Monday, August 13, 2007

Image & Substance

The following article appeared in the July 2006 issue of Dealer Business Journal.

Industry Needs Both Image and Substance
by Peter Salinas

Image is everything. Well, thats not 100 percent true. Often we need substance as well, but substance without image can be very boring. Therefore, if you are trying to deliver a message and it doesnt contain a healthy dose of both, its likely the recipient will tune out, or worse yet, will be turned off.

I started covering the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association Quality Dealer Awards Dinner in 1999. It was a wonderful event (if limited in scope) and it resulted in some great publicity for the association and the dealers involved in the awards program. It had substance, but lacked image.

Last month in Las Vegas, however, hundreds of dealers and industry insiders gathered at the Las Vegas Hilton to see a dynamic dinner awards show, complete with Vegas-style glitz, major corporate sponsorship, an Academy Awards program feel and was broadcast to thousands (keep that number in your head) via NIADAs broadband television network. Suddenly this event had both substance and image.

Major sponsors for this event, Auto Trader dot com and Black Book, are to be commended for their support of our industry. It means much to NIADAs 20,000 members and has a positive affect on the consumers who often have a negative view of our industry.

This years winner, Tracy Myers, dealer principal of Frank Myers Auto Maxx in Winston Salem, N.C., was announced with all the suspense of a final installment of American Idol, against a backdrop that would rival any televised awards ceremony.

Myers was just 15 years old when he first started working in the detail shop of his fathers used-car store. After graduating from college, Myers worked his way up the ladder of the used-motor vehicle industry. Today, at the age of 35, he owns the store and sold almost 1,400 vehicles last year. Substance.

Myers is actively involved in his community. He is the founder and host of the Cruise for Cancer car show and fundraiser. He is the primary sponsor of the Lewisville Kiwanis Dunkfest, which raises money for the Lewisville Public Library. He also helps raise money for the Oxford North Carolinas Children's Home by sponsoring a golf tournament. One month after Hurricane Katrina made landfall last year, Myers helped organize and sponsor a family festival and concert to benefit the victims. Substance.

Myers wife Lorna joined him on the stage when he was announced as the winner and his son, Presley, 4, stole the show when he jumped for joy and danced with excitement. He also announced to the world Frank Myers Auto Maxx slogan, Everybody Rides!

What was just as exciting was at the back of the room Carolinas IADA Executive Director Jim Edwards jumped up and down and danced enthusiastically perhaps more than young Presley. It was as though Myers was his son, and he couldnt have been more proud. Image.

Too often used-car dealers are portrayed with the negative stereotype to which we have all grown too accustomed. Over the years Ive been accused of preaching to the choir. Some have even misinterpreted what Im about to say as being negative about our industry. Automotive retail professionals have the worst favorable rating of any profession in the United States, according to a 2005 Gallup survey. They have held that dubious distinction since the study was first conducted by Gallup during the Carter Administration. Dealers are the butt-end of many jokes and are fodder for comedians everywhere.

When I have attended various events, I have gotten to know you and realize that nothing can be further from the truth. Most dealers who have been in business for any length of time got there by taking care of their customers. Repeat business only occurs when customers are truly satisfied with their experience and tell family members and friends. Without repeat and referral customers, you are doomed to failure. Substance.

When I see the 23 state Quality Dealers take the stage to be honored and one selected from the group and hear their stories and what they are doing for their communities, it is inspiring and exciting. Image.

The question is: how do we get this word out to millions of consumers? (Compare that with the number I mentioned earlier.) Will Tracy Myers appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno? Id like to believe someone was working on this, but probably not. It wasnt until recent years that a few, and I mean just a few, major vendors began offering rewards to these individuals. More should do so. Vendors providing rewards to dealers for doing it right would result in more dealers attempting to be better at what they do.

Vendors are generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from used-car dealers. Yet, I dont see the newspapers, advertising magazines and other online venues, who claim they have millions of sets of consumer eyeballs visiting their sites and using their products, making sure they offer congratulations to the NIADA Quality Dealer of Year in front of their consumer customers. Why not? Thats a great question one the cynical journalist in me could answer in a mean-spirited manner.

But Ill approach it in a positive manner. I believe that one day all the major automotive consumer Web sites, trade magazines, advertising publications and newspapers in this country that benefit tremendously from the online and print classifieds will splash the Quality Dealer winner on their Web site home pages, on the front pages of their magazines and in the automotive sections of their newspapers. Theyll tell those millions of sets of consumer eyeballs that there are good, honest, hard-working dealers out there who take care of their customers. Then one day some other profession will have the worst rating in the Gallup poll, because we all know our profession doesnt deserve that ranking. More consumers will decide that doing business at a used-car store isnt risky or a bad idea, but a great place to find quality transportation. Well have more wholesale transactions, more retail transactions and the high tide will raise all boats. We just need a little help in getting out our story. Substance and image.

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