Fighting Dealership Stereotypes

December 10, 2019

We hear a lot about the customers’ view of automotive dealerships from the outside, so we were curious to turn the tables and ask dealers what they would like to share with the general public about their world. Our first interview with James Boening, Dealer Operator at Ourisman Lexus of Rockville really struck a chord.

The responses below are a mixture of sharing that interview socially, the comments that were shared back and interviews we’ve done directly. In each case we asked, “What’s the one thing you’d want people from outside the automotive industry to know about dealers?” to find out how industry insiders viewed this gap in understanding and what they would like to share to help close it.

From that first answer:

“I would want them to know there are good people out there. This industry has such a bad name and if you could scream from the mountaintops that everyone is not that way. There are good dealers out there.” – James Boening, Ourisman Lexus of Rockville

Others piled on:

“We care about them as people.” – Sandy Cerami, Automotive Speaker, former Dealer

“We're not the enemy, yet many clients have been trained to take an adversarial approach because they can't envision an alternative. Many of us focus on establishing professional relationships and act in the client's best interests vs. coordinating impersonal transactions like vending machines with hair.” – David Freedman, Reeves Import Motorcars

“Good dealers outnumber the bad by far however its usually the bad that grab the headlines. We are good people...” – James P. Merrill, Schaller Acura

“Our reputation means more to us than our profit margin. We don’t prey on people. We make friends at every opportunity.” – Mark Trimbell, East Bay BMW

“We care about the wellbeing of the client. We want to establish a wonderful relationship with our guests.” – Shaun Murray, Circle Porsche

Some pointed to the increased pressure on the financial structure and wanted car shoppers to understand that their assumptions of what a dealer is making might be far from the truth. There was a wish to shine a spotlight on the financial challenges.

“I would want consumers to know that gross profit on sales of vehicles are what they are...surprising[ly] lower than the average car buyer would ever believe. If the average consumer had any idea how razor thin margins are for auto dealers it might help break down some of the tension that exists and shed some light on why we have to fight for an extra hundred or two on a $35,000 transaction. And in addition, that dealers pay thousands of dollars each month to 3rd party sources in the "race to the bottom". Net margins are even more unbelievable. For all the media attacks on the retail auto industry, how about real story exposing what a tough business it is?” – Michael Hassing, Sales & Finance Manager at Automotive Concepts

The information gap is clearly large and the potential for improving relationships with better communication is equally large. So what has to be done? Our interviews provided five great suggestions for getting started.

  1. Take the long view

“Dealers in general, should exceed expectations. Each and every opportunity. And be patient. Much our success, and brand, are based on 70 years of individual efforts and ‘deposits’ built on top of each other....” – Matt Lasher, West Herr Automotive Group

  1. Lean on tech to help simplify the logistics of the deal

“We know we need to improve the car buying process and we are changing the way we do business to make it easier, faster and more transparent. Selling cars is a complicated transaction that requires the manufacturer, dealership and bank to work together. As technology improves so does our ability to create a faster buying process where we let the customer determine their own buying journey. Our goal is for our customers to not only fall in love with their new car, but to tell every one of their friends how easy it was to do so.” – Candice Crane, Automotive People Strategist

  • Stop supporting the spread of stereotypes, directly or indirectly

“Stop serving those stereotypes up. There are some vendors that deliberately keep those stereotypes alive. Because it's to their advantage to create hate on the car dealers. You know, like, my opinion now, CARFAX. The dishonest car salesman is screwing over the customer and the little fox jumps up and rats him out. That's their commercial, right? Excuse me. If you are going to take a dealer's money, you don't defame the dealer…. [W]e shouldn’t be giving money to people to use to advertise against us.” – Jim Ziegler, Alpha Dawg

  • Be transparent and open to connecting directly

“Be completely transparent and open for the entire process. Actively engage in and actively listen to their wants and needs. Under promise over deliver. Letting clients know that I am available for them even when off-duty.” – Shaun Murray, Circle Porsche

  • Strategically hire outside of automotive

"One of the best ways to change the stereotypes is to bring in new points of view. Hire your customers. Create the most diverse team possible. Strategically seek out non-automotive backgrounds in customer-facing positions." – Laurie Johnson, Del Grande Dealer Group

Sharing your dealership story and closing the understanding gap should be on everyone’s to do list. The stakes are too high for both dealers and the communities they serve not to get it right. Dealerships are often some of the most generous supporters of the local communities. As Lisa Copeland from Cars Her Way reminds us:

“Automotive dealers are the backbone of communities. They are the largest employers, taxpayers, and supporters of charities. Without the support of these businesses and leaders, our communities would suffer.”

Many thanks to the contributors for this article and all the dealers across the country who are making car buying better, more transparent and enjoyable for their customers!