The Dealer's Potential AdvantageBy Matt Di Iorio
Article Date: 03-01-2005
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Dealers have a unique opportunity to develop great people and leverage competence.
It was 10:15 Sunday morning and I was frantic.
I was scheduled to meet an old friend (and AED member) at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, but my computer contracted a nasty virus and I temporarily lost access to his home phone number. Luckily, I was able to get the number of his dealership from directory service, so I promptly called and left a message.
Before leaving the message, I jotted down the "emergency" number mentioned on the company voicemail. As I began dialing the emergency number, which was no more than a minute after leaving a message, my phone began to ring. To my surprise it was a follow-up phone call from an employee at the dealership, who provided me with the cell phone number of the dealer principle and I was able to follow through with our unfinished plans to get together at the airport.
Maybe I'm a cynic, but I must confess to thinking this performance was a fluke...not that it isn't a well-run dealership, but 60 seconds to return a call on a Sunday morning??? I didn't know a phone system could forward a call that fast...let alone that there were still people dedicated enough to follow-up with such urgency.
At a seminar I attended at AED's Annual Meeting, Don Buttrey, Ron Slee and Dan Kaplan participated in a Q&A panel. One of the dealers in attendance was really pressing the panel for specifics regarding how family owned companies could successfully compete with larger, better-capitalized competitors. One by one the panelists responded and, although each spoke to their areas of expertise - sales, product support and rental, respectively - all three included "hard work" in their answer. They also mentioned that being local and part of the community is a real strength of the family owned dealership.
Kaplan took his remarks a bit further by suggesting dealers have a potential advantage when competing with regional and national competitors. He said dealers have a unique opportunity to develop great people and leverage their competence, experience and relationships over a much longer period than larger companies. The branch management position at a larger company is often viewed by "up and comers" as a stepping stone to other positions. However, he went on, branch managers in the dealer world are often key players at the top of the food chain. Many exercise a great deal of autonomy and entrepreneurial instinct responding to the needs of their people and local customers on the spot.
Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to judge the seemingly unbelievable response time to a phone call made to a dealership on a Sunday morning. Perhaps independent dealers are leveraging the strengths of their people and taking full advantage of their competitive advantages. However, as a former dealer, I am haunted by the words "potential" and "opportunity" because, in retrospect, I under-invested in the development of my people.
How much more effective might they have been had I provided them fundamental people, customer and financial management skills? What if I had exposed them to new ideas at events like AED University's Managers Training Program at AED's Annual Meeting?
Is answering the phone on a Sunday morning a learned response? While that may be debatable, the fact that a dealer's competitive advantage is dependent upon our people's desire and ability to think and act independently is not.
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