When the factory rep is eyeballing the toilet paper in your dealership bathroom to make sure it's appropriately soft and cushy, it makes a dealer say, Hey, enough already.
Dealers are butting heads with manufacturers over facility requirements that seem silly, intrusive or just outrageously expensive for the little payback that seems likely. And some factory field personnel nitpick little things even beyond the written standards -- such as the case of a luxury dealer who was told to buy better toilet paper.
Dealers say they understand the need to keep their stores attractive and clean. But they don't like factory executives dictating the type of towel bar they should hang in the bathroom or pressuring them to replace items that are in perfect condition but just don't fit a certain color scheme or style.
Talks with dealers around the country reveal these examples:
-- Chevrolet wants some dealers with gray floor tiles -- even new tiles -- to tear them up and put down new tile in a lighter shade of gray. Dealers with window frames in colors other than the manufacturer's silver standard have been asked to change them. The cost for either revision can run to many tens of thousands of dollars.
-- Some Audi regional managers want dealers to allow only a certain style of picture frame and computer mouse on sales desks.
-- Technicians at Mercedes-Benz dealerships complying with the Autohaus standards must use blue toolboxes instead of the typical red ones -- even though customers rarely visit the shop.
-- Honda once required cubicle walls at showroom sales desks that were so high that they prevented sales reps from seeing when customers came in.
Retailers argue that the cookie-cutter approach doesn't work for everyone. The ensuing battles cost money and needless aggravation -- and many of the changes won't help them sell one more car, dealers say. Some executives -- such as General Motors North America President Mark Reuss -- say they're encouraging their people to be flexible about the execution, even as they maintain that the standards are important to ensure positive customer experiences.
The frustration drove the National Automobile Dealers Association to commission a study of dealership image programs to try to discern the payback for investing in manufacturer facility recommendations. NADA will release the results of the study on Saturday, Feb. 4, during its annual convention.
"With dealers spending millions in facility upgrades mandated by the factories, we want to justify it so it works for everybody and there's a reasonable return on investment," NADA Chairman Stephen Wade said. "Should someone spend $40,000 in this market to make their windows around the edge aluminum instead of black?"
Fed-up dealers are eager to hear the study's outcome.