The independent dealer can thrive among large public dealership groups and factory-owned stores as long as the factories play fair, said dealer Bert Boeckmann.
But entrepreneurs have to work harder and smarter, said Boeckmann, president of Galpin Motors in North Hills, Calif., one of the highest-volume Ford and Saturn dealers in the country.
He spoke at the J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable.
Boeckmann last year was working with Ford to consolidate dealerships in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. However, the deal fell through.
He said that the consolidations have sparked distrust among dealers who are not part of the ventures, called Ford Retail Networks. Both dealers and Ford take ownership stakes in the consolidations.
'It's not to difficult to understand why there is growing distrust when the factory retail network runs ads that knock other dealers with such pronouncements as 'You want more than promises,' ' he said.
Boeckmann challenged the idea that auto retailing is in the midst of a revolution. He said that customers and the products dealers provide have not changed. The only radical changes have been the entry of large public dealership groups and factory-owned stores and the rise of Internet marketing.
'Corporate America will never replace the adventurous spirit of the entrepreneur, nor will standardized operating procedures replace the special relationship that the entrepreneur has with his employees and customers - that's something money can't buy,' he said.
Boeckmann outlined a strategy for dealers who want to meet these new challenges:
Use the Internet to educate customers and improve communication with them instead of simply using it to quote low prices. 'Answer their questions and get them even more comfortable with us and give them more reasons to come into our stores,' Boeckmann advised.
Don't succumb to the latest trend in no-haggle pricing. 'It's my belief that if you're thinking about one price and you don't control the market, you should be prepared for either lost volume or lost profit,' he said.
Keep an eye on the factories to make sure they do not favor their own retail networks and the large public dealership groups.
Focus on serving the customer. 'We must use our skills to do an even better job with our customers than the large public companies or factory retail networks hope to do,' he said.