Exit Strategies: How to get out before you get in

Publish Date: 
Apr 1, 2007
By Clark Vitulli

Someone once said, If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

That describes the importance of vision. It's your vision that sets your organization's goal, culture and direction.

If you don't have a strategic plan, in writing, with rough timetables and a road map, you may not be involved in your business's future. Someone will take over the vision for your company — your bank, your employees, your OEM, your competitors, your customers or your family. And you may not like what they have planned for you.

Almost every daily function in a dealership can be delegated, except for strategic vision.

Ever go to an OEM meeting and realize that what you're hearing doesn't quite match the way you see your dealership? That's because their vision for your business doesn't sync with your vision. Until you figure out how to align the two, this will not be the fun business you thought it was when you started.

That's why it's essential to know your OEM's vision and then determine whether it matches who you are and who you want to be when you grow up.

The same goes for that underperforming salesperson your sales manager hired. How did that salesperson get on your payroll, anyway? Well, you and your sales manager didn't have the same vision for your sales force! Ever talk with your sales manager about what you want your sales force to look like, how they're to behave, and their role in the dealership's culture? It's about time you did, don't you think?

The Way Out

I've known many dealers who ended up wanting to or having to sell their dealership because their vision didn't match the vision of a key stakeholder. Does your son or daughter really want to own the dealership?

I met a dealer who wanted to sell the business he and his wife had worked so hard to build over many years. They reported decent profits, and I was prepared to give them a fair return on their investment. They planned to take time off, go on vacation, and spend more quality time with their grandkids.

They were surprised to discover that their son, the current sales manager, expected to get the store handed to him and not pay a penny for it. He never thought his parents would sell the business.

Many times it's all the children know how to do — it's who they are, and their only skills are wrapped around the parents' shop. Talk about a vision disconnect! In the end the parents didn't sell, nor did they take the time off they so richly deserved.

What's your vision? What's the culture in your store? Are you the "low ball" dealer in town? The high grosser? The one known for the best parties, rides and events? Do your customers feel like they're in a high-pressure car dealership? Would your daughter feel comfortable shopping in your store, and not because you own it?

If your current culture matches what you want it to be, is it the culture that will get you the best price for your business when it comes time to sell it some day? "Begin with the end in mind," writes Steven Covey in The Seven Habits ... .

What is your ultimate goal: build and hold? Build and sell? What is your exit plan? I don't have easy answers, and neither will you. This is not like a nine-step sales process or traffic log training. (continued)