Ten years ago, Allan Gilmour retired as Ford Motor Co.'s vice chairman. He returned to his native Vermont and became an auto dealer in St. Johnsbury. Today, Gilmour, 69, is again Ford's vice chairman, but he remains the principal owner of Gilmour Ford-Chrysler. During his Jan. 13 presentation to the Automotive News World Congress, Gilmour was asked what he learned as a dealer. His answer - for the benefit of other factory people and the satisfaction of other dealers - is reprinted here.
I learned it's a tough business. We are an industry that has too much retail capacity, just as we have too much manufacturing capacity. But too bad. Customers like it.
I learned that the customers do come first, contrary to some people from Ford Motor Co. who told me what they thought came first. Incidentally, we're also a full-line Chrysler dealer - Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep. That's an interesting experience, also.
And I learned that we in Detroit in some ways have a naive sense of the business. We don't understand well enough who our real customers are. I've somewhat cynically said that our business would be better if there were more rich people. And probably a number of businesses would be better that way. But there aren't more rich people.
You sell to people who are paying monthly for their products, who have trade-ins. Sometimes they owe more on the trade-ins than the car or truck is worth. And it is a business of digging right through all of those elements.
It is also a complicated business. In many ways, there is no common denominator between the front of the shop and the back of the shop. They're unrelated businesses. They're cars, yeah. But buying and selling new cars - or used cars, for that matter - and trucks in the front is not the same as servicing them and not the same as being in the parts business and not the same as running a body shop.
It's a complicated business, a difficult business - and terribly rewarding in one sense: the sparkle in the people's eyes when they buy. I learned that when they buy used, that's new to them. They want the same treatment, and they deserve the same treatment in every way, when they buy their used car or truck as people who are buying the most expensive new one.