Size Doesn't Matter

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I've often wondered whether the Top 100 competition was too limited in scope. There are many excellent dealerships out there, and it's heartbreaking to look at the judges' final scores and see who came in at (ouch!) No. 101. Often, only a decimal point separates a Top 100 dealer from a non-winner (double ouch!).

Some of you who entered and won in previous years found you didn't make the cut for 2009. After reviewing the judges' comments, I can pretty much reason that it's because dealerships are raising the bar every year with new ways to merchandise, new ways to promote, and new ways to motivate their employees. This year, especially, the judges were concerned with how dealers connect with their customers, for in a tight economy, mere "dazzle" won't sell.

I can also say that the judges were not so much interested in what a dealer has, but what the dealer is doing with it. Take our Best Service Department winner: Great Bay Motorcycles in North Hampton, N.H. This little store beat some VERY large dealerships with lots of mechanics and a full complement of equipment to win the Best Service crown. Why? Because Don Jeka and his team have implemented some albeit simple yet thoughtful customer services, like personally delivering new scooters to their owners' homes. They know that an accident is likely to occur once a new rider careens his or her scooter out of the parking lot. It's easier if the rider can practice in his own neighborhood.

For those of you who entered and did not place this year, let me — on behalf of the competition, the magazine and the judges — tell you something: You are to be proud of your achievements. Entering this competition is not an easy task. As small and midsize retailers, you are incredibly busy people, and often you don't have time to really analyze your numbers and think strategically. Our team developed the entry questionnaire in the hope that it forces you to take a good, long look at your business, celebrate what you're doing right, and address the things that, well, need addressing.

For example, the questionnaire requires you to estimate profit per square foot, which attempts, for competition's sake, to level the playing field between large and small dealerships. Some entries left this field blank, which counted against them in overall scoring. After all, if you're in retail, you should be able to calculate profit per square foot, right? This and other factors are what separate successful dealerships from ones that may be struggling. It's great to make money in a lifestyle that you love, but you must have a handle on the business of retail if you're going to survive.

We specifically designed the entry process so that you could take a copy of your submission and use it for other purposes — say, the basis of a new marketing plan, or even a supporting document when asking a lender to finance an expansion or another store. Clearly, if you're going to all this effort, you should be able to use the resulting report to better your business. (If you have, we'd like to know about it. If you have suggestions for improving the entry form, send them over. Contact us at editors@dealernews.com.)

Even after 18 years, the Top 100 competition remains a healthy, living entity. We had more entries this year than in the previous four years. More than a third of the entries this year were from dealerships brand-new to the competition, and a sizeable percentage of the Top 100 themselves are first-timers. So welcome, rookies. Welcome back, veterans. And if you didn't make the cut this year, remember, you have a brand-new opportunity come next November. We are impressed by you all.

Mary Slepicka Group Editorial Director mslepicka@dealernews.com