Dealership Dysfunction

July 16, 2008

Ask any used car manager who’s responsible for setting up the lot- who’s job is it to be sure that the inventory is lined up straight, clean and appealing to the eye. The answer for almost every used car manager is, “me.”

Now, ask the same used car manager who’s responsible for the timeliness and quality of the used vehicle photographs and descriptions. Seldom does the used car manager raise his hand. If not you, or your used car manager, then I have to ask, “Who?” The answer is almost always somebody else, like a porter, third-party company or an internet manager. Now, I’m not saying that any of these people can’t do this job well, but what I am suggesting is that this creates a fundamental dysfunction in the dealership.

While I’m not expecting the used car manager to physically perform these tasks himself, I do believe that he needs to be the one accountable for ensuring that these tasks are getting done effectively and efficiently. Think about it- every used car manager understands the importance of getting the lot physically in shape because, traditionally, that’s what it took to bring traffic off the street. Well, in today’s environment, how your used vehicles are set up on your “virtual lot” has as much or more to do with bringing traffic in off the street than what your physical lot looks like. Nevertheless, very few used car managers take the same level of responsibility for their virtual lots as they do for their physical lots. How can this be?

I think the answer can be found by understanding the fact that most dealerships have separate internet and used car departments. And, I’m beginning to reach the conclusion that this is just plain wrong. I know for a fact that today, the used car business and the internet business is the used car business. So why do we have two separate departments? Or, if there are two different managers responsible for the most fundamental tasks of used car management, then who is the real used car manager? When it takes too long for cars to get photographed, attached to rich and compelling descriptions, and placed on all the proper internet sites, who suffers? I would argue that it is the used car manager’s department that gets penalized and, yet, the used car manager often doesn’t have responsibility or accountability for these critical tasks. This seems to be a pretty serious dysfunction.

I’ve met some used car managers that do it all, or at least take responsibility for everything that it takes, as I say, from “paint to pixels.” What I mean is that they have both the traditional used car skills, what I refer to as the “paint”, as well as the new virtual skills, what I call the “pixels.” In such cases, where a single manager is responsible for the overall operation of the used car department, the used car department really rocks. These dealerships often get their vehicles through the service department and onto the lot as well as high quality photos and descriptions onto the right internet sites within 72 hours. Too often I see both the “paint and pixels” take well over a week from the time the vehicle arrives at the dealership to the point that it is properly presented for sale on both the lot and internet. Today, with used vehicles depreciating at an unprecedented rate there is an extraordinary need for speed and efficiency, and accountability.

Any thoughts?