Heir buds: Young dealers swap strategies
As baby boomers near retirement, their kids step forward
A meeting of the Young Dealers Group in North Carolina was discussing the problem of third-party vendors accessing information from dealership management systems without the dealer's knowledge.
Greg Westcott suggested a low-tech solution: Smoke 'em out. Unplug the modem and wait for the phone to ring.
"You'll be surprised at how many vendors that you didn't realize are getting your data," says the 39-year-old general manager of David Westcott Buick-GMC-Suzuki in Burlington, N.C. "There were one or two vendors that were on my system that I thought I had cut off. They were still actively pulling our data."
The idea was simple, and dealers have long gathered to share ideas. What was really new was the makeup of the group.
The young dealer group consists of mostly 30- and 40-something sons and daughters of North Carolina dealers who are heirs-apparent to their family businesses. It was formed in March 2008 by the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. Westcott is a former leader of the group and the son of David Westcott, incoming National Automobile Dealers Association chairman.
The group meets three or four times a year to get to know each other. They network, share best practices, help craft dealership education programs and get involved with local politics. They also brainstorm about how technology will impact auto retailing in the future.
The young dealer group is the brainchild of Bob Glaser, president of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. Glaser realized the association's baby-boomer membership was on the verge of retirement.
So to assure the association's future, it tapped about 15 sons and daughters of dealers for the group. Today, its membership numbers more than 100, Glaser says. In 2011, the North Carolina dealer association voted to reserve a slot on its board of directors for the leader of the young dealer group.
Fifteen or 20 years ago, when manufacturers routinely held local meetings with dealers, those gatherings were networking sessions. But "those meetings just don't exist nowadays and these guys don't know one another," Glaser says.
Adds Westcott: "Now we just do conference calls. We have less opportunity to get face-to-face."
Most young dealer members work in their families' stores. Meetings are moderated by Tom Burton, 60, who was chairman of the North Carolina dealer association in 1997-98.
Burton owned Al Smith Buick-Dodge-Mazda, in Raleigh, N.C., and Apex Cary Auto Mall in Cary, N.C. He sold the stores to Hendrick Automotive Group in 2000.
Family succession is a hot topic. Burton tells members they must be prepared if tragedy strikes and they are put in control of the business. He says group members learn about issues involving the factory and lenders and are taught to understand financial information.
Families often don't discuss succession in depth because people have a difficult time accepting that illness, accidents and death can happen, he says.
When he tells the parents of his group's members "what I'm covering, they're very grateful," he says. "Sometimes it's easier for me to cover this stuff than a mother or father."
Kristin Haynes, 30, is vice president of Team Chevrolet-Cadillac-Buick-GMC in Salisbury, N.C., and the daughter of Tom Dillard, the dealer principal, who has named her as his successor. Haynes and her husband, Bill, 34, the store's general sales manager, run the store on a day-to-day basis. Both are members of the young dealers group. She is one of about eight to 12 women actively involved.
The group's training sessions about getting to know local politicians motivated her to contact her legislators.
"I always thought, 'Call your politicians or write your congressman' was just a joke," Haynes says. "I've learned through the contacts we've been asked to make, they wouldn't understand our business if we didn't call and explain how something would hurt us or help us. Two congressmen actually purchased vehicles from us."
Stewart Black, 39, the current leader of the Young Dealer Group, is general manager of Bill Black Chevrolet-Cadillac in Greensboro, N.C. He was among the group members who took an active role in a presentation called the Dealership of 2035 in recognition of the association's 75th anniversary in 2010.
Among other things, the group projected 2035 as a time when cars and trucks routinely diagnose their problems and send reports to the dealership service department. For some types of problems, the dealership would reset or "reflash" the vehicle remotely and the customer would pay through a pre-paid service agreement or credit card, Black says.
But group members agree that the dealership is here to stay.
"There was a consensus that there will always be a need for a brick-and-mortar dealership," says Black. "We're not going to be taken over by a third-party vendor. We feel pretty confident that the factories aren't going to take things over for factory sales."
You can reach Arlena Sawyers at email@example.com.