Get ready for a lot of talk this weekend about what dealers can do to shore up their eroding profit margins.
That was the early buzz among dealers at the J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable. It also was a hot topic among state association officials at Thursday's Automotive Trade Association Executives meeting at the Peabody Hotel.
NADA data showing that a quarter of all U.S. dealerships are losing money hammered home the misery that seems to have kept many dealers from coming here for this year's convention.
Some dealers who made the trip say they are just staying for a day or two instead of the whole week, as they usually do.
It will be telling to get the final tally from NADA about how many dealer principals came to the convention. I suspect many stayed home because they can't afford it.
Some of the absenteeism could be a result of the venue.
The golf may be good here, but with all due respect to former NADA Chairman Alan Starling, who is from here, Orlando isn't as big a draw for dealers as San Francisco, Las Vegas or New Orleans, even in the best of times.
Even so, on Thursday and Friday I bumped into many of the dealers I usually see at the roundtable, though some of the regulars clearly were missing in action.
Among those who are here, a couple of profitable multifranchise dealers confided that they have individual franchises that are losing money, in one case more than
$1 million last year.
This year's J.D. Power roundtable, at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, was the 21st annual meeting held during the NADA convention, and J.D. Power went back to basics.
Most of the meetings remained open to outsiders, but Thursday's luncheon was a good, old-fashioned gabfest among Power staffers and dealers - meaning no factory reps, no vendors and no newspaper reporters allowed.
J.D. Power's Charlie Vogelheim says this was done at the request of dealers who wanted to hash things out in private, the way they did in the beginning.
Those who attended the closed-door session say most of the discussions about operations fell into two categories: personnel issues and dwindling margins.
Hang on. There's more to come.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]