned dealerships, while challenged, will remain a viable part of the automotive retail landscape for the foreseeable future, if not forever.


UV Training

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