While traveling last week, I had dinner with five dealers.
We spent the evening doing what was natural. We talked about the car business, local and national. We took apart the retail business, and we dissected the manufacturers.
It was a great evening, and as always, I learned a lot.
As we talked about the retail car business, one thing became abundantly clear. The retail network that a manufacturer puts together does make a difference in the performance of the brand.
You can talk all you want about great products, but it's fascinating how powerful and successful a brand can be when it has a strong dealer body.
No manufacturer will ever have an organization made up of perfect dealers. That's impossible. But when you have at least some strong dealers in every market, they can support the rest of the dealers, which leads to high market share.
Too often, a manufacturer thinks that everything else will take care of itself if it has great product. One of today's challenges is that more and more manufacturers are delivering great products.
That makes the equation more complicated. If everyone, or at least the vast majority of manufacturers, is building cars and trucks with good quality and competitive value, the dealer makes the difference. In town after town, big market and small, the difference between a good result and a great result is the retailer.
Take a look at the strong brands in the United States, and you'll see that they have some strong dealers in all the major markets.
It's not just about selling more cars. It's everything that the dealer does to build a base of customers who not only are satisfied but look forward to dealing with their dealers.
I'm not sure how much of that you can achieve by training. Much of that attitude is instinctive.
The successful dealer just seems to know what to do to have a great dealership. There are things that every dealer can learn. And the very successful dealers seem to be the first ones to head for dealer meetings because they want to learn as much a possible.
Successful dealers are always learning. They never stop. That makes for a very successful brand.