Look for innovation overdrive in the service drive

ORLANDO -- The location is unknown at this point (let’s get crazy and assume it’s Las Vegas). The state of the industry is unclear (here’s hoping it’s healthy). But when the 2025 National Automobile Dealers Association convention rolls around, the vision for retail is: The big winners will have service as their middle name.

As another successful convention closes, a common theme is that service has to win.

Yes, product is always king. Yes, half of the convention center is now full of digital marketing companies that can improve your bottom line by 300 percent next week.

But the real differentiator?

“There is a lot of room for the dealership of the future to innovate on service,” NADA consultant and former McKinsey & Co. partner Glenn Mercer said this weekend during the NADA convention in Orlando.

Mercer predicts that by 2025 the dealership of tomorrow will have a service absorption rate of 120 percent. For every five customers who buy a vehicle, six will come in for service.

Some ideas being floated this week: Satellite service facilities, extended hours, lavish customer waiting areas and -- ready? -- driveway service calls.

Dealers around the show floor agree. The answer is not bigger and bigger service departments, just innovative thinking.

“The focal point of the dealership is going to be the service department,” predicts outgoing NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. “We’re going to have new cars and a salesperson in the service area.”

Given the quality of today’s cars, it could be a crazy notion.

But betting against innovative thinking -- even in service -- is perhaps even more dangerous.

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