SF and Endurance Running Have More in Common Than You Think

It has been a while since I have used a running analogy for special finance, but based on recent events in my life and the auto industry, I feel there is no better time than the present. Prior to taking up marathon running in late 2007, it had been many, many years since I was identified as an athlete, so regardless of whether or not you run, this article is still very apropos.

Long term readers – or, for that matter, anyone that has found me on Facebook – know that over the last couple of years endurance running has become a passion. It all started out as a challenge from my wife Ali. She decided 15 years after major knee surgery (and not being able to run) that she was going to train and run a half marathon (13.1 miles).

I had ran three to four miles three to four times a week for 14 years and had never been able to run over 12K (almost 7.5 miles). Hence, there was no way this Type-A, uber-competitive person was going to let her do it without doing it as well. Long story short, by using a coach and a well-defined training program and timeline, in 90 days during late 2007 and early 2008 I ramped up and not only ran a half marathon, but completed my first marathon. (I am proud to say, so did she.)

OK, so how does all this relate to the Special Finance business? Well, I have to give you a few more running details first. My training consisted of a six-days-a-week regimen that really didn’t average out to that much mileage (between 25 to 40 miles per week). That said, not being anywhere close to an elite runner, 25 to 40 miles a week translated to somewhere between -four and six hours of actual running time each week. A level of dedication and discipline is required.

Additionally, once you have “ramped up” you really hate to wind down if you intend to run more than one. Somehow, even though the majority of first time marathoners are training just to make it to the finish thereby checking off a “bucket list” accomplishment, many people training somehow get locked into the mindset (addicted?) that there will be more after the first one. Count me in that group.

After my first marathon in February 2008, my addiction led me to running nine total marathons last year and looking for more. I learned that while not fastest runner I recovered quickly and decided I would join a group of runners that had ran one marathon in every state. With that, 2009 would take me to a minimum of 16 states with a true goal of 20 marathons for the year.

I was off to a good start having run four marathons in the first nine weeks of this year when the wheels fell off. The third surgery in three months for a melanoma followed by having to have three vertebrae fused in my neck (none of these surgeries were caused by running) sat me on the sideline for four months. The most exercise I did was walking to the medicine cabinet and back. Finally, three weeks to the day following spinal surgery I was given the green light to start running again. The doctor simply made me promise not to run a marathon until mid-September. I smiled, thinking, “Yeah, it may take me that long to get ready again.”

Wondering a bit how my neck would react, I laced my shoes up and nonetheless had a smile on my face from ear to ear when I walked out the door to begin my first three-mile run. Then came the surprise. I had no idea what four months of no exercise had meant. A quarter-of-a-mile later, I didn’t need a heart rate monitor to know that something had changed. My legs had disappeared! I tried slowing down (a relative term). Nothing changed. I managed to complete the run, but it was the slowest and most painful three miles I may have run in 15 years. Wow. In the good ol’ days (just four months ago), 10 miles was just a warm-up.

Today, six days (and runs) later, I am up to six miles, but it is still a struggle and much slower than it used to be. It has been a long time since the thoughts, “What am I doing this for?,” or, “It’s dark out, no one will see me if I just quit.,” entered my mind. Things are different. The world has changed (or at least I have). Running had certainly become less fun than it was. Suddenly I was questioning why I wanted to get out of bed at 4:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning to go do this.

The thing is, I know that the ramp up to achieve my goal the first time was difficult. Once you feel the joy of reaching your goal, I think a type of amnesia takes over. You quickly forget much of the pain it took to get there. That same amnesia takes over the last two or three miles of a marathon.

I have now set “baby-step” goals over the next few weeks. That is what allows me to have the commitment to put on my shoes today and go do it again tomorrow and the next day. That is what allows me to commit to the time (and some pain) it takes to accomplish my goal. Just as I have already doubled my mileage, I know once again it will all become much more fun. I know I will feel that same exuberance when I cross the finish line of the Chicago Marathon in October.

Clever readers by now can see where I am going and how it ties back to special finance. There are so many parallels. As I have said many times, special finance isn’t brain surgery or rocket science. Neither is running a marathon.  That said, not everyone can do it. At least 80 percent of all dealers have tried it, and less than 20 percent are actively engaged in it. I am sure that many people have tried to run a marathon and failed as well.

Why do people get in and get out? Simple. They don’t reach their goals, so their commitment wanes. It certainly takes commitment to run a marathon. That commitment is the most critical of my Ten Critical Components to Success in SF. Without commitment, it is very easy to get in and out of the SF business.

Why do dealers miss their SF goals? Simple. They lack the plan to get them there. Years ago, I tried and failed four times to run even a half marathon. I too lacked a plan. The old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” certainly holds true. How do you plan to make certain that all 10 required components are in place?

Just like running, success in SF can breed complacency, over-confidence and false security. I am sure that I had taken my ability to run for granted. Even though I have always finished every marathon I started, I know that some of my times could have been better. When you run a race every two weeks you can easily justify in your mind that you don’t need to train as much, or be as focused.

Similarly, I recently have talked to more dealers or SF managers than I can count that think they know it all and all they need is more traffic. (I must not be very bright, as I have been in SF since 1989 and have never quit learning.) In running and in business, if you aren’t going forward, someone is passing you, and in SF, if you aren’t perpetually learning, you are not going forward.

Speaking of recent times, running marathons and SF also parallel each other in that things can change. For a runner, it certainly can be their health. It doesn’t take medical issues like I faced to stop a runner. Simple things like shin splints, pulled muscles, cramps and even blisters can take you down. Certainly, the SF industry has continually undergone change since before I got into it; most recently, it has seen some of the most significant changes ever.

As I ramp back up, it would be real easy for me to justify that due to my medical maladies (my change), it just isn’t possible and doesn’t make sense for me to do this again. After all, I ran 13 marathons in the first 12 months of trying. I can be proud of my medals hanging on the wall and just move on. Such is the case with many SF departments or dealers. “The market changed, so we closed our department (or got rid of the SF manager),” are the comments I have heard all too often leading up to the 2009 SF Convention. I assure you, in talking with the executives of many of the SF companies, the market (while changed) is still certainly there, and for the first time in years, finance companies are planning growth.

The industry downturn for some would be like a runner getting hit by a car. What dealers may be subconsciously thinking is that they know what they have been through and they are not only unsure if they can return to the level they were once at, but also if they want to go through all the effort again. Like some runners, many dealers won’t.

Here is where the two scenarios take different paths. With the exception of the elite professional endurance runners, very few people use their running skills to earn their livelihood. Even more so, I doubt many, if any, runners have the enormous financial investment required in bricks-and-mortar that auto retailers have. With such an investment, a dealer has to earn a strong return on investment. To do so, they must avail themselves to all profit opportunities. The SF market is the largest and fastest growing market segment in the auto industry today. It is also the easiest to ignore, as it is the largest profit center not detailed on a factory financial statement. (You can’t manage what you can’t measure.) For the majority of dealers to ignore SF just doesn’t make sense.

I can say from achieving goals in both running marathons and SF, both require strong commitment, a solid plan, a training regimen and the ability to continually overcome change. It can be easy to walk away from either. For those that persevere, the rewards are many.

Until next month,
Keep going forward!

Vol. 6 Issue 8