If anyone had told an auto dealer a few years ago that the greatest threat to their business was a pandemic level virus, nearly every one of them would have laughed at you, even if they had listened to Bill Gates 2015 Ted Talk predicting it.
I’ve spoken to many a dealer in the last couple of weeks who are running on little sleep and media overload.
With many states, counties, and cities issuing various stay-at-home orders, that run the gamut from mild to extremely strict, dealers have been left with few good options. They are living the pandemic nightmare, right alongside millions of small businesses. Many of those businesses won’t survive. Some of our auto dealer clients might not survive this, but many will, because auto dealers are a resilient and a resourceful bunch of entrepreneurs.
Auto dealers often get a bad rap, but the reality is that they employ vast numbers of employees, providing them competitive wages and benefits. They are also very active in their communities, supporting other organizations, including many non-profits. The impact they have on their communities runs deep and isn’t always in the limelight.
Additionally, many of them care very deeply about their staff. I’ve spoken with more than a few recently that have struggled immensely with the decisions they are being forced to make. I say forced because most dealerships aren’t rolling in cash, and today it’s about cash flow, not profits. If you don’t have the cash flow, you can’t keep the doors open even if you are allowed to be, and you want to be open.
If this is the reality of today, how do you manage the unimaginable?
1. Focus on what you can control now. I’m a planner, but I’m not a worrier. I like to think that worrying is above my pay grade. I can plan and make decisions on what information I have and what I can control. But worrying about what I can’t control is wasted energy. For auto dealers, that means making plans A, B, and C based on available information while knowing that information may change in 4 hours, and you have to have plan D at that point. Adjust your plan and keep moving forward.
2. Lean on your trusted resources. When information (legislation and otherwise) is coming at the rapid pace it has been coming at us in the last few weeks; it can be hard to sort through even for the geniuses among us. Talk to trusted resources and peers that can provide you different perspectives to help you make decisions.
3. Accept the fact that everyone is being impacted. You aren’t unique. Your circumstances may vary, but everyone is taking the same hits. Some are just harder than others. Your attitude will say more about your leadership than anything else during this time.
4. Take note of those special people that are shining right now. I promise you the jewels are glittering if you look. Employees are going above and beyond the call of duty. You are going to want them for the long haul. Acknowledge them.
5. Explore all financial options. As entrepreneurs, you are accustomed to making a decision and making it happen. Although the Federal government has passed a lot of legislation to assist businesses during this time, it does nothing quickly. Apply for any options you have; it’s easier to say no, I don’t need it than to need it and not have applied.
6. Rethink your business models. It’s easy to believe that every role in the dealership has to be there from x hour to x hour, and they have to be working in the store, but its situations like this that force us to look through a different lens. It’s time to take a hard look at all roles in the store. Maybe you will be creating different roles or tactics that will forever change your business.
7. Keep safety first when making decisions. It really won’t matter what options you have if your team comes down with the virus. Every decision you make right now should be made in the light of how much risk am I taking with my employee’s health? For some, it’s pretty low; with others, it’s pretty high. If you are keeping your wife, kids, or other family members at home but asking your staff to work, you are sending mixed messages. If you are avoiding your business but expecting your team to work, you are sending mixed messages.
8. Make your employee decisions with care. There are no absolute right answers for everyone. Every dealer must make decisions based on available information. What I see is a lot of dealers running numbers to see what is the best option for the employee, even if it may cost the employer in the short term, that allows me to see the humanity in the unimaginable.
9. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR STAFF. I believe the single most important thing that auto dealers can do as leaders in their businesses during this time is, to be honest, and have crucial conversations with their staff. Yes, they will be upset if they are laid off, but if you explain the options to them and why you have made the decisions you have made to the extent that you can, they will respect the decision. More importantly, ongoing communication with them will make or break your long-term relationship with them. Staying in contact with those that you have to lay off throughout this pandemic to update them or to simply encourage them will be vital to retention.
10. Restore and rebuild. Once this passes, and it will. Make sure you have documented every protocol you put in place and every decision you had to make. The lessons learned will allow you to act quickly should another emergency of any type arise again. Rebuild your team, and your business to be better, strong and more resilient than ever. And don’t forget to look for the opportunities that come from this.
It feels like this might last a while. It might last several weeks or months, but in the scheme of life, it’s not really that long. The important things are that we all stay well, and we manage the unimaginable until it becomes a memory that we can work to forget.
Stay well, this will pass, and our industry will survive and thrive again.