The Dealer's Potential Advantage - Foundations
Construction Equipment Distribution magazine is published by the Associated Equipment Distributors, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1919, whose membership is primarily comprised of the leading equipment dealerships and rental companies in the U.S. and Canada. AED membership also includes equipment manufacturers and industry-service firms. CED magazine has been published continuously since 1920. Associated Equipment Distributors
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SECTION: Foundations

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The Dealer's Potential Advantage

By 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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Article Categories:  Management