Highlights from the Dealer Expo Learning Experience

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Daniel McQuiston, chairman of the department of marketing and management at Butler University’s College of Business, put it succinctly when he addressed MIC members at Dealer Expo. “We are in the new normal,” McQuiston said about the changing business landscape. “This is what it’s going to be like, and we have to get used to it.”

“Get used to it” was a sentiment echoed by nearly all of the Learning Experience seminar leaders throughout the weekend. Buzzwords like “customer service” and “mobile marketing” were tossed around in the hopes of getting dealers to wake up and realize that times they are a-changin’, and in turn, their business practices need to change with it.

Frank Esposito, president of Kendon Industries, stressed in his Learning Experience seminars that education is necessary to keep your business afloat during this rocky economy. From principles and owners to service techs, now is the time to have your staff develop new skills — or brush up on old ones.

McQuiston mentioned education in his speech as well, noting that the primary goal is to understand the customer better than before. This new, modern customer is more educated about products — sometimes more than salespeople themselves — and he or she is going to buy from the vendor or store that offers the most value, with regard to price and customer service. And with fewer customers in the buying pool, Esposito said, dealers more than ever have to realign their businesses to survive. This means education, as well as embracing the Internet, as there’s no escaping this wild, fast-growing beast. Learning Experience seminar leaders couldn’t stress enough the importance of having a presence on the Internet. If you’re not on the Web, with a store website and either a blog, Twitter or Facebook, you don’t exist — especially now that mobile marketing is on the rise. “The Internet is changing the way we do business,” said Craig Cervenka, senior manager of business development for Edgenet.com, in his seminars. Mobile e-commerce is growing faster than desktop e-commerce did 10 years ago. Social media is here to stay as well, said Web guru Heather Blessington in her seminars.

Potential customers are all over Facebook and Twitter, so your store should be represented as well.

Over on the service side, Joel Martin of Martin Racing Products discussed making your service department as much a priority as your sales department. “Service is what’s going to keep you in business,” Martin said during his session on maintaining a successful scooter shop. Derek Beck of Motorcycle Mechanics Institute also said that changing the way you hire and train service techs can help you retain them: Put more weight on the applicant’s traits in addition to his skills. While most hiring managers employ service techs based on skills alone, how certain individuals fit into the company culture is just as important.

Dealernews columnist Dave Koshollek spent some time in his sessions identifying common problems in most service departments. Since customers are watching their wallets more closely, Koshollek focused on encouraging impulse buys, and dividing service jobs among techs to speed up smaller service jobs. The end result, Koshollek said, is a more professional and profitable service department.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2011 issue.