Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Industry Wake-Up Call: A Script Won't Help

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember travel agents and travel companies?  The Internet eventually killed them and rolled them all into Expedia, Priceline, etc.  I met a travel company owner back when Priceline was just taking off, quite a wake-up call to the travel industry, and he was buying up companies and agents as fast as he could:  He was convinced he was going to win because "People still want to buy from an agent."  He went out of business and lost a bundle.
He missed the wake-up call.  Sound familiar?  Read on.
Now the smart phone is killing the PC.  HP and Dell, the last titans of PC land other than Mac, are failing--and they even ousted the guy who smartly wanted to sell the PC division of HP last August, replacing him with a PC-fan CEO . . . who now faces a quarterly debacle that shows the guy she replaced was right (click here for that story).
In our industry, we have billions of dollars in brick-and-mortar facility investments, protected (at least) by franchise laws that were intended to prevent OEMs from getting a dealer invested into a dealership location for millions and then deciding for their own purposes (or ignorance, to give that possibility) to set up a same-make competitor--or a "company" store--right in the same area.  Or even across the street.
And so we have some breathing room that PCs and travel agents didn't have, in large part for us because of these laws.  Which room cannot and will not last.  Maybe 5-7 years more?  Who knows.  It ain't forever, that's for sure.  And the consumers--misled, or right, or some mix of both--will be who rise up against the laws.  This will happen as surely as every other change that folks didn't want to see--the dinosaurs, I'm sure, did not understand their demise, either, no matter how it came.
And we're not alone.  Amazon,etc. online retailers are already using Walmart, etc. as brick "showrooms" for their online products, forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to re-assess their pricing.  
That's an online margin attack that we've already seen the first volleys of in our own industry:  Anybody remember  Welcome to Version 2.0, also known as TrueCar, which has stated on numerous occasions that they intend to move from car pricing towards aftermarkets.  Even if that agenda has changed or ever does, that doesn't mean that there isn't some Version 3.0 out there lurking.  Because there is.  The Internet marketplace guarantees it.
So, what do we do?  Those dealers who can will evolve to be customer-centric as in no other time in history.  Real customer service, not just CSI massaging.  Real reputations, not "" crap.  Smarter advertising, online and offline, targeted to CONVERTING the in-market shoppers.  To getting the great sale now in return for a great buying experience.
Be smarter.  Stronger.  Faster.  Better.
And then, no matter the changes, you won't just survive, you will prosper.  And flourish.  And eventually stand, as we do now without even thinking about it, on top of miles of rock containing the bones and fossils of those who did not make the evolutionary step.
You're getting that industry wake up call now.  And you better answer with your best, not with some dusty old pre-Internet script--but with a strong, new voice to your future.
"Ring!"  And how do you answer?
by Keith Shetterly
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved 

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