What Al Bundy Can Teach Us About Automotive Retail

November 12, 2015

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to watch a show called “Married With Children”… a low-brow sitcom about a suburban Chicago shoe salesman named Al Bundy and his family. So when I was flipping through the channels late-night in a hotel in Columbus last week and I heard the familiar theme song “Love and Marriage”, I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t watched an episode of that show in at least 15 years. After watching for a few minutes, I couldn’t believe how dated the show seemed. Not only in appearance, but also in terms of social commentary – specifically Al Bundy’s job as a shoe salesman.

When was the last time you bought a pair of shoes from a shoe salesperson? (we no longer refer to them as shoe salesmen) Not one of the regular employees at Walmart or Sports Authority, but an actual shoe salesperson? How many pairs do you buy online vs at a standard brick-and-mortar retail store? The last several pair of Nikes I bought came directly from Amazon, and my wife’s shoes come almost exclusively from Zappos. These companies and others like them have been at the forefront of re-thinking and re-inventing the retail space around a more customer-centric model with a primary focus on convenience, knowledge, transparency and customer service. So when did the shoe salesperson begin to disappear from the retail model for shoes?  …when the customer no longer needed them because they did not add any value to the retail transaction.

Now let’s take a look at the automotive retail market. Look at what companies like Carvana and Beepi are doing to our industry. The consumer’s demand for a different experience in purchasing a vehicle is changing quickly and drastically. They are armed to the hilt with a wealth of information on the vehicle they want, what options they would like and what the current market conditions for that vehicle are before they ever set foot in a dealership (if they even visit a dealership at all). The one ace we as dealers still have up our sleeves is that the vast majority of the car buying public still wants to deal with a salesperson when purchasing their next vehicle. But how long will this last? Remember what happened to Al Bundy!

Think about the value your sales consultants add to the car buying experience at your dealership. Are they more knowledgeable about the product and the market than your customers, or are they just getting in the way of the sale? How much does your dealership spend on hiring and training new sales and BDC team members. Are all of your new hires an instant success? What is your churn rate? How does that impact your business and the experience you create for your customers? What tools does your sales and BDC team have at their disposal to help them add value to the customer’s experience? We as dealers need to think about where the industry is going and adapt to a more consumer-centric model before we end up on the sidelines, watching the big game with Al Bundy.