Previously I have written about the importance of visionary change in dealerships. Why is it this industry largely doesn’t grasp the concepts that successful companies embrace regarding the adoption of a corporate vision for change? Ready, shoot, aim often seems to be the mantra; how many have you sold today? This will give you progressive deterioration if left unchecked along with high attrition, consumer suspicion, lost deals, low profits, team disintegration and employees wandering, lost in the desert. When the shepherds sleep the sheep go their own way. It is truly the time, more important than ever to put on a new pair of glasses and enhance your vision and taking your dealership to new heights of business achievement. Do not confuse short-term motivational ‘rah rah’ locker room sessions, with individual development enhancement.

Venturing into visionary change is the cornerstone for true leadership transformation because leaders cast out their sight way beyond the reaches of mediocre shortsighted managers who wait for immediate opportunities and/or problems to occur so they can pounce. These are the fixers and they usually bring people down along with the store. Too little too late. No, true visionaries reach out to the future and envision ideas for improving business, making their team stronger and envisioning a dealership synergy that bonds the team together like Bondo. This is when everyone looks in the same direction instead of each other with finger pointing.

You must visualize your dealership and your people growing to their fullest potential. Then, constantly begin seeing the multitude of improvement areas you can affect in delivering them to new heights every hour, every day, every week, every month and every year. Your reward for this ‘corporate approach’ to running your business will usher into your store a galaxy of opportunities in so many measurable ways. In doing so, you will be certain to experience business enhancement in every area of the store! I was having this very conversation last week with Barry Moore who is General Manager of Haley Automotive Group’s Buick/GMC in Richmond Virginia. Barry is a 35-year automobile veteran and a well-respected visionary leader in his dealership, his State Association and General Motors Corporation. I so respect Barry’s perspective that I asked him if he would consider putting his responses to our conversation in writing with permission to use in this month’s article.

The following is Barry’s take on our industry’s current status:

Circuit City, Blockbuster, Montgomery Ward, Borders and Paine Weber are just a few names we all know but are no longer in business. These once thriving and very successful businesses have been replaced by industry leaders who were more forward thinking; entrepreneurs who could “see” and anticipated changes taking place.The automobile franchise system as we know it will need to change or we too will be a part of the above list. It is this writer’s opinion we are stuck in a rut, we continue doing business the same way. A lot of dealer advertising is slap stick and unprofessional, we don’t encourage our employees to be more professional, pay plans remain unchanged and the hours worked are unforgiving. Finding young motivated employees who want our industry as a career has become near impossible.

We continue to advertise in a way that sometimes can be considered underhanded. We continue to do the same old things but our customers have gotten smarter, our customers are more educated, our customers want a system that is quicker, easier and not as convoluted. That is why our customers are turning to the Internet and could be why we feel threatened by companies like Tesla. Not only do we need to change the way we deal with our customers we need to attract and retain professional employees. We need to adjust to what potential employees of today are looking for; competitive perhaps salaried pay plans and hours attractive to today’s families and of course benefits.

We are all aware of the divorce rate, drug use, and sometimes even dishonesty within our workforce. It is vital to understand what is important to today’s workforce in order for our industry to stay competitive. These changes cannot and will not work on an individual dealership basis; they must be sweeping changes industry-wide, a cooperative effort. We cannot depend on the factories to help us; in fact they have their own self- interests; to stay afloat themselves. They may want to discontinue doing business with us the way it is presently done.

We need to protect ourselves; we need to be smart, forward thinkers. We need to revolutionize the way the car industry does business. It is imperative we take the needs of our customers seriously, that we change with the times. We all need to listen together to what the employee and customer is asking for. We must seek out new ideas, try different techniques and believe it is the customer who knows best. Take their lead; understand how they want to buy a new car. What do they want when they come in for service? Does anyone walk in asking for the best gimmick or what does the fine print say? We need to ask our employees how their lives can be improved and then try to figure out a way to incorporate reasonable ideas into our businesses.

Of course change is slow, at least change that is worth something, change that will last. By cooperating, trying new ideas, bantering back and forth, initializing new ideas through beta sites, exchange of information, trying and failing and then trying again, a new way, a better way, a progressive way of doing business will emerge. Let us not forget the many failures of people like Thomas Edison or Marie Curie whose persistence and pursuit of their ideas ended up changing the world. We must pursue change in our industry; we do not want to witness our demise but the rise of something new and better. The franchise dealer has to become better if we are to survive.

We are hearing that Americans are underemployed and that not everyone has to go to college? Politicians running on platforms saying that we have to get small business going again. The Dealer is doing that each day. What do we have in place to help people see the opportunities in the auto business? Does the community college teach classes in auto sales professionalism?  NO. How about how to be a parts counter person providing great business service? NO.  Do the professional head hunters say your background fits the car industry? No, because we are known as the car business. Everything matters so how we project our image and job role to everyone everyday is critical for this mind shift. The politicians that want the money for their campaign need to know the value of the franchise dealer and the entire team needs to help that person holding a local, state or federal seat understand the value we all play in the business world. I ran for State Senate in Virginia in 2015. During that time, I had my eyes opened as to how some thought of our industry and how little they knew. If you have time, consider getting involved in a campaign and or running for office. If you win never forget where you came from and what you are fighting for. Everything matters!

Barry goes on to say, the franchise system is confused with the consumer and they may see us as a middle step and would rather buy direct. If we spend every day leading, being faithful to our employees then the consumer may have a better feel for what we do for them and the manufacturer. The franchise system was set up for many reasons and one was to give great service to their client’s. We have looked at the old road to the sale and said why are we doing the same old process when consumers are shopping 18 websites? We have implemented an 18-minute sales process. We want the customer to get what they want right away if they come in to the service drive or the showroom.

Over 120 years, our industry has been loved, hated and thought of as court jesters. When we stop and say we are in the car business what does that mean? Have we isolated our industry into a reputation that we are over here away from all the professionals? Does everything matter in your business each day? Each day at our store we have a culture that everything does matter. Time is a commodity and we want to attract, satisfy and retain the best employees and customers. The entrepreneur can do this each day better than a fortune 100 company. Maybe that is what parents and college kids need to know about our business. Train your employees to be in the community and care what is happening to others. If they do, it will be respected and seen and people will come to get their auto needs satisfied with you at a higher rate than saying $1 down or having balloons all over the lot.

As I finish my thoughts I get very excited because I want everyone to win and be their best. I want my words to be so powerful that it changes anyone that is struggling in our business today. I want that consumer to stop thinking we are the enemy and to trust our relationship like we are partners. I want every manufacturer to look at the dealer and their team as true partners and ask questions and then listen to the answers. I know I am not that powerful in writing but in my passion I live it every day. I believe if you have the vision of what a great business would look like and how the employees need to treat each other and clients then everyone wins. The franchise dealer and the benefits are then clear. Make sure the culture is clear and built with a solid foundation. Don’t walk in and break the foundation every 12 months thinking someone else will get you there. Work with the people you have on your team. In their eyes, when we met them they wanted to join our team, don’t give up on them. Find Veteran’s or even some cleaned up felons that need a hand up not hand out. Make a difference as a professional because being faithful is the baseline of life. Coaches and all members on the team need to trust each other and build each other because as one unit of course the consumer will feel and experience the benefit of that franchise dealer.

Barry certainly brings up some intuitive angles for all of us to think about. A particularly common area which contributes to a downturn in dealerships and business failures is complacency. According to Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategic and international management at London Business School, “Occasionally, a genuinely ‘disruptive’ technology, such as digital imaging, comes along and wipes out an entire industry. But usually the sources of failure are more prosaic and avoidable — a failure to implement technologies that have already been developed, an arrogant disregard for changing customer demands, a complacent attitude toward new competitors.”

To the casual observer, the collapse of quintessential companies may seem to come out of nowhere, but usually there are glaring signs things are amiss. Plummeting revenue, complacency, leadership changes, panicked shifts in strategy, sudden layoffs/attrition and store closings can all land a company on the corporate deathwatch list.

Of course, predictions of corporate death don’t always come true, and some companies are able to step back from the ledge. Not long ago, electronics retailer RadioShack was in dire straits, having filed for bankruptcy, which resulted in the closure of thousands of its locations. But the chain revamped its remaining stores and is mounting a comeback, aiming to turn itself into the go-to store for “do it yourselfers” seeking parts for their electronics projects. Apple and IBM both made impressive corporate turnarounds despite being written off as irrelevant at one time.

Yet for every success story, there are also those companies that will never be able to get off life support. They might linger in zombie form for a while, but eventually, these doomed companies will fail because of their refusal or lack of appreciation for change. It is said, the only people who like change are wet babies. William James was right when he said, “That which holds our attention determines our actions”. When our attitude begins to change, when we become involved with something, our behavior begins to change. The reason that we have to make personal changes is that we cannot take our people on a trip that we have not made. Too many leaders try to be travel agents instead of tour guides–they try to send people where they have never been. We give them a brochure and a “Bon Voyage!” And off they go and we wave to them, and we ask them to tell us how it was when they come back. A tour guide says, “Let me take you where I’ve been. Let me tell you what I have gone through. Let me tell you what I know. Let me show you what I’ve experienced in my life.”

There will always be challenges for the need of better accountability towards daily business practices, and there will be a continued ongoing need for more flexibility and latitude in making those tough decisions. Some of the lingering old bad habits of retailing obviously (and sadly) are hanging around, but are quickly getting pushed aside by a new style of business and relationship development messages. Sweep away those old cob webs and musty areas and make room for advancements in these new professional protocols. We find ourselves smack dab in the middle of an industry-wide state of transition towards new ways in conducting and operating businesses. With this new improved transition comes awesome opportunity for some who seek it. For those who don’t embrace them, well, these are ones who will in the very near future, be saying; “how do we keep getting blown away by our competitors?” Warning before you continue; this requires constant ‘work in progress.’ The journey however, makes the destination a pretty cool place and is mostly filled with good memories. Become the change artist your operation needs.