A team of 12 from Scotland’s Phoenix Car Company was led by group sales director Russell Smith to this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association Convention in Orlando.
Here he gives him impressions of this long-standing and influential (on both sides of the Atlantic) event.
“‘Go to know’ was the theme of this year’s NADA Convention and Exposition in Orlando, so a sizeable team from Phoenix Car Company in Scotland did just that.
NADA is a key highlight in the world wide automotive retailing calendar; an opportunity to see what news ideas and innovations are taking place in the USA, a chance to hear some motivational and informational speakers and a chance to temperature check the US retailing climate meeting and speaking with US retailers.
It is also an opportunity to benchmark UK approaches, because we should never underestimate just how good the UK motor retailing sector can be.
In light of the global recession and credit crunch it would be interesting to see how the US had adapted; we asked long-time visitors Phoenix Car Company to give us a retailer side view of NADA this year, the highlights for them and how it might influence their business this year.
Over the last decade Phoenix Car Company which has showrooms across Scotland has sent a significant delegation of their rising stars to the States to experience what is the largest motor-trade conference in the world.
We have long seen the annual NADA event as an important part of our business, good for training, motivation, team work and as a catalyst for new ideas – over an extended period it has proved to be a great return on investment.
The impact of the global slowdown in motor retailing was immediately obvious looking at the size of the exposition and the range of speakers.
For new delegates the size of this event remained impressive, but seasoned visitors will have quickly realised that the exposition space was a fifth of the size of just two years ago.
However, what this has ensured is a drive to better quality, rather than ostentacious, ‘vanity’ display.
The US car retailing market has been hit significantly by the recession. Whilst in the UK we are all too aware of the problems, we saw and heard some sobering numbers from the impressive speaker platforms:
The US saw car sales hit 40 years lows it was announced. In 2000 US car sales hit an all time high of 17.4 million units. Last year the market saw just 10.4 million sales, of these under 8.5 million were retail sales.
The difficulties experienced by both GM and Chrysler which both flirted with liquidation during the year has had a clear demoralising impact on the wider retailing network.
The culls by both these manufacturers and the weak sales picture saw a staggering 2,000 dealer closures in the year.
It placed the falls experienced in the UK into sharp context. In spite of the falls some brands actually increased market share, namely, Hyundai, Kia and Subaru.
In the case of the former Korean pair, both are active members of the Phoenix franchise portfolio and certainly we had to recognise that helped by the scrappage scheme both had spectacular growth curves in 2009 as consumers sought greater value.
There were two very distinct themes apparent at the conference. Firstly, an almost back to basics approach taking a hard look at businesses who have recently cut costs and now need to get back to acting as a “for profit” organization. The second theme was the massive importance of on-line media usage in the current economic climate.
These themes were complimented by great sessions aimed at owners and senior managers highlighting the best techniques to get maximum performance from staff.
Our meetings and discussions with American dealer reflected the difficulties experienced and understandably many had adopted a survival mentality.
A good many of the speakers sought to address this mindset and Don’t survive – thrive was a call we heard frequently and it was encouraging to hear people really working to move forward and grow; what was clear it that the learnings of the last year will last long. As one dealer I spoke to noted:
“We have always known what we should do, but we are poor implementers now we can’t afford to procrastinate”
It was a valuable reminder that in sales and dealer management we have to focus on doing the right thing all the time and do it effectively.
In spite of the difficulties being faced by the sector it was nice to see that the importance of being good citizens was not lost on the audience as evidenced by the Trucks for Haiti fund raising programme.
Within the Phoenix Car Company, NADA is a key tool to gain new insights and to push us on.
This year in a quieter, more subdued environment the learnings were different to past years; the whole event was both smaller and more serious – but the learning opportunities were certainly there as were the opportunities to learn from our US peers. We task all of our delegates to use the event to create training for our other team members across our twenty outlets; here are some of the headlines that will become training seminars in the weeks ahead at our dealerships and in our new training Edinburgh training centre:
• 10 reasons customers buy from me
• Hire the right people, train them and retain them
• Don’t accept mediocrity
• Used car dominance
• Work harder on stock management – accelerate the turn
• Get excited on the phone
• Focus upon accountability in new/used cars, after sales, F & I - every part of the business
• Social networking and analytics – make the most of them
• Cut costs, but don’t cut the customer experience
Within Phoenix we offer all job roles the opportunity to present their case for inclusion on the NADA trip each year; this year both managing director John Mcguire and myself were delighted by the standard of presentations.
Whilst the pressure was on in terms of costs we immediately made the decision to extend the party making the Phoenix delegation the largest from the UK to attend.
We have seen that if we employ the brightest and best people, they are inspirational when cascading down meaningful and quality information on their return.
It’s fair to say that NADA was different this year, the muscle flexing giant of an industry that was the US Motor Trade seemed a little more humble.
Indeed many of the Phoenix team commented that the US seems to have taken a little longer to recover from the tough times than we have.
This meant that some of the more high profile names like Dave Anderson and Paul Cummins were absent, but there remained much to learn from such a vast automotive environment looking to rebuild.
It proved difficult to pick a star performer from the conference as each speaker had relevant points. Its hard to overlook Dale Pollak, who has overcome blindness to firstly set up a successful retail business then move on to create a training company.
Joe Verde, a veteran performer at NADA, was also impressive this year.
Patrick Ritschel reminded us of importance of success on the phone and added some great new ideas.
During the conference many of the Phoenix team were mistaken for US dealers while kitted out in their corporate uniforms.
Our team were always recognisable and often brought into conversation during sessions for a UK view on topics by the speakers.
In fact one dealership owner has been in touch after being impressed upon meeting our team.
He is keen to arrange for his son to spend some time with us in Scotland. It certainly adds to the camaraderie which is always part of the trip, very important as the team are from different branches and don’t necessarily see each other often.
Personally I was delighted for our entire team to attend all sessions despite only two managers on the trip.
I am confident all our guys can be future managers and am happy for them to start thinking and acting in that manner now.
We have made no secret of the fact we are keen to expand with our current partners so a sizeable management talent pool is great to have.
Go To Know was the NADA’s chosen strap line to encourage visitors from across the States.
The feeling at Phoenix seems to be that this was an extremely valuable exercise in the development of key staff for the future.
The team left Florida after a busy week with a feeling that they had built upon the industry knowledge already gained at their respective franchises within Phoenix. A case of ‘go to know… a bit more’ perhaps.”