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Feedback: So What Exactly Does IM@CS Do?

This post is a long time in coming, even though not our typical cup of tea. Why? Because we want clients and the industry to understand more (and in some cases, even something) and talk about us. Tooting our own horn is a turnoff, and publishing papers, studies and books with mostly repeated content is deplorable. However, after nine years of “what does IM@CS do?”, it’s likely (beyond) time to make it a little more known…

Interactive Marketing and Consulting Services (a.k.a. IM@CS) was founded in September 2007, when the amount of non-vendor companies/consultants dedicated to digital in the Automotive Industry could be counted on two hands. In other words, if you don’t count website developers, ad agencies and the like, you could hire less than 10 entities to truly grow your digital results independently.

Some of our firsts that lead the industry:

  • Website maintenance (developed into SEO Services) started December 2007 and micro-sites in 2009
  • Social Media services started in December 2007 (we launched the first Audi and second Porsche dealership on Twitter, for example, and many of the first-10 on Facebook dealership accounts)
  • Vendor coordination/accountability yielding fastest-in-class response times (with Gary’s background at eVox, Edmunds and izmoCars, nearly all OEMs, Tier 1 and Tier 2 vendors were on a direct, one-to-one relationship with IM@CS before other digital consultants knew them)
  • First OEM-direct relationship (Toyota/Lexus) secured in January 2008, educating hundreds of Lexus dealerships around the country (replaced incumbent and scored highest dealership satisfaction from the summits over a five-year period)
  • Mystery shopping of dealers in 2007 (started in 2004 while at eVox), then introduced lead scoring (rather than mystery shopping for clients) in 2011 and rolled out to OEM programs
  • First 20 Group presentations in 2009 (Porsche US Pre-Owned Forum and Volkswagen Canada digital) yielded transformational changes for dealerships
  • Advocating, coaching and maintaining online reputaiton management since 2008

Not easily known unless you followed IM@CS in the early days, our work resulted in many industry-leading benchmarks as well as brought other consultants and vendors to the forefront and awareness over the past nine-plus years. Gary May has been a sought-after speaker since opening the J.D. Power & Associates Internet Roundtable at Red Rock Casino Resort in 2008. In addition, Gary has spoken at the first six years of DrivingSales Executive Summits as well as dozens of other conferences, 20 Groups and private vendor events. Eric Trytko and the content team have driven industry-exclusive vehicle editorial and content direct from auto show launches since 2010, something that no other dealer provider has done (most repurpose OEM and publisher releases and articles or use spun -software based- content, a search-engine flag).

IM@CS has created over 350 blog posts and has contributed to top Automotive forums.

Our team (currently a staff of nine) touches all parts of your digital presence:

  • Website maintenance
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Social Media content management and marketing (organic and paid)
  • Reputation Management (tracking and maintenance)
  • Creative assets (banners/graphics, landing pages, email marketing)

We carefully vet all dealer digital processes through hands-on assessment, highlight low-hanging fruit as well as build long-term strategies, weigh competitors plus develop strategies around acquisition and conquest, bring unrivaled education to executive and management-level staff and build unmatched results for salespeople.

Some of our competitive advantages and benefits to business leaders:

  • Out-of-the-box solutions (no cookie-cutter/duplicated approaches including content and lead management/CRM/templates)
    • what works in your store, not others
  • Commission-free vendor recommendations (giving up 5-and 6-figure revenue per year in kick-backs)
  • Best-practice approaches influenced by both automotive industry leaders as well as out-of-the-industry strategy and results
  • Six day per week support 6a-6p PT and beyond
    • Most requests receive 24-hour turnaround

We have been a trusted, non-contracted (month-to-month services since day one) partner for dealerships with an average duration of over two years and we have been hired back or advised by 25% of our clients. Our partnerships with stores develop long-lasting results while keeping executive management up-to-date with all digital aspects. Our R.O.I. is unmatched in over 90% of clients.

When you and your business are ready to stop splitting hairs with me-too vendors and are ready to grow your sales, marketing efficiencies and knowledge in order to build sustainable results, contact us for a review call or an assessment meeting. Yes, it can be this simple to stop receiving only slight benefits while paying vendors for their lifestyles. And understand why, in most cases, your co-op OEM-run programs will never serve you to profit and actually only serve your vendors and manufacturers with piles of data about you and your operations.

 

Here’s to your success in 2017!

Transparency, Marketing and Dashboards (But, But, But It Sells Cars!!!!)

There has been more attention to accountability of dealership marketing recently, which is a good thing, however it’s always been important and something we here at IM@CS have been doing for eight years. Simply put, you need all of your digital reporting to come down to your own review, independent of vendors and their dashboards.

History proves (and vendors demonstrate) that anything will be said to a dealer or general manager in order to sell a service, especially first-in-market, fear or competitive factors. Most dealers are unwilling to be  leaders, choosing rather to follow especially when it comes to technology. And the largest factor is lack of time and commitment. If you are paying for something, you must be able to measure it yourself. Yes, YOU must be able to do that, not simply trust a report.

Google Analytics is the best way to measure everything that touches your website, alongside ancillary technologies including heat maps, third party SEO and SEM software, as well as independent measuring tools. We use a fair amount of software monthly to ensure the work we do is correct, viable and effective.

We continue to see (the majority of) dealers that are having the wool pulled over their eyes because of not drilling down a little in reporting, rather relying on a smattering of PDF reports and sales rep visits with alligator smiles talking about how great their performance is all the way to 20 Group comparisons with mediocre benchmarking.

As a senior-level executive (not your Internet or marketing director), if you can’t open Google Analytics and have a basic conversation about performance, you are losing awareness and accountability on a monthly basis. There is no other place, including the sales board in your dealership, where more relevant data comes in, not even CRM (especially considering how underutilized that software is!).

So whether you take some company’s challenge, education course, class, or simply task yourself to learn directly within Google’s own treasure trove of resources, commit to a few hours a month and get serious about all of your marketing.

Recently we’ve seen:

  • Significant drops in effectiveness of Display Advertising, with mobile being a factor as well as incredibly poor content/call-to-action in the advertising (incorrectly bucketed spends = lower R.O.I., fewer sales)
  • More rogue/bot  traffic coming from target cities that have server farms, including Ashburn, VA, Dallas and Austin, TX, and Rome and New York, NY as well as Boston, MA. (click traffic from areas that don’t make sense = non-human clicks)
  • Seeing poorly managed paid Social Media ads/dark posts and resulting traffic/leads due to a complete lack of understanding how to deploy the ads/content (running ads on Facebook and not generating leads = wrong vendor)
  • Huge increases in incorrectly managed/sourced paid advertising campaigns, lacking all of the proper data, including conversions, tied to meaningless text/ads. Part of the is an increase in dealers finally spending on SEM and the greater problem is more companies (including many OEM-approved vendors) managing ad spends that don’t understand what they’re doing. This does not counting vendors that don’t marge AdWords accounts to dealers’ Analytics accounts

All of this staring dealers in the face with no challenge to the vendors selling the services and marketing. When you receive that monthly PDF in your inbox, don’t file it. Instead, print it out, call the vendor(s) to review and have someone in your office that can independently verify that data until you understand it yourself.

Stop buying from vendors, even reliable ones, who sell you a service off of how many more cars will be sold. You don’t need that! Most dealers can sell 20-50 more cars a month out of their own CRM. Your marketing can’t be segmented or in silos anymore so quit buying that way!

 

Do this before any factors present market issues or downward pressure on sales. With more dealers spending money, there are incremental increases in sales with a lot of companies are simply getting fat and happy, laughing all the way to the bank with you money. Call us to find out quickly and easily what you’re paying for and not receiving.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Broken Is As Broken Does…We’re So Frickin Broken!

Broken is the new status quo. Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues. In the sociological sense, it generally applies to maintain or change existing social structure and values. The way things are done at dealerships has gone near-completely political and, oh my, are we broken!

Thoughts are always swirling is our minds here at IM@CS, and the current state of affairs something that we poke at a lot. It came around again last evening, looking at a page that someone had liked on Facebook. Going to the info tab on the FB page, we noticed that the company was “founded in October”. Excellent! Like us in September of 2007, a startup! Click the link to the website and the domain is not even registered, it’s available for sale. facepalm. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

Whether it’s many marketing or website or “digital consulting” companies now evergreen inside the OEMs, the state of broken that exists is staggering. Stupid is as stupid does, we know that from Forest Gump’s momma, so broken must be as broken does. And the industry accepts broken.  Enterprise website providers that aren’t completely responsive (or adaptive for that matter) fit hand-in-glove with marketing companies managing PPC campaigns that don’t perform while taking a management 20% fee (or higher)… Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Dealership executives have choices when it comes to what takes their time. We call it priority management. Many people at fly-by-night SEO and social media companies call it time management (that tickles us so much, we pee). Yes, there are many “subjects du jour” right now including customer experience and whether to go BDC or Internet department especially on the heels of the recent conferences. But one thing is clear, even considering how many are yelling about “owning the basics” and “doing what we’ve always done”: we are broken while many scream we’re great.

And it”s easy to blame the consultants and trainers who, quite frankly, spout off about expertise they don’t have and subjects they can’t actually tackle live in a business, but let’s hit on the responsibility that business owners and executives have. Are you in business or are you hoping to catch up still? Can’t wrestle that extra “marketing expense” out each month when it doesn’t get covered by the factory via co-op, so you decide instead to make the payment on speed boat number two?

We’re broken because we have dealerships that don’t own and manage their local citations, don’t expect everyone to use CRM and trust vendor promises over actual results.

Don’t be the company listing a website that’s not in existence. Don’t be the blind following the blind because it’s the path of least resistance. Don’t be broken and happy because you’re better off than 7 other broken dealerships in your market area report. It’s not easy and it takes more resources that you’ll likely be comfortable with. Don’t settle. No business that has ever been successful did.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Automotive Digital: The Cost of Being Minimized

It's no secret that we're on the move. All of us. You might even say that the speed at which things change is breakneck. What is less known is that as we speed toward wherever "there" is, the more we seem to be willingly giving up. The homogenization of dealerships is rampant…and it's the dealer that checked the box.

Our industry moves at the speed of retail. There is no two ways about it. While the mainstream media still focuses on what happens with the OEMs, just know that you are the king, not the pawn. That is until you make a choice: hire the preferred vendor so you can co-op funds; use the standard POPs since it's easier; use the brand website so you don't have to "maintain" two. And so on.

Consumerism is driving retail, which is at conflict with the OEMs. At the same time, dealers by-and-large are giving up the ghost because of cost. Well folks, the greater cost is being minimized. You can want it as much as possible and you still won't have your cake and eat it to. At least not in the digital realm.

So while customers are screaming for attention, service, why-buys, value, appreciation, satisfaction and validation, you throw a redundant website, a canned script, a formulaic email, a prepackaged walkaround, a canned welcome and broken sourcing practices at them. All to hopefully deliver the same car that's available at multiple competitors.

Very few dealers are making the investment to differentiate everything about their operations. You will never sell more saving money. You will never retain more customers while cutting costs. You will never achieve market increases while focusing on consolidating services. You will accelerate your demise.

Progressive businesses continually stay in front of trends, measure more effectively, create opportunities, listen more effectively, invest wisely and attract more eyeballs and customers. Those that don't….don't. 

The OEM-supported and mandated programs that are happening and a growing rate many times are being managed by companies simply adding on costs. Their insight doesn't push results, it standardized you. BDCs are being recommended for management by two preferred vendors for one manufacturer right now. You will sound and read just like your closest competitor. Is that your goal? No, is that really your goal? How much money will you save to get your Internet lead and phone closing rates up 10-50%?

If you save $1,000 a month since you can receive co-op funds with one BDC company, did you save money when you lost 20 units that should have been sold otherwise? Your social media is accelerating you to the same fate with most OEM-pushed companies. However since you don't read your own dealership posts, maybe it really doesn't happen.

At the end of the day, it's all good since the reporting says you're doing a great job. Right? Wrong.

The cost of being minimized, standardized and homogenized has still not hit an industry that's nearly minting money again hard enough between the eyes. To those that are fighting the fight, staying agile, focusing on results as much as the bottom line and not losing their grasp on where the digital consumer (which is all of us) is guiding us…here's to you! You'll be the ones who win.

For those who choose to be a mindless, factory clone, here's to wishing you the lost excitement, zest, fire and desire that you started with. You gave up the digital battle for whatever reason you did, hopefully you can save more than your money…

Peeling Back The Social Onion: Are You Just A Puppet?

2013 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for automotive retail (again). Results are in for March and the first quarter showing that, with exception to some brands, you're making money. However are you making enough money to make bad mistakes for your business? Look at your social media, chances are you're doing just that.

There's just no excuse for not participating in one of the essential areas for grown, increase in traffic, creation of leads and retention of clients. And by participate, what's meant is not completely being hands-off. Outsourcing your content (SEO, SEM, social, etc.) is critical for the majority of dealers but you must stay involved: review, analyze, modify, challenge and hold accountable. Never, ever let your vendors run wild on your content. Thousands of dealerships are, regardless if they pay for services.

Dealers will write checks to vendors from $300 to $4,000+ a month for social media content services for six months, not realizing that their pages look identical to hundreds of other dealers. Remember the following tips related to all of your content:

    1. The majority of Facebook pages are not crawled by Google, Bing, or other search engines. The fact that your Lexus dealership has the same posts and a hundred other ones won't bother Google, just the people you're trying to engage. And if you have most social vendors and a large "Like" count, you've likely bought fans or acquired them through giveaways. On average, less than 2% engage on dealership Facebook pages because they're not authentic, don't represent their neighborhood/area or extend their brand. It's useless if it doesn't look, sound and feel like you. "Caption This" didn't work, doesn't work and won't work.

    2. Add to the above a little annoying Facebook detail that dealers (and many businesses) continue to ignore: if you have a profile ("friend") page, you are not only in violation of Facebook Terms of Use (TOU) rules and can lose your page, you can't get all of the analytics, advertising and other functionality that come with a business page.

    3. Google doesn't like duplicate content. You've heard it at least 10-20 times but you don't know what it means. Simply put, if you have the 78th blog to post a redundant article on the Chevy Volt from the auto show you're not an authoritative site and Google won't drive traffic to your blog from searches. That is unless you can get a lot (A LOT) of people to your post, to talk about and share your post as well as re-post. Good luck.

    4. Twitter is an amazing tool, that most dealers' vendors simply automate posts from Facebook, YouTube and their blog. It's a shame. With Twitter you can actually listen. Yes, listen. Google doesn't show you real-time results for posts and discussions about your brand or franchise. Twitter does. And you can reply to them, unlike on Facebook. It's amazing what will happen in Twitter, over time, if you simply use it, ask questions and engage.

    5. Google Plus is being underutilized by you right now. Google what? Yeah, Google Plus, which should now be integrated (merged) with your Google Local page (reviews). And oh boy, are there a lot of "experts" giving out the completely wrong information on using Google/Google Plus/YouTube and their other tools (as well as all things social) and your vendors are just responding with "thank you" or "we'll get back with you" on your positive and negative reviews. One thing that happens with G+ consistently? Content indexing quicker than any other platform. Well, Google owns it…and you're not posting on it.

Typically a quick (10-15 minute) review of all your social network assets will reveal nearly no advantage by paying your vendors for 80%+ of dealerships. Better yet, look at your Google Analytics and see if you have actual links to your website(s) from your social media networks. Even if you're not paying for your content services, why even do it if you're not doing it right? And if your social vendor happens to also provide you with "SEO" services, look twice as hard.

Puppets are cute, for puppet shows. Not for business. Stop being a social media puppet or just another case study for your vendor to get an OEM endorsement. It's not a silo. It's not "we have a social presence" or "we do social". Everything that carries your name must be known and understood by you. Quit turning over your business to others because you don't want to invest or because "it doesn't sell cars".

This post likely won't change much but so much improper marketing for data purposes or to perpetuate automation is being done in the digital realm today. Maybe we can change it. Don't be another puppet…

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Tipping The Scales. Against An 800 Pound Gorilla…

Have you ever tried skiing? Uphill? Are you one for SCUBA diving? In a wading pool? Do you get your kicks running marathons? On a treadmill? How does this grab you: are you a fan of water skiing? On a dry lake bed? It seems that the more you try to distinguish your dealership today, there's someone from the factory telling you that all of the franchises in your brand should be the same. Nice. There's nothing better than showing up to a gunfight with a knife, right?

Know that we understand completely the advantage for the OEM. The level of standards, compliance and requirements shows more (not necessarily better) knowledge and what's happening with endorsed vendors shows that there may be a desire for (less than acceptable) results. "But they're the factory and I don't want problems". Well, Dear John, that train already left the station and you're the one who gets to sell the customers…right? Don't look now but the factory guys, umm, they don't know how to sell cars and neither do their bosses. Shhh, it's a big industry secret!

So how do you win at the "I want to get ahead and they want me to be behind some imaginary digital line that they don't understand" scenario? With more effort, time, cost and resources you can get 'er done! Welp, that's the short, hard to swallow answer. Can it get done? Yes, the same way you eat an elephant.

Look, they're the 800-pound gorilla (or, if you've been to counseling, the "white elephant in the room") and it's usually ugly if you don't take the extra cars they're shoving down your throat. How can the conversation about why the website vendor is failing them or the fact that the social media/reputation management company actually doesn't do what they say they do with any competency go better? It can't…not until there are real conversations at the headquarters. And folks, they've not even started yet. And the people in the digital posts at your OEMs facilities? Yes, they were selling factory replacement parts to you, at best, six months ago. No, everyone with a smartphone, a Facebook account and knows that CMS is content management system doesn't understand digital. Newsflash: SEO is alphabet soup to them.

Our 800-pound gorillas (read: all of them, not just the "big 6") need a major intervention from you right now. If you're reading this, you're in the top 5-10% of progressive dealers in the country. And don't think for a second that by having them out for a heart-to-heart or flying coach back to the OEM HQ for a fireside chat is going to take the covers off your website, CRM and marketing secrets because we still don't have over 17,000 dealers on mobile-optimized websites yet. However it's a step in the right direction and then 90% of your brand brothers won't have to scream that they don't know what their digitalmarketingleadmanagementpaidsearchretargetingonlinereputationconsultinggurus actually do (yes, please hashtag that!).

Did you hear the feedback from NADA? Yuuuuuuuuup! We're sure you did. Are the OEMs the bad guys? Not in the least. However the combination comes from vendors constantly selling (and them buying, BTW), relationships winning over logic and thousands of dealers fighting the "digital machine" for way to long. When a franchise gets over 50% of their traffic from sources they've not looked at in over a year, someone has to get involved. So they're not public enemy #1, they're just one massive speed bump that wrote a blank check to the wrong address.

Tip the scales in your direction, one pound at a time. (No gorillas were harmed in the creation of this post, but some will be offended – and so will many endorsed vendors)

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

 

It’s A Time For Thanksgiving (Automotive Style)

It's that time of the year again…. Well, actually not. Let's be completely honest. It's that one day of the year again. The one day where everyone around the automotivesphere expresses their public thanks: letters from the manufacturers' chief/department executives to their staff, dealers/general managers to their staff, vendors to their staff and maybe, just maybe, expressions of thanks between companies and their staff.

What are you thankful for? The fact that 2012, for the most part, is better than 2011? That the last couple years beats the two before that (and who isn't)? Are we all in a state of fiscal thanks or personal thanks? Who went out to the lot to deeply thank the porter who always takes care of the customers, never takes even a penny from a floor board and smiles as he closes the door for a customer about to leave? A gift certificate for a complimentary 10 pound turkey is not the same as a hearty handshake or chest bump and looking them in the eye and saying "thank you".

Were all of your clients welcome at your store or office simply to talk, network and share a story? The website, CRM, mobile or search marketing vendor contact that always makes things right before the 11th hour…did you write a thank you letter or tell their boss in an email?

You all saw that manufacturer's ad that ran this morning thanking their customers for making the choice to buy their product, right?! Yeah, I just called hell and it hadn't frozen over yet…the ads I see still scream about Curesomethingian leather, diamond-encrusted door handles, and de-magnetized drive control. AS a matter of fact, when is the last time an OEM publicly thanked their customers?

Giving thanks should be a warm-inducing, blush-creating, pit-of-your-stomach humbling experience. At a minimum it should happen more than we all hear "sorry", which for most people has lost it's meaning. But "thank you" shouldn't. And rather than "thanks", make it "thank you" because it actually talks about the person in front of you, or on the phone or that receives the email. Make it about someone else.

So take a moment today (and the following days) to heartily thank the people who make a difference in your business, for your customers and in your life. Thanksgiving is a great day if the thank yous that are giving are complete.

 

OK, now go out and make Black Friday more important and spend all of the money that you're thankful for….

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Wake Up! A Call To Arms…Legs, Hands, Feet, Real Products and Decisions

The more things change, the more they stay the same. There
are no shortcuts… Car dealers, when it comes to websites, SEO, reputation
management, SEM and social media stop simply buying services blind or going
co-op “approved” to save a buck. Stop buying enterprise solutions because it's
one check or everything comes on a "proprietary dashboard" and start
getting effective results with accountability. Start being your own dealership
online rather than being like all of the rest. The same is what enterprise
solutions get you. It doesn't work.

Some quick examples: Redundant SEO doesn't stand out and as
a matter of fact it’s penalized today by Google and Bing. Copied press releases
don't get clicked, read or acted upon. Facebook posts (even though, yes, Google
and Bing don't crawl them) that are identical to every one of your competitors don't
gain reach or go viral. And PPC ads that aren’t set up properly and don't have
unique content don't convert.

It is time to drop the vendors that are endorsed by your
brand/OEM that 450, 700 or 1,600 other stores are on; and time to invest
properly, get involved with what YOU put online under your name and get real
about understanding and results. And for business sake, reputation management
and social media are not things you just turn over and don’t watch and discuss,
period. Paying vendors to get reviews and paying someone to put up pictures of
goldfish in adjacent bowls starting at each other with "caption this"
was not acceptable in 2009, let alone 2012. And even if you're not up to speed
with what Google or Yelp are doing (and you need to be), don’t pay for reviews
from someone that’s not a salesperson, service writer or other employee. Your
reputation is your responsibility, not a vendor’s for a couple thousand dollars
a month.

Your OEM-certified vendors don’t understand social media and
for most brand headquarters, the people making the decision don’t know much
more when they sign the purchase orders or endorsements. Most eCommerce heads
had stints in other areas of their brand operations and have no experience or
understanding.  It’s time you knew that because
you are trusting your largest traffic generator, which most dealers flinch at
spending $1,000-1,500 a month for…let alone more appropriate, higher costs, to a
decision someone made based on a relationship, a pitch and/or promises of non-dealer-centric
benefits.

Take ownership and yes, you can and must do and be
responsible for every single thing that has your name on it: advertising,
fliers, sell sheets, hang tags, pictures, video, templates and online
marketing…all the way down to your business cards. If you aren’t on your way,
or at least starting, down your digital comprehension and betterment it is only
a matter of time before you are absolutely, positively passed up.

You will hear this from very few people and places because
it flies in the face of convention. And it disagrees with what you hear in ads
and presentations. And it is an about face from what nearly all of the OEMs
want and believe. And because it’s hard to beat the 800 pound gorilla (vendors);
the gorilla that has no idea what any part of the funnel in their traffic
report is, how to properly maintain website optimization, how to set up a
legitimate Facebook or Google Plus page and just can’t get its hands around how
to actually answer a lead.

Welcome to being back in business for yourself and with the
right frame of mind. Yes, that means the herd you leave just may be heading the
wrong way…

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Resutls

Some Good Time With Some Dealers…MPG Style (Why Weren’t More There!?)

Tuesday's MPG event at Proud Bird at LAX was another great session. While we're typically greeting marketers, OEM executives and industry suppliers, this was a great departure and informative (if not inspiring!). Charlie Vogelheim moderated the panel and the room finished the day with great questions. In between, it was all perspective, passion, personality and even a little bit of 'personal'.

Enter Jon Gray (Orange Coast Jeep Chrysler Dodge), Peter Hoffman (Sierra Automotive Group) and Beau Boeckmann (Galpin Motors). OK, there were three domestic dealerships on the panel so you could say the 'bend' was deserved. That being said, dealership owners I've met have all spoken the same way regardless if they were a domestic or import store owner. Fact is these guys know the business and definitely from a perspective rarely caught in the 'media' headlines after networks and publishers are done devouring the OEM stories.

The three principals were asked about everything from the cost to sell a car, how long they've been in business, how many employees they have, involvement with charities…to their take on government involvement in the automotive industry, specifically GM and Chrysler (with the two dealers speaking about being 'in the clear' of store terminations…for now).

One of the most interesting answers the panel gave was in regards to the impact of the Internet on car sales. All were in agreement that our favorite technology has added cost to dealership sales operations, not decreased, while acknowledging that the transparency has provided some significant advantages to their business.

As expected, the most pointed comments were about Washington's takeover of GM and Chrysler (let's say Fiasler since the Fiat purchase is complete as of this morning) and Ford's ability to stay out of the Cirque d' AutoBiz. They spoke of close friends and associates being on the short end of the decision stick.

Reflecting on how auto retail has changed, Boeckmann talked about how attrition in their local market area over the past years has taken the Ford dealership count from 9 to 3. Hoffman related the story of Oldsmobile's unwind a few years ago and how different it is this time around. Gray talked about how disconnected the factory reps are from the reality of dealership business. Both Hoffman and Boeckmann talked about Saturn's new life, albeit from polar opposites: Galpin still has their Saturn franchise while Sierra sold theirs. They both hope for the best with Penske's purchase of the brand.

Boeckmann provided a unique perspective in being a retailer that has a very close relationship with headquarters, even getting to have input on future cars. Mostly, the three businessmen related how hard it is to get both consumers and manufacturers to think of dealerships in a positive light.  All three are obviously passionate about what they do and provide to their communities, and very likely more so today. Even if most dealerships today are in defense mode, these three seem to have a forward-thinking perspective that is completely refreshing backed by the fact that none are throwing in the towel anytime soon.

These retailers don't have golden parachutes, multi-million (or
billion) dollar bailout packages, rarely get to sell cars for the same
price every time (as the factories do), and  are searching for the
logic behind the banks over-reactive pull back (and well as the search for loans so consumers can buy cars). Having seen a handful of dealerships speaking on panels over the past four years, it is clear that it needs to happen much, much more. Kudos to the Motor Press Guild for having the three fine retailers in for a dose of reality (and even a little bit of business and political conjecture).