When the Experts Aren't Really Experts

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DO WHAT YOU DO BEST AND HIRE THE rest. Have you heard that before? I have, back when I started in the retail industry in the late '60s. I've shared the saying in numerous conversations with colleagues in retail, especially with other consultants. As a consultant, my job is to dole out advice to dealers. But for the specific departments of a dealership for which I recently provided my services, I thought it best to bring in some other experts. Let me share with you some interesting and surprising information I discovered while working on this project.

When I decided to "hire the rest," I contacted many sales, F&I, apparel, parts and service consulting organizations and groups. I looked at all forms of media, including trade publications and the Internet; I attended wholesale and retail powersports shows; I called dealer principals, general managers and vendors for referrals. I wanted to be thorough, and to gather only the facts on the services these groups or individuals offered. I was shocked at what I found: Many of the consulting firms fell short in terms of providing expert, tailored advice.

I had each firm explain its specific menu of services offered for each department. I then found out whether the consulting would be performed on-site or off-site. As in the past (and now more than ever), consulting at the store was important to save travel costs and to keep staff at the store.

The costs associated with training was a constant part of my questioning. The trainer would potentially address several departments, so I obtained per-department pricing. I asked whether workbooks and manuals were provided for staff, or were an additional cost. Because the basics were covered with these questions, I proceeded deeper with my research.

I wanted each department to be taught how to exceed its customers' expectations. I asked the consultants relevant questions, such as whether they could tailor or draft a training program for the store, its needs and its customers' needs. Most of the consulting materials supplied were generic, and out of all the consulting firms, only one said it would draft a tailored training program.

The next questions I asked were: Does the owner or principal of the firm have any powersports retail experience? Has he or she ever held a position in a powersports store? If not, has he or she held a retail position of any kind? The replies: Three of the consulting firm reps themselves had worked in or owned a motorcycle store years ago. When asked if their instructors and facilitators had ever been in staff or ownership positions, four of the firms replied yes.

Knowing that materials used for instruction would be used as a reference after the initial training sessions, I asked if the materials were authored by someone with a powersports background. Only two people said yes. Would you really want to get "expert" powersports advice from people who have limited or no exposure to the powersports industry? I wouldn't think so.

SHOPPING TIPS

The following are tips to help you select a powersports consulting firm or dealer 20 group:

  • Put together a list of specific questions and concerns to be addressed during a consulting engagement. This is crucial to receive the proper answers. Only after putting together the specifics should you call and interview the firms.
  • Meet with your staff members and find out what they need assistance with.
  • Interview the firm and discuss what your store is all about, what your customers are like, the selling environment of the store, and any day-to-day challenges that your store faces.
  • Ask how much experience in powersports the instructor or facilitator has. Frankly, I wouldn't go to a dentist who has only read the books and has never opened a patient's mouth. Don't settle, and make sure your staff (and your wallet) get the best available help.

Steve Zarwell is a dealer consultant and a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Contact him via editors@dealernews.com.