Be professional, or go home
What does it mean to be professional? The dictionary describes professional as someone engaged in or worthy of high standards of a profession. Does it mean they're college-educated? Not necessarily. College provides education. The environment and culture of your store will create and maintain professionalism.
Our new dealer has now created an Employee Handbook. In it are several bullet points about professionalism, which he crafted with his staff after seeking input from his customer base. Here are some of the items he included, which all of his staff must follow as a condition of employment.
- Professionals are self-disciplined. They constantly study all aspects of the powersports industry (even outside their core positions) and they read the trade and consumer magazines to keep abreast of new products and techniques.
- Professionals seek continuing education opportunities. Our dealer's staff attends educational sessions and seminars on a rotating basis.
- Professionals attend OEM meetings and industry shows. The level of knowledge obtained by attending these meetings and shows — not to mention the ability to network with their peers — is a key advantage when dealing with customers.
- Professionals seek and accept assistance from other professionals. They realize they can't do it all. They do what they do best, and then hire or delegate to do the rest.
- They communicate with other professional dealers — all brands, even RV, auto and marine. (Your customers may shop at those stores as well.) For example, the dealer principal has lunch with another dealer principal at least three times a month. The cost of lunch is a small price to pay for the knowledge gained.
- Professionals participate in events (and rides) with their customers. If you don't ride with your guests, and you don't want to alter your lifestyle to the products you sell, then you may want to find a new career.
- Professionals accept and learn from criticism. Call it "free continuing education."
- Professionals look professional. When you act and look professional, you can charge professional (i.e. nondiscounted) rates. Our dealer principal, for example, instituted a store dress code that varied slightly among departments.
- Professionals solve problems, and try to resolve issues before they become problems. They look at all of the options, enlist their team to find solutions, and make (and own) the decision on the outcome. They remember that all decisions must ultimately benefit the customer (the ultimate decision-maker).
- Professionals rely on facts, not conjecture. They use metrics to back up their decisions.
Margins Are Up
A few months after implementing his code of professionalism, our owner's store realized the following:
- Margin gains in all departments.
- Customers commenting on how his staff acts and looks more professional than other dealerships they've visited.
- The dealer's top-priced products are generating record sales compared to a year ago.
- The level of walk-in job applicants has increased. (Everyone wants to be professional!)
- Employees from other dealerships have started applying for jobs at his store.
If you don't want your store to be professional, then don't be a professional. But be prepared. Your margins will go down. Your customers may decide to buy a boat or an RV rather than a motorcycle or an ATV. You will lose customers, because they will go to the store that treats them in a professional manner.
Steven Zarwell is a dealer consultant and manages the Dealernews 20 Groups. He also is a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .