Born and raised in Queens, New York, Mark Schienberg joined the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association (GNYADA) in 1985 as one of only three staff members and has been running this 98-year-old automotive trade organization since 1987. Under his guidance, GNYADA has become the largest regional automobile dealer network in the country, representing 425 retail automobile franchises in New York, Westchester, Long Island, Suffolk, Nassau, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Dutchesscounties. Schienberg has created numerous programs that have refined the automotive dealer business, as well as improved consumer-dealer relations.
Of all my years of working with dealers and representing them on behalf of the GNYADA, I probably have never seen a more optimistic group of people.
ADT spoke with Schienberg about the road that led him to automotive, the organization’s relationship with its dealer partners, the economic footprint dealers leave in their tracks, and the unbreakable ties dealers have to their communities.
Can you tell us about the road that led you to automotive?
My professional career has had a lot of different zigzags. While I always loved cars when I was young, couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license, and found myself working on cars and doing a little bit of racing, I went in a lot of different directions before making my way to automotive. I previously worked in political consulting and different media broadcasting outlets.
Then an opportunity came about to represent small businesses in the automotive industry, and it felt like it brought several passions of mine together. I’ve always admired people who were entrepreneurs and risk everything to put their name on the marquee. That’s one of the things I think has always made businesses in the United States so important and unique. The fact that it was automotive, the fact that there were a lot of issues dealing with politics and consumer issues — it all fit really well into a bunch of different passions that I have.
To have the opportunity to come on board and address some of those things was great. It was really interesting as it was at a time when the businesses still had lots of issues that they had to deal with, but there was also a revolution going on. Additionally, I was given the ability to put another one of my other past skill sets together, and that was running the New York International Auto Show. It’s a special event that has such an incredible history, going back to 1900, as America’s oldest and largest-attended auto show.
What led you to joining GNYADA?
I wasn’t in the business at the time, I was actually doing consulting work for RKO General, which is a big media group around the country. At the time, I was also doing a lot of political consulting. Someone on the board of directors at GNYADA informed me about a position that I may be interested in it, so I went in to see what they had to say.
It was one of those things, where you make a mental checklist as you’re going through, and it checked all the boxes of things that I had worked really hard on throughout my life to be able to do, and it seemed that applying those things would be rewarding. I loved being with the media, it gave me an opportunity to do lots of different things, but I really wanted to roll up my sleeves again and see if I could make a difference. And this gave me the opportunity to do that.
What areas of New York does GNYADA encompass?
It’s a really interesting question because we actually have two different functions. We have the New York International Auto Show and then we have the dealers that we represent. My day-to-day job is representing dealers in the southern part of New York, and that encompasses Long Island and the five boroughs of New York City. Then we go north to Westchester and Rockland, and we’ve just recently expanded to three more northern counties just above that: Orange, Putnam and Dutchess.
Our members, which are 425 new car dealers in those 12 counties, represent 65% of all new car sales in the state and make up 63% of new car dealerships in the entire state. The bulk of new car business is done in the southern part of metropolitan New York. When it comes to the auto show, it’s a tristate show, so that includes New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, and our role expands with that event.
How does GNYADA support its dealer partners?
That’s a big question, and something that we’ve really grown over the years. One of the things that we’re always here for dealers on is compliance issues or questions. We have staff and attorneys that are able to address those concerns, whether it’s a Department of Motor Vehicles issue, environmental issue, employment law — anything that a dealership needs to address. We’re that direct hotline for the dealers.
In addition to that, we provide an extraordinary amount of training programs. One of the first things that we put together when I came on board was a skills-based training program. Whether it’s for a receptionist, parts and service rep, office manager, or billing clerk, we run about 60 different seminars a year. We used to do them live before COVID, but now were doing a lot of that through webinars. Education has been a very strong component because you want to keep your work force up to date on everything, and advocacy is paramount.
We have staff that address regulatory and legislative issues on an ongoing basis. When the pandemic first started and dealers had to shut down immediately because of an executive order, our people went to work and started to communicate with the governor’s office to ensure we were considered essential businesses. This allowed service departments to continue operating and for us to start working on putting together safety protocols that were needed for the rest of the staff.
How important is the success of your dealer partners to GNYADA?
I think the success is across the board for these dealers. It is amazing to see that this is where the strength of dealers lies. That they were able to shift their operations from something that they do every day – in how they sell cars and do test drives and registration and title work – and with the flip of a switch, they needed to change their operations completely. The first thing that they all needed to do, which they did such an amazing job on, was to create a work environment that was safe for both customers and workers. So that meant getting things like their operations socially distanced, getting staff in face masks, and cleaning down every car before they came in for service and cleaning it down again as its being delivered. It was already an enormous task and now they had to do things they didn’t previously need to address. I think they’re all huge success stories.
In the New York area, and across the country, the number of jobs that were lost, which impacted the economy and acted on individual lives, has been horrifying to see. One of the bright spots that’s out there is the retail car industry. Dealers are fully employed with staff, they’re selling cars, and they’re collecting sales tax and contributing it to the state and local counties. One area where Main Street didn’t go dark, is where new car dealerships have been operating because they have figured out a way to make it all work, along with the support of associations like ours and working with the governor’s office.
What kind of economic footprint do dealers have on the area and how was that impacted by the pandemic?
Every year we collect data from our members in a whole bunch of different areas, and one of them is the economic footprint that retail dealers have. They are considered small businesses, but the brick and mortar that they have is a major investment that employs lots of people and pays huge amounts of property taxes. Our members served nearly 10 million motorists and motor vehicles in 2019, so it’s an amazing economic engine for local communities and for the state. Our members collectively have an impact of 72,000 jobs, just in the southern part of the state. It’s a $53 billion economic footprint that dealers have with the business that they do, which includes billions of dollars in salaries and sales tax that they collect for the counties and state.
This industry was highlighted so much recently because if dealerships had closed down, the amount of additional people that would have been on unemployment, and the loss of revenue to other businesses that dealers have an impact on, would have been catastrophic. You can’t say enough for this particular part of the industry. The kind of investments that they put into facilities that keep other kinds of people employed is enormous. When we published our economic and job impacts study, which included 2019 numbers, it was just before the pandemic hit, so at the beginning of 2020, it looked like all those numbers we showed for 2019 were going to be wiped away. Fortunately, as I mentioned, dealers are very resilient, and they were able to get back on their feet and adjusted their businesses. It’s truly been one of the really strong economic stories for 2021.
It’s a bellwether of the economy and always has been, and it’s an industry that is very sensitive to different conditions that are out there. If interest rates go up, it directly affects customers being able to buy cars. If gas prices go up, it changes consumer’s buying habits and what types of vehicles are being purchased. All these little pressure points and issues greatly impact the industry. There are many regulations that dealers need to follow — they’re probably as regulated as the insurance and banking industries — but they’re small businesses that don’t have that huge personnel and they’ve got to try to keep up with all the federal, state, and local regulations. It’s a fragile industry, but we’re proud of the role we’ve been able to play over the last year, and it’s an industry that you can take for granted. It’s important to be able to work with the legislature to make sure we don’t hurt an important small business that employees lots of local people. It’s a roller coaster, not knowing what will happen this year. There are a lot of issues that dealers are always addressing, and they do it very well.
How is GNYADA involved in charity?
If you take a look at where charity happens in local communities, especially with current issues that are going on, dealers are always there on the front lines. We reported charitable donations of $21 million in our Economic Impact report, but I think that is just the tip of the iceberg. Dealers are constantly being asked to support different causes and community concerns, especially during COVID-19. I was invited a number of times by different dealers to food drives, and coat drives now that it’s winter. We purchased about 650,000 face masks in the beginning of the pandemic because there was such a shortage and we’re still doing things like that. Dealers are still there, contributing. They’re an amazing group of people that are connected to their communities and see themselves as people that are there to help. It’s a very philanthropic industry.
During the last economic downturn, the recession of 2008/2009, when the devastation to the economy was all over the place and a lot of businesses had to downsize or shut down, including new car dealers, the New York Times ran a front-page article. In the article they said that the contributions that dealers made led them to being called “the pillars of the community,” because they were sponsoring Little League teams and parades and other community events. And to see, on the front page of a major paper like the New York Times, that they were recognizing the dealers’ role in their communities like that, I should have retired right then. I think that attests to the really great history of this industry.
Is there any advice you would like to offer our readers?
I think that with dealers, they are being impacted on so many different levels, and for the most part they’re doing it on a shoestring. That’s why they depend on dealer associations in their local areas and states because the associations really do have their dealers’ backs. They fight for them in their state capitals and city governments. They fight for them with the manufacturers, when they see costs shifting to the dealers and unfair treatment that goes on. The associations are very unique, and the auto industry, I think, is the best that’s out there. The dealer associations are there for one reason, and that’s to represent the dealers’ interests and fight for their issues, so get involved. If I had one recommendation, it would be to get involved with your dealer associations and make sure they remain financially viable and that you’re participating in those activities. Because a dealer doing it on their own, and trying to deal with these issues, it’s almost impossible to do. But a strong association will pay dividends forever.
Of all my years of working with dealers and representing them on behalf of the GNYADA, I probably have never seen a more optimistic group of people. Even with all the things that are happening and that come at them — all the pressures, whether its compliance issues or factory problems or consumer issues that are there — they are a very optimistic group of people. I guess they have to be, because they put everything at stake in their businesses. But that’s what makes them successful, it’s that sense that things will always work out. That with dedication and hard work, the future will be good.