The "facilities upgrade program" has been around for decades. Though well-intentioned, perhaps, it has often missed the mark. These days, we're not sure such efforts are even addressing the right problems.
We have long believed that dealers are the best arbiters of how best to run their businesses and properly serve their customers, and that factory guidelines regarding facilities are best received when voluntary or accompanied by financial assistance. But with that said, it may be time for automakers to refocus their oft-exercised efforts to control the look and feel of dealership facilities and repurpose those resources toward improving the way their franchisees live and interact with consumers online.
Or, to put it succinctly: Automakers need to worry less about the bricks and start working on the clicks.
The automotive retailing process has been transformed by the digital age, and yet, facilities programs remain largely stuck in a previous era.
It was not that long ago when a consumer could build a lasting relationship with a neighborhood dealer or sales professional based upon little more than proximity, coming in for service or even to buy a new vehicle without considering whether a competitor elsewhere might offer a cheaper price or better service. Back then, expensive facility programs were sometimes justifiable because they worked to give dealerships curb appeal, to make them attractive for customers to visit, especially when the main competition was the dealership down the street.
But today, physically visiting a dealership is among the final acts for most consumers looking to purchase an automobile. And dealers aren't just competing with their neighbor down the street; thanks to search engines, lead generators and aggregators, they're fighting nationally for every sale against every other franchised and independent dealer, depending on the product.
Most dealers need tons of help to improve their online marketplaces. Inconsistent photography, slipshod inventory control, incentive discrepancies — all are far too common turnoffs for shoppers.
If automakers focused as hard on helping dealers deliver a consistently good experience online as they do on what kind of tile should be on the showroom floor, their dealers — and their customers — would be grateful.