October 2013, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
Ready, set, go! I jumped in and hit the water. It was ice cold. I could only see about three inches in front of my face. I had never swum in anything but pool water, and here I was diving into a lake to start my first triathlon. What was I thinking? I surfaced and started to swim. But my breaths were too short and much too fast. This was not like me. I realized I was beginning to panic.
I started trying to literally talk my way out of it. “Slow down!” I said. “You can do this! Slow down, relax!” After a few scary moments, I started making progress. The distance ahead was greater than I had anticipated, but I just kept swimming. After 15 minutes, I reached land, and it was time for the cycling segment.
When I officially decided to enter my first triathlon, I knew that I needed a good racing bike. But I only had it for 10 days before the competition. So, here I was with a new bike, racing in a crowd of 400 people for the first time. I wasn’t very comfortable in the beginning, but once again, I slowly adjusted. I could feel the burn in my legs, and it was just about time for the final phase: a five-kilometer run.
When you jump off a bike and start running, your legs are very heavy. Once again, this was all new to me. I just wanted to keep making progress. Finally, I crossed the finish line. I had just completed my first triathlon, and I had learned a lot about racing — and myself.
So what the heck does running a triathlon have to do with the car business? Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever had to make a big decision that you just kept putting off? Dealers constantly wrestle with decisions that will change the way they do business. It could be as minor as trying a new ad campaign, or as major as adding a new department. A business development center (BDC), buy-here, pay-here (BHPH) or rental car operation, a special finance department or a satellite used-car store can add a boost of revenue, but what if it doesn’t work out?
Good enough is good enough. The conditions are never going to be perfect. You just have to get in and bloody your nose. But you also have to realize you may have to take three steps forward and two steps back — or three steps forward and four steps back, at least at the beginning — before you begin to make progress. It can sometimes be painful. You may feel panic setting in. But in this business, we learn so much by going for it.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So every so often someone brings up a great idea for a new department, but you talk yourself out of it. Yes, the pain of implementation can be extreme. Due to the fear of that pain, we sometimes push back to make sure conditions are perfect before we attempt to make a change.
So what happens when you jump in? I have run seven triathlons this summer and improved my overall time by 15 minutes since my first race. The pain was totally worth the gain.
Adding a new department requires a similar commitment. If you already have a BDC, think about how much better it performs now than it did at the beginning. How about the rental car department that grew from five units to 50, or the used-car store that started selling 25 units a month and increased to 60 in the first year?
It is a process, and there is risk involved. Once you make it through, you’ll see the reward in your bottom line. All you have to do is jump in, put your head down and start making progress.
Courtney Cole is the co-owner of Hare Chevrolet in Noblesville, Ind. She’s been with the dealership for 16 years and is a sixth generation dealer of the “nation’s oldest transportation company,” which originally opened up as a wagon dealership in the mid-1800s.