The retail auto industry is undergoing the most rapid genealogical evolution in the history of the car business.
The information, data aggregation and retailing revolution age that transformed the world’s business landscape over the last decade has now arrived at the doorstep of the franchised auto dealer.
Companies such as Amazon, CarMax, Google and Tesla, to name but a few, were once thought to be outliers that would never change or impact the car business. But they have directly become engrained in the U.S. auto retailing landscape.
Amazon has made it clear that it has an appetite to partake in this industry. In 2016, CarMax sold over 1 million vehicles for the first time. Google’s reviews now impact dealer volume and profitability. Tesla’s desire to migrate to an OEM direct-to-consumer retailing model will forever change the industry, if legal challenges to the franchise system are successful.
If you are a dealer, all of this is enough to keep you up at night. We’ve never seen or experienced transformational change in our industry at such a breakneck pace. So, the next question is, “What do I do, armed with a plethora of data and new information? If I’m a franchised dealer, I might feel so overwhelmed that I might be tempted to throw in the towel, sell my stores and find a new job?”
The real answer lies in our ability to accept the transitioning world and adapt to change. Change. Everyone’s favorite word. I’m 30 pounds overweight yet deny that change has occurred. This is where some dealers are today: in denial.
They say, “My industry isn’t changing,” when one only needs to simply observe the events transpiring all around them. In the weight analogy, I’ll finally get past denial and realize something needs to change. I get beyond denial, and I get to acceptance, recognizing a diet is the change I need.
The “diet” decision, metaphorically, is what will separate retailers who will enjoy future growth, find engagement with a new demographic of buyers they would never have previously met and will see, literally, substantial profitability growth as a result of their decision to embrace the change moment before them. The answer to the rhetorical question of whether I should get a new job is an emphatic No!
You don’t need to sell your dealerships, get a new job or take an early retirement. You need to be an active participant in your own rescue.
You need to recognize that Amazon, and the buyer-centric engagement process it created, is not going away.
You need to understand that CarMax cleverly crafted a niche 25 years ago, which franchised dealers never studied. All the while, CarMax capitalized on its newfound strategy to drive dramatically higher profits per vehicle sold.
You need to stop living in denial surrounding Google and other social media review platforms and listen to what your customers are telling you. You need not fear the Teslas of the world but view them for what they are: competition. You’re competing not just in the venue of vehicle attributes/style/price, but the most important vertical of all: the engagement process.
The demographic of today’s buyers has been irrevocably altered. They no longer work 80 hours a week, don’t long for the arm-wrestling engagement of the car-buying process, will no longer endure a five- to six-hour marathon buying process and the lack of online accessibility and functionality. They not only don’t want to negotiate any longer, many don’t even want to talk to another human being. Think “two thumbs.”
They want to have a user-driven engagement process. The successful retailers of the future will recognize this vast variance in process and consumer desire, embrace the change and modify their engagement and retailing options.
The savvy retailer will recognize that they don’t need to radically alter their current business practices, but simply add an additional option to engage with this rapidly growing consumer demographic. Those who cede this demographic and ignore this evolution do so at the risk of their very existence. The change occurring before our very eyes is truly that monumental.
You see, the world has changed, whether we like it or not. The successful dealers of the future will be the same as the successful dealers of the past. Entrepreneurial, risk-taking visionaries who embrace change, who nimbly pivot in their business model and understand that the only constant in our industry is that change, and our reaction to it, will always be the one true differentiator between mediocrity and sustained and genuine success.