Some parts of America are still in lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Everywhere I turn, they keep saying we should embrace the “New Normal”. The last time I heard this phrase with such frequency was in the aftermath of September 11th. I recall they were sure that my beloved auto industry would never be the same. The New Normal was coming and any dinosaurs that did not immediately change would face the asteroid. Some things did change, and now we all take OFAC and Zero Percent incentives for granted, and have largely forgotten that they were born of that tragedy. I am also old enough to remember when the New Normal of Scion was going to disrupt the industry and anyone that did not embrace one price would quickly be out of business … well the result of that brand and business were not what they predicted. I also remember when they all said, that within 18 months the subscription-based model would replace 30% of all auto sales, which was a wild over-estimate.
How do I know there will be another New Normal? Because like they say, the only constant is change.
They did get it right on one big new normalcy, that nothing has changed this industry like the world wide web. This is the one item that they got right. The vast majority of buyers start on the web, our reputations are kept on the web, most of our marketing budget is spent on the web, and a lot of our business is done on the web. I spent a lot of time during lock down considering how the New Normal will affect the industry for the boots on the ground. Here are my thoughts.
They are touting the death of the showroom model, post COVID-19, but I am not so sure. Consumer demand for Digital Retail and Remote Delivery will surely increase. In this current situation, concern has kept a lot of folks out of showrooms. But a year from now, the consumers that want to buy a car completely unseen and undriven, are going to be the same consumers that wanted that buying experience before we knew what COVID-19 was. While that segment of the market will continue to grow, I am not so sure that will be the New Normal, in the fall of this year as they predict. That being said, smart operators are preparing their teams to service that market segment and rightfully so. However, I would not convert your showroom to a Starbucks just yet. Auto purchases remain big decisions and many consumers at least want to drive the vehicle, if not consult with a subject matter expert on it, before they invest a large amount of money.
The New Normal will have some version of social distancing, right? I believe that most Americans are responsible and when the government loosens the restrictions that we are living under currently, we will not stand as close to each other in public. Or when we have a cold or fever, we will not endanger others in the office when we can work remotely. I also think most folks that use public transport or fly on planes will wear a mask. But do you really believe that next spring Americans won’t be packed into stadiums for sporting events, eating and being served by others in restaurants, or sitting elbow-to-elbow on barstools? Smart precautions are good for business. They reassure our guest that we are taking their and our own health seriously. So maybe the handshake will become extinct, but soon enough we will be comfortable sitting across a desk from each other again. The same applies to service as well. We continue to protect the surfaces of guests’ cars and sanitizing may become the norm. However, I am not so sure the norm in the auto service industry will be contactless in 2021 or anytime soon.
So, what will selling and servicing cars in the New Normal be like post COVID-19? If the client is across the desk or across the state, it all comes down to the same basic truths I was taught when I entered the industry in 1999. Does the value exceed the cost and does your client trust you? That’s it, simple as it gets. If you are a professional, know your product, care about your clients, communicate with customers on their terms, and focus on an ownership experience that fits their life, you will succeed. You are also most likely to succeed in the next New Normal as well. How do I know there will be another New Normal? Because like they say, the only constant is change.
Keith Janis is a regional manager for United Development Systems/Brown & Brown Dealer Services.