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Rising to the Challenge

I have to start this out with a little blurb about myself. Please keep reading though because I promise this column isn’t about me.

Last year at this time I was preparing to run my first marathon. It was a goal I set for myself a decade ago, but had never come close to accomplishing. This time was different however, as I had armed myself with a proven training plan. By executing it, I was able to cross one more thing off my “Bucket List.”

Don’t ask me how or why, but just shy of 12 months later, I’d run 10 marathons in eight different states, and suddenly I felt it would be fun(?!) to attempt two marathons in two states in two consecutive days. Most people consider this just short of insane, but to me, it represented a personal challenge to my own discipline and commitment—something I seem to preach a lot about to others. Yesterday, I crossed the finish line, marking 52.4 miles in just over 29 total hours. I was pretty happy (and sore). Not to oversimplify it, but I had a plan, I trained and I achieved my goal by deliberately running slowly. Two morals of this story: if Greg (never to be confused with an athlete) can do it, anyone with working lower extremities can, and more importantly, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

We all know the auto industry has certainly slowed down. Some might argue that it has stopped. We have all seen the headlines and accompanying stories telling everyone how bad it is. That story is getting old. This article is about the opposite. This magazine was built upon sharing dealer success stories to inspire and to model; in this case,  dealers who are rising to the challenge and through their own planning, training and execution are indeed excelling.

Normally, I don’t mention names here, but this time I am because these are good friends who are doing a great job. If asked, they would each humbly tell you what they are doing is nothing special. I beg to differ.

I’ll start in Milwaukee, Wis., with John Amato and the Amato Auto Group. When I was in Milwaukee in October, I thought I was in a ghost town. I drove by more dealerships that had been shuttered than I can count. If anyone had reason to complain, it was John, whose Hyundai-Mazda store is split by a four-lane thoroughfare which has been under construction and impossible to traverse. John never got down. He kept his team focused and trained, and he found opportunity. In January, in cold, snowy Milwaukee, he had a terrific month and told me, “Business is fun again.”

At the other end of the spectrum is a small independent dealer in Lawrence, Kan.—Academy Cars, owned by Lonnie and Joyce Blackburn. They have been in business for 28 years and a few years ago rededicated themselves to re-energizing their business through training and positive attitude. They refuse to participate in the recession and tell their crew that every day. Last fall, they spent a significant portion of their ad budget to develop an entirely new Web approach and presence. The results have been astounding. They have actually experienced growth in a market that has declined 40 percent and expect growth this year (no small task for a veteran business).

Then come Courtney Cole and Monica Peck, two sisters who own Hare Chevrolet in Noblesville, Ind., the country’s oldest transportation company, dating back to 1847. The sixth-generation owners bought the store from their father at the worst possible time, at the peak of the market right before the decline.  They endlessly train and inspire their talented team (they had all managers at the sparsely-attended NADA convention) while they look for opportunity. New cars down 50 percent? No problem, focus on used.  They continually think ahead. For such a large organization they stay amazingly nimble and can react to a rapid-changing market. Had a blizzard not wiped out the entire last week of January, they would have likely set a record and still had a great month in both variable and fixed ops.

While I have many more I could share, space says differently. I’ll finish with Randy O’Daniel who, with his family, owns O’Daniel Automotive Group in Ft. Wayne, Ind. While getting ready to take my seat on the plane coming back from NADA, I looked down and discovered Randy was seated next to me. On the hour-and–a-half flight to Sarasota (he was fleeing the cold), we naturally talked shop and it was basically all good. One of his stores is a Chrysler-Jeep store. I cringed. Not to worry though, because their business has been very good. He has focused on proper inventory levels, stayed nimble and kept their long-tenured teams positive through ongoing training. All these factors have led to great performance in a down market.

While I may be simplifying things a bit much to say it all boils down to you, it sure has to start there. Here are five examples (counting me) of people who look in the mirror and just find a way. Wherever you are, there are opportunities in every market, even in a downturn. Take it upon yourself to make it happen, and grit it out to the end. If you have a success story of your own you would like to share, I would love to have it. We’ll keep printing them.

Vol 6, Issue 3



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