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Lessons Learned A Decade of Trials, Tribulations

Overcoming challenges can give you an edge over the competition

By David Jacobson

Each year we issue a challenge, not only to our staff, but to the automobile dealers in our ever-evolving and growing network, motivating them to succeed and to help credit unions–our No. 1 constituency–attract and bolster their business.

While dealerships are challenged to excel in either of two separate categories–volume, (the number of funded loans), and look-to-book ratio–the promise of both financial and tangible rewards has helped propel dealer participation. Moreover, since this takes place at the start of the year, the intent is to carry forward with sufficient momentum to spur sales and deals into the hot spring selling season.

As a consequence, we’ve motivated the team and also built better awareness about credit union financing–another inherent goal of this initiative–which has given us an edge on the competition.

Facing new challenges

This year we face new and formidable challenges brought on by a weakened economy.

The jobless rate has spiraled. Paychecks are smaller or committed. Savings accounts are getting depleted. Commuting costs have escalated in many locales, assuming you have a job. Car problems too have magnified in the post “Cash for Clunkers” era. You need only look at Toyota, which seemingly has fallen in the same path that Audi walked in when their sales took a nosedive after refusing to debate problems that the CBS program, “60 Minutes” brought to public attention. You would think that lesson would have been learned.

Social media channels have evolved – never mind the fact the monetization model has yet to yield the desired results.

Yet, it is during this trying time that we mark our 10th anniversary of existence as a conduit between the credit union and auto dealers’ worlds, and can reasonably look back at what we have witnessed, learned and can observe.

1. The auto buying public today is better educated. They are not fearful of entering an auto showroom and accepting the gospel offered by the salesperson. In fact, they do their homework in advance, speak with friends and neighbors, and come armed to negotiate the best deal for them.

2. If they are credit union members, they will take full advantage of the systems in place that CUs have with financial intermediaries, and will use these resources to good use. The members have in essence become smart decision-makers.

3. As newspaper subscriptions and circulation decline, dealerships will continue to market “outside the box.” The weekend papers remain robust with car ads, although the classified listings have largely gone online. So too have consumers gone online to sites like Craigslist, cars.com and others to shop for their immediate and long-term needs. And, the smart dealerships have grown their Web sites exponentially to accommodate this appetite.

4. Social media channels have evolved; never mind the fact the monetization model has yet to yield the desired results. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are attracting viewers 24/7. This will continue.

5. The day of the glib salesman has diminished. The auto dealer and his or her sales staff emphasize a better grasp

of what their constituency wants and needs from them, whether longer service hours, including weekends, loaner cars, transport to/from the dealership to the railroad station or a major artery, acceptance of credit and debit cards and even a pot of fresh brewing coffee.

6. We no longer call it a “used car” but instead a “pre-owned vehicle.” Talk about semantics. What’s more, the “pre-owned vehicle” often comes with a warranty that not only attracts, but also sustains, an interested public.

7. Americans are looking to get the best and safest vehicle for their needs. There has been a slow turn toward buying American again. But even the non-U.S. manufacturers have facilities in this country, and you can easily argue that a vehicle manufactured 50 percent in South Carolina is an American-made auto. This trend will likely continue as China gears up to compete in this market, and as well-known titles such as Jaguar and Land Rover are headquartered in Mumbai.

8. The day will surely come when we can be “beamed up” as the “Star Trek” television series barked. But we are not quite there … yet. What we have learned is that common sense is still important in dealing with the public. So, too, are honesty, candor and credibility. If we lose any of the three, not only have we lost the sale, but the ability to have a dialogue and command mutual respect.

David Jacobson is founder and president of GrooveCar Inc.

(www.groovecar.com), a Long Island, NY-based auto resource that has served the credit union and auto dealer sector for the past decade.

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