A lot of people are rushing to re-create the retail automobile business. They are trying to consolidate, simplify and duplicate automobile dealerships across North America. Public companies and automakers are investing millions - no, billions - of dollars, and everyone seems to have a great idea on how to curtail the growth of the independent dealer.
They might be making a big mistake. It's possible to build large dealer organizations, and it probably doesn't matter whether they are independent dealer groups or organizations put together by automobile companies so that they can have more control over how their vehicles are retailed.
But no one seems to be factoring in the missing ingredient: that entrepreneurial spirit that so many automobile dealers have. I'm not sure I've ever met an 'organization man' who owns a dealership, because a dealership is not the environment in which such a person can thrive.
Owning a dealership attracts a certain kind of person, a risk taker who really wants to sell and service cars.
Today, dealers must be good at many things. They can't just be the automobile salesmen of 40 years ago. They need all the business skills that any executive needs to run a multimillion-dollar business. A successful dealer can clone his or her business so that he or she can run more than one dealership, but everyone knows who's running that deal.
When a corporation turns over a community of dealerships to a well-educated, well-trained executive, you are bound to lose something. That executive will never have the same instincts about running those dealerships that the owner had. There is a profound difference between owning a business and working for someone else.
You can clone a lot of businesses, such as McDonald's, Circuit City and, of course, Blockbuster. But it's different when you're trying to clone a car dealership.
In a dealership, you're at a real disadvantage if you can't instill the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit as the guy across the street or down the block.
The independent dealer is one of the things that has made the U.S. automobile business so successful over the years. Whether he had one or a dozen dealerships, they were his and he knew it. A lot of people want to change that.
Whether it will work remains to be seen.