If you haven't yet read the stories of this year's Automotive News 40 Under 40 honorees, definitely do so.
The young dealership leaders recognized this year have worked through the dual global crises of a pandemic that disrupted operations and a shortage of microchips that has throttled the pipeline of new-vehicle inventory.
Factories were closed. In some states, dealership showrooms were closed. Consumer demand dried up, then rebounded, even as vehicle supply became more constrained. Dealerships have had to get creative in how they do business, from setting up a process for online sales to bringing vehicles to buyers' homes.
The pandemic accelerated auto retailers' adoption of technology and digital processes throughout the past 16 months, and several of the honorees in this year's 40 Under 40 class played a role in that shift at their stores or in their dealership groups. Some of their strategies: centralizing and modernizing the business development center. Starting a vehicle concierge program for service customers. Evaluating the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Digitizing finance-and-insurance product brochures.
Their efforts are playing out in a rapidly evolving industry. We've written recently about a series of changes that are putting pressure on the franchised dealership model, from the planned rollout of electric vehicles to the threat of direct vehicle sales and automakers' interest in having dealerships use their digital retailing platforms. Online used-vehicle retailers such as Carvana and Vroom are expanding. Consumers now expect a more convenient purchase process.
Several of this year's 40 Under 40 honorees talked about the need to stay nimble to keep up with changing trends. That's how they believe their dealerships will win.
Chris Marhofer, COO of Ron Marhofer Auto Family in Ohio, summed it up like this: Despite the changes ahead for the business, he said, "I am not bearish on our industry. I am very bullish."