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Are you communicating effectively with your employees?


It’s a time-honoured dealership tradition: Managers regularly hustle their salespeople into a room for a “pump-up” meeting that can involve sales figures, sales leaders, sales targets, sales bonuses and sales sales sales, and then finishes up with fist-pumps and cheers.

It’s been done that way forever, but is the best way to communicate with your employees? Rather than rely on that one regular meeting, a wide range of communication methods could be a far better way to get your message across, as well as help to avoid the dreaded “meeting fatigue.”

How often you communicate and how you do it depends on a number of factors. Finding the right methods and the right balance can help keep everyone informed and attentive.

Many companies are actually reducing the number of employee meetings they hold. In many cases, it’s because of that fatigue, made worse by the fact that so many firms had to switch to the dreaded squares of the digital meeting during COVID. Many are also reporting that attitudes have improved with this “softer” schedule – that people are paying more attention because they’re not burned out by more frequent get-togethers.

Look at your schedule objectively to see if there’s room for improvement. If you’re repeating the same things over and over at each weekly/twice-weekly/even-more-frequently meeting, are your employees really getting anything out of it? They may leave the meeting pumped-up and ready to take on customers, but is there a chance that time might have been better spent on reaching out to contacts, or reading up on the latest vehicle features?

When you hold a meeting, do your employees participate, or is it just a lecture? People want to feel they’re a vital part of a team, not just a warm body in the chair. Engaging them can go a long way towards that. In addition to telling them what you want from them, ask them what they think everyone can do to improve the dealership. Even if it doesn’t sound doable, there may be a germ of an idea that is. Don’t single anyone out to speak, and accept if people don’t want to participate publicly. Later on, you can send everyone a text telling them that if they come up with ideas outside of the meetings to send them along to you.

Every few months, you might consider including other departments to participate in a meeting. All of them operate independently, but at their core, they’re all entwined in the store’s operations, and everything goes smoother if they’re working together. It’s not so much for airing grievances, but for finding better ways for everyone to interact. The service department may be more open to salespeople coming back to greet customers if advisors realize it’s about leases coming due or new models to show; while salespeople might better understand why parts aren’t in or a customer’s car can’t get into the shop right away.

While it’s not always easy to pull off successful group meetings, it can often be tougher to communicate effectively one-on-one. Everyone reacts differently to speaking directly with “the boss.”

Texts and emails are quick and easy, and of course they’re invaluable when getting a message across that needs attention right now. Keep them short-and-sweet, even using bullet points if that will make everything clearer and straight to what you’re trying to say. That said, when an issue gets complicated, texts can sometimes bog everything down. If that happens, a phone call can usually sort it out much faster and with a lot less trouble.

When you tell people your “door is always open,” it must be, whenever anyone wants to talk. They’ll be more willing to do that if you’ve already shown that it’s a two-way street.

Not everyone is good at face-to-face, especially when there’s a power imbalance of supervisor and employee. There’s a fine art to putting people at ease. If you have to deliver discipline or criticism, do it in private, never during the meetings. Make it constructive, rather than just a judgement on the person’s performance, by showing what was done incorrectly and then walking the employee through the way you expect it to be done. Work together with that person to come up with a solution. It may be something as simple as a lack of up-to-date information, and perhaps some training videos or working closer with others can solve the problem.

Conversely, if praise is due, say so without going over-the-top. In group meetings, that means walking the fine line between recognizing an employee for a job well done, without making others feel that their work is inferior.

If you find it’s tough to get your employees to engage in meetings, to talk to you, to keep you in the loop, then in addition to looking at them, have a look in the mirror. Is there something you could be doing better? Are you making the meetings interesting? Do you glance at your phone during one-on-one, or are you giving them your full attention? If you fully engage with them, chances are good they’ll fully engage with you in return.


Are you spending your advertising money wisely?


Advertising is always a fair-sized chunk of any successful business budget, and you need to ensure you’re getting the best return. It isn’t how much you spend but how you spend it that can make the difference in how effective your advertising is.

There’s no question that digital advertising has emerged as the number-one way to reach people, but not all online campaigns are equally effective. And while most experts agree that traditional advertising has lost its lustre overall, there are still some “old-fashioned” promotional investments that can provide a return.

Digital is relatively inexpensive compared to the number of people you can reach, either through your day-to-day online advertising or through special campaigns. It’s estimated that the cost-per-car for digital can be one-tenth the price of traditional advertising. But even so, you need to focus your resources on where they’ll do the most good, and that can include a variety of advertising choices.

Your website needs to be updated regularly, with new vehicles on offer and news about your dealership. If you have a “Meet Our Team” feature, update it if someone joins or leaves, and replace the “Photo Coming Soon” square with an actual picture as soon as you can. Anything that makes your site look dormant will turn off people who happen upon it.

The site should be feature- and fact-filled, but it shouldn’t be too busy, which can make it difficult to navigate. Be especially careful with your pop-ups. They’re almost universally hated by users and many people will use a blocker to avoid them. Studies show that they do work, as much as people dislike them, but they should be used with caution. Don’t have too many of them, don’t have one take over the screen as soon as someone visits your site (studies show they’re most effective if they appear after someone’s gone through two or more pages on your site); change them regularly so repeat visitors don’t get tired of seeing the same ones over and over; and use them to help engage the viewer, not simply to figuratively yell, “Hey, look at me!”

Spend your money on having your site optimized for SEO (search engine optimization) so people can easily find you. Many dealerships also find an enticing ROI on social media advertising, such as on Facebook and Instagram. Your website and paid online advertising also give you the opportunity to use digital tools to monitor their effectiveness, so you immediately know what’s working within the advertisement, or what needs to be tweaked to improve it.

But what about the traditional methods? It’s no surprise that dealers are spending far less on these than they did in the past, but there may be some life – and some return – in some of these “old-fashioned” ways of reaching out.

Direct mail can still work, but it needs to be targeted, rather than the “Hi, how are you?” letters that dealers dropped in the mailbox in the past. These could include a note when a lease is coming due, or warranty is expiring and there’s a chance to sell an extended plan. You’re most likely to do these through email, but especially for older customers, an envelope and a stamp might be worth the investment.

Newspaper advertising is the least likely outlet for most dealers, but could be worthwhile if you’re in a smaller city or town that’s served by a local free community paper. People often leaf through them for local news and coupons, and they’ll notice your ad. Mall displays have also generally fallen out of favour but still generate interest, especially in colder weather when people are more inclined to linger indoors.

Television and radio advertising has also dropped, but it may be worth looking into what’s involved and how much it will cost. People listen carefully to radio during traffic and weather reports, so focus your advertising there. In all advertising, repeat your website address as often as your physical street number.

An excellent resource, especially for dealerships in suburban areas or smaller towns, is community-building through sponsorships and events. When they’re car-shopping, people will remember that you sponsored their child’s sports team, especially if your dealer’s name is on the jerseys.

You can also participate in charity events such as food or toy drives, where people come into your store to fill a truck or SUV with items; offer shuttles or tow vehicles for fairs and parades; or buy advertising at hockey arenas or charity golf tournaments. People may be more receptive because sponsorships don’t really look like advertising, and it promotes worthy causes in the community.

Overall, you should be looking at your advertising budget on a monthly basis at least, to determine what’s working, what isn’t, and what you can do to improve. Customers only find out about you when you reach out to them.


Staying up-to-date on vehicle features


Virtually all redesigned or refreshed vehicles come with an increasing number of tech-heavy features. Your customers are going to want to know more about them, especially if they haven’t bought a new vehicle in a while.

There is information online about them, but often those complicated explanations can be as difficult to figure out as some of the features themselves. Shoppers are looking to you to provide simple and effective clarification on them, and everyone who deals with customers needs to be as up-to-date as possible on what’s in your vehicles.

In addition to dealer-specific training materials provided by the automakers, you can look for online videos – which you can also show to customers in the store, especially for features that work during driving and can’t easily be demonstrated otherwise – or even find out more about them in each model’s owner’s manual.

How you present them to your customers depends on what the feature is and what it does.

Fuel-saving technologies are seldom visible, so look for videos that illustrate how they work. These can include cylinder deactivation, Atkinson-cycle engines, Eco mode buttons, and idle start-stop.

Vehicle electrification is one of the hottest topics right now, so be ready. Customers may want answers to such questions as the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, and why the latter is pricier; a mild hybrid versus a full hybrid; fast-charging and home charging; what can affect an electric vehicle’s range; and the maintenance they require. Electric vehicles have to fit the owner’s lifestyle and not the other way around, so people need to know everything if it’s the first time they’re considering one.

Transmissions aren’t really considered a feature, but many buyers don’t know the difference between an automatic, a CVT, or a dual-clutch unit. They may also be unclear on why an automatic may have manual shift mode; why an SUV may offer tow mode; or why some transmissions have considerably more gears than others.

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are often misunderstood, especially since there are different types and automakers may use the terms interchangeably. Customers may have the impression that some AWD sport-utilities are more off-road-capable than they really are, or they may not know that some 4x4 trucks and SUVs shouldn’t be driven on hard surfaces in four-wheel if they don’t have a full-time system.

Infotainment features are a huge one for shoppers, and it’s a long way from the days when they only had to figure out how to reset the clock twice a year. Everyone should be familiar with the various systems – if phone connectivity is wired or wireless, the infotainment menus, how to set a favourite radio station or enter a contact’s information, and how to activate the voice control function. It’s also important to know what each system can’t do, so you can guide customers to the vehicle or trim with the features they desire.

Driver-assist and safety features are another area where everyone needs to be absolutely up-to-date, because new and improved versions are coming along all the time. Customers need to know the difference between warning systems, such as blind-spot monitoring or lane-departure warning that activates chimes or lights as needed to get a driver’s attention; and assist systems, which warn and then provide steering or brake assistance to help bring the driver back from a potential problem.

Highway driving assist features may be misunderstood by consumers, because there are so many levels of these programs. These can range from a simpler system such as adaptive cruise control, which keeps its distance from traffic ahead; to combinations of features that add lane-centring to keep a vehicle in its lane; to sophisticated systems that can operate hands-free for considerable distances through combinations of lane markings and pre-mapped GPS information.

While it’s important to point out a vehicle’s features, especially if they give you an edge over a competitor’s models, it’s also essential that salespeople never oversell an item. Be honest about what the feature can do, whether it’s how much of a difference a fuel-saving feature will make at the pumps, or just how far off the beaten path an AWD system can go. This is especially important with safety features, as they’re meant to be assists, not a substitute for good driving – and despite what some people may think, nothing out there right now is an actual self-driving autonomous car. The more your salespeople know, the more they’re able to pass on, the more they’re able to explain, and the more satisfied your customers will be.


What if you can’t easily get the car your customer wants?


While things are getting better overall, the auto industry is still plagued with supply-chain issues, and also with the backlog of customer orders it created. So, what do you do if your customer wants a car that you don’t have?

The supply problems may be out of your hands, but you can control how your dealership looks after your customers and helps to guide them through the process. They still won’t be happy about the wait, but if they appreciate how you’re handling it, you can create customers who are loyal to your dealership and will likely return for service and the next vehicles they buy.

Here are some of the ways you can help ease the pain of waiting for that new vehicle to arrive.

Honesty is everything. Be up front, right from the start, about how long they may have to wait. Don’t give them a “we hope” date – tell them what you expect in reality, and then that it could possibly be sooner but that’s the luck of the draw. Most people would rather be told the worst and hope for the best, than the other way around. They’ll appreciate you being transparent about it.

Explain what’s causing the delay. As people gradually go back to the daily routine they had prior to COVID-19, and as other products have returned to store shelves, many may not think there are still lingering effects. Microchips, backlogs, and even vehicle shipping are still playing havoc with inventory. Let customers know that it isn’t just your store or even your brand, but an issue that’s still affecting everyone.

Help your customer cross-shop. If someone is looking at a popular model that’s hard to get, is there something in your lineup that might be available sooner? Try walking them through the same process you would with someone who isn’t sure what to buy and is relying on you to help them decide.

This includes the usual list, such as what the vehicle will be used for: fuel economy, cargo capacity, capability, features, price – you know the drill. If you have something in stock or coming in soon that could be close, guide them to it. A vehicle that’s close to what they want and is available much sooner could be enough to close the deal.

Keep them in the loop. Communicate with your customers frequently as they wait for their ordered vehicle to come in. Even bad news is preferable to hearing nothing and thinking they’re being ignored.

If you get a vehicle in that’s close to fulfilling their needs, as mentioned above, see if they’re interested in looking at it. Even if they’re not, they’ll appreciate that you are keeping them top-of-mind.

Is there anything on the pre-owned lot? Your customer may have ordered a model with a long wait and they’re pinched in the meantime, such as their current car needs too many repairs and isn’t worth fixing. If there’s something on the used-vehicle lot that meets their needs, float the idea of buying that and then trading it back in when their vehicle order is finally fulfilled. With some popular models backordered for a year or more, it could be a viable solution for both your customer and your pre-owned department.

Can you work a dealer trade for the vehicle they want? You’re no doubt already on top of that, and making the arrangements even as we speak. Your customer will be pleased to know you’ve found the vehicle they want, but be sure to let them know it’s coming in from elsewhere, especially if it’s close enough that it’s being driven from another dealership. Customers can often be upset when they receive their “brand-new” vehicle and it has a double-digit odometer reading. The best surprises are “no” surprises.

Sweeten the deal if you can. Adding extras is always appreciated. Once the vehicle arrives after a long wait, if you can throw in a small item or two, such as winter floor mats, a branded key ring or hat, or a bottle or two of washer fluid as a “thank you for sticking with us” can make an impression with your customer. If you have branded items, such as a tire pressure gauge or wheel-lock pouch, pass one along during the waiting period.



How do you future-proof your business?


Time relentlessly marches on, and it never stops to let anyone catch up if they’re not prepared. It often seems like the auto industry is moving faster than all others, and if you don’t start future-proofing now, you’re going to be left behind.

The vehicles themselves are changing, along with the way customers want to buy them. If you outline your roadmap now, you’ll be better prepared for every curve that comes your way in future. Here are some factors to consider.

Will we really arrive at an all-EV future as quickly as governments and automakers are predicting we will? That’s still up in the air, but electric vehicles are now a regular sight on our roads and you need to be ready – even if you’re with an OEM that isn’t yet offering them. Some things you should consider are:

  • Install at least a couple of Level 2 (240-volt) EV chargers and offer them as a free service to anyone who wants to use them, including mentioning them prominently on your website. (You can install them within your fenced area so people don’t plug in when you’re closed.) Those who plug in will have some time on their hands. Invite them in for a coffee and to have a look around your showroom.
  • Train people on information around EVs. Everyone should be familiar with the basics, such as electric vehicles versus conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids; range anxiety; home charging and public fast charging; maintenance; available “green” rebates; and the types of EVs available. Even if you don’t offer EVs (but they may show up on your pre-owned lot), your salespeople will be able to confidently answer questions customers might have about whether they should go with gasoline or consider going for a plug-in.

This is more of an issue for the service department, but it’s important for your department that customers come in regularly so you can connect with them. Service visits could drop in future as more vehicles can have minor issues repaired with over-the-air (OTA) updates, or more people get into electric vehicles. Now is the time to prepare all departments for this.

  • If you do offer EVs, work with your service department on their aftercare, both for new and used. A large number of consumers believe that EVs require very little or no maintenance. They don’t need oil changes, but they will eventually need brakes, safety inspections and suspension repairs, and some may need their battery coolant flushed as they age. They’ll also need tires, and they’ll have to be appropriate ones to handle the vehicle’s extra weight – which the big-box stores might not realize. Get your customers in the habit of coming back to you on a regular basis, even if it isn’t as often as with a gasoline vehicle.
  • Right from the purchase level, emphasize the importance of bringing gasoline cars back to the dealership, rather than to a fast-oil-change shop. Vehicles are only going to get more complicated, and customers need to see you as the expert whenever they need anything done to them, even if it’s a simple item.
  • If your OEM doesn’t include scheduled maintenance with the vehicle purchase, set up your own program and offer it as an F&I product.

Online Commerce
This is the biggest of the big. The days of people walking in cold to see what’s in your showroom are already over. Now you need to stay ahead of how they’re shopping online and what they expect to see.

  • Everything needs to be online. Shoppers want to see photographs of everything, a full list of specifications, and above all, the price. Transparency is everything. If any information is missing, they’ll just scroll to the next dealership on the list.
  • Don’t trust your online commerce to someone in the office who’s pretty good with computers and has some spare time. This has become a job for professionals. Hire someone who’s qualified, or farm it out to a company that will do it right. Make sure they’re consistently updating your site and optimizing it for the latest devices and operating systems.
  • You need to be on top of your social media presence, and also how to handle the feedback you’re going to get from it. It’s not an easy balancing act, but success depends on knowing how to do it right.
  • Online commerce doesn’t close for the night, and people are going to be looking at your website 24/7. On your own site or on third-party marketplaces, use the tools that analyze customer input to put the right vehicles in front of them.
  • Train your salespeople, using professional trainers if necessary, to become experts in online commerce. It requires a much different approach from sitting across a desk, and they need to be ready for it. Identifying good leads, following up the right way, having the appropriate sales pitch, getting them to the point that they’re ready to come in for a test drive – if your salespeople haven’t mastered this, they’re not ready for the future of automobile commerce. It’s up to you to make sure they get there.

What is “quiet quitting” and how do you deal with it?


What is “quiet quitting”? It isn’t an employee walking out the door while singing the old country song Take This Job and Shove It, but someone doing only the bare minimum of the job description. Such people have always been around, but many employers are seeing increasing numbers of go-getters who are now dialing back their efforts.

Even among employees who rely heavily or entirely on commissions for their pay stubs, quiet quitting can still be an issue. It not only affects that employee but any others who have to pick up the slack, creating resentment and possibly a wave of quiet quitting across the store.

What can lead to it? There are numerous factors, and it could be one or a combination of a few.

External issues. Times haven’t been easy in the auto industry these last couple of years. Your employees are dealing with customers who might be upset because cars are in short supply; they have enough bills to pay without repairing their old cars as they wait for their new ones; or when they do find a car they want, interest rates are high. Those factors may also be affecting the number of leads your salespeople are getting. This can all lead to frustration – if the cars and the customers aren’t there, what’s the point of trying harder?

Stress and mental health. The issues facing customers are also facing employees. The cost of living, interest rates, any health issues, the effects of the pandemic on their young children, even family expectations during the holiday season – all of these are tough enough, and then when you add job stress to it, it may be overwhelming.

Frustration with the job. The pandemic brought financial issues for companies, and many cut back on their hiring. As a result, some employees may be expected to do extra work but without any extra pay. People may also see limited chances for promotion, so they can’t aim for better wage opportunities or new challenges to keep them mentally engaged.

It may not always be easy to recognize quiet quitting, and the reality is that if the job description has been laid out for them, they should have the right to be able to follow it to the letter. Even so, that doesn’t make for a good work environment. Collaborating with them on a solution is always the better way.

Look objectively at what you’re asking them to do. An occasional “can you do this” is fine, but be careful you’re not piling up on people. If enough is added to their jobs, they should be getting something back out of it, whether it’s a wage bump, a regular bonus or extra time off (and ask which they’d prefer).

Empower them to contribute to the dealership. Whether it’s suggestions for improvements, new ways to do a job, or better methods to deal with customers, listen to what employees have to say. As well, within reason, give them the autonomy to deal with situations. It not only improves the employee’s outlook but also customer relations if someone doesn’t have to run up the ladder, but can just say, “Let’s do this to fix it.”

Remember that work-life balance. You may feel it’s better for your bottom line to have your employees devote themselves primarily to you, but a store full of burned-out people doesn’t benefit anyone. If someone needs an afternoon off, make the effort to accommodate it. If you’re fair with time off as needed, most people won’t try to take advantage of it.

Open your door. Let people know that they can talk to you about issues without fear of repercussion. Listen to them before you answer them, and look for solutions instead of ultimatums. Don’t downplay any problems, even if they seem minor. It could be something as simple as an employee who’d appreciate a couple of short breathers through the day to clear his head – and he can’t because that’s considered “goofing off,” while others can do it because it’s a “smoke break.” Be fair with everyone.

One thing to keep in mind is that “quiet quitting” is almost always the result of issues between employees and management. Hone your skills, keep your eyes open, and play fair to help quit the issue of quiet quitting.


What kind of manager are you?


Just about everyone has a story about managers who guided them and did a great job, and those that made life a living hell. Of course, everyone prefers to be the former and not the latter, but being a good manager always involves being a friend and being the boss. The right combination of the two will help you be the person your employees talk about in a glowing light.

The Good: Providing Guidance
Even people who arrive at your dealership with considerable experience under their belts will need time and guidance to figure everything out. A good manager provides a road map not just at the beginning, but beyond until everyone is familiar with how things are done and what is expected of that person. Rather than just say, “Ask anyone if you have any questions,” check in regularly and also assign people to stop by every so often to say, “Is all going well? Anything I can do to help?”

Guidance also shouldn’t end after a set period. There are always minor changes made to programs and offers, as well as the larger issues of how sales are changing through online marketplaces and consumer preferences. Some people may be reluctant to ask for help because they think they’re supposed to know how it’s done. Good managers know that it’s never a “dumb question” if you don’t know the answer.

The Bad: Micro-Managing
There can come a point where guidance crosses into intrusion, and it’s important to realize when to step back. Not everyone will do a task the same way you would do it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it the wrong way. In addition to the process, look at the end result. If everything’s done correctly, if the paper trail lines up, and if the job’s done in a reasonable amount of time, then let it go. Better yet, have a look at how they’re doing it. Someone might have found a better way, and you would do well to adopt that method.

The other major issue with micro-managing is that it’s extremely time-consuming. If you’re doing everyone else’s job, when do you have a chance to do your own? Things are going to be pushed to the back burner and pile up until it’s impossible to find the time to clear it all out. A good manager delegates tasks to the right people, and then gives them the opportunity to get them done.

The Good: Appreciating Your Employees
There are some managers who feel that handing out the pay stubs is sufficient to let people know that they’re doing a good job, but those on the receiving end seldom feel that way. Others may feel it’s enough to say “good job” at an annual evaluation, but there should be more feedback than that. There’s no need to make a fuss for everything that’s done properly, but an occasional pat on the back goes a long way.

The Bad: Being Too Good of a Friend
Humans being humans, there are always some people you will like better than others, but overt favouritism is bad for your business overall. It can create resentment among other employees, and in turn affect how they interact with your favourite person.

The Good: Keeping an Eye on the Temperature
Everyone has “down” days, and if you notice someone in the dumps, quietly ask if there’s anything wrong and if you can help. But there can also be a lull across departments or even the whole dealership, and you should be watching for changes in the overall mood. It could be an irritating customer, office gossip, or whatever, and you might not be able to find out exactly what it is. But you should be aware of it, and keep an eye on things to make sure it passes quickly – and to get to the bottom of it if it doesn’t.

The Bad: Creating the Temperature
The boss can often be the thermostat for the dealership, so be aware of how you’re setting it. If you’re in a foul mood, that will carry over to the staff and eventually to the customers. Everyone has bad days, but do your best to prevent one from spilling out and affecting your department and the store.

Some Final Thoughts…

  • When there are issues between employees, don’t be the “hanging judge” who rules in favour of the first person to come to you. Get all sides of the story before you try to make any decisions.
  • Do what needs to be done. You may be the boss, but if you’re in front of a task that needs immediate attention, do it – answering the phone, guiding (never just pointing) a customer toward a department or washroom, picking up a left-behind coffee cup. If everyone else sees you doing it, they will too, and your store will run more smoothly for it.

What to do when interest rates rise and repeat business decreases


It hasn’t been an easy time for car dealers, who have had to deal with the pandemic and then the supply-chain issues and vehicle shortages related to it. And now, just as vehicles are coming back onto showroom floors, rising interest rates are taking their toll on customer demand.

You need your customers to keep coming back to you. As you know, it takes a fraction of the time and money to keep an existing customer than it does to find a new one. But even more importantly, in these increasingly uncertain times, just getting them in the door is a challenge.

The answer may involve a two-pronged approach, where you proactively reach out to your existing customers. Then you need to double down on leads, especially those coming in through your website or other online marketplaces.

Retaining repeat business with existing customers
You’re going to walk a fine line here, as you’re both the person who’s trying to sell them something, and trying to save them money while doing it. It’s essential to look at the big picture, as rising prices and interest rates are affecting them on almost everything, from food to fuel to fundamentals. It’s not just car loans, and the extra they’re spending elsewhere that will affect what they can afford for a vehicle.

  • Watch your customers’ anniversary dates and do some math on their vehicles – what they could be worth as trade-ins and what’s available on your lot. If their vehicle is well-equipped and well-maintained, and you have something that’s in good shape but a bit older or with fewer features, the monthly payment difference could be significant even with higher interest rates. And when the rates finally come back down to earth, they’ll likely be ready to trade back up again.
  • Consider offering loyalty programs. They’ve always been a good idea but now they could be vital. Offer free services or items once customers have paid for a specified number of oil changes, or bought enough tires, or purchased specific accessories. This will of course be done in conjunction with your parts and service departments and will benefit all, as customers who regularly come back to a dealership usually end up getting their next vehicles there.

Gaining new customers in tougher economic times
High interest rates are putting people off major purchases, but there are still those who need a vehicle. They might not have been able to replace an old one due to vehicle shortages, or they’re back to in-person work after pandemic shutdowns and they need wheels, but even so, they’re treading lightly. You’ve got a steep road ahead of you because of the economic situation, and you can’t afford any missteps on the way.

  • Go online, stay online, prioritize online. Across virtually all buyers, new or used, male or female, old or young, online marketing is a vital part of the shopping process. Checking your website and online marketplace entries on a regular basis throughout the day is as important as answering the phone when it rings.
  • Do everything you can to make your vehicles look their best on your online sites. Be generous with photos, list all of the features, and yes, put the price up front – studies show that customers are far more willing to explore an online vehicle when they have that information. Always advertise any available incentives you are able to offer.
  • Be the voice of reason with new customers. If it’s obvious they’re going to be in over their heads with interest rates on the vehicle they’re considering, show them alternatives, such as a smaller one, a lower trim, or a pre-owned. If they can absorb the higher payments, work with them on a shorter-term loan. The choice on all of these will still be up to them, but they’ll appreciate you taking the time to offer options and they’ll remember that for next time.

What should you do with down time?


Slow days are a reality in every dealership, but they shouldn’t be filled by simply putting up one’s feet and scrolling social media. Consider it an opportunity to catch up on the tasks that get pushed to the side when the showroom is busy, but can improve your sales techniques and your relationship with customers.

One thing to do is catch up on product specifications, especially when new models are on their way or new F&I products are introduced. Customers need to trust their salesperson, and it doesn’t instill confidence if a routine question sends you scrambling for the answer. Be aware of model-year changes so you can point them out to customers – the latest features may be enough to sway someone who isn’t sure if it’s the right time to trade in for a new vehicle.

Education isn’t restricted to the vehicle. Search for online tips on how to improve your sales technique. No matter how good you are, there’s always room for a bit of improvement. If your OEM offers online courses, do it now, rather than leaving it for the weekend when you’re supposed to be recharging your batteries. Most of them will let you work on the course when you can, and then pick up where you left off if you have to stop when a customer comes in.

Go through your customer list and catch up with people. You don’t want to give them the impression that you’re hounding them, but a quick text or call when appropriate will keep you top-of-mind. You may want to remind them that they should be calling early to schedule a winter tire changeover; or that your F&I may have products that can keep their vehicle looking fresh longer, such as ceramic coatings; or that the parts department is stocking model-specific winter mats that protect better than the one-size-fits-all from the big-box store. Even if the product doesn’t come from your department, it’s still all about customer satisfaction overall.

If it’s possible, arrange internal meeting schedules to take advantage of slow days. Stores can get into the habit of setting their sales meetings in stone, and sometimes to the point that everyone has to be in the meeting room while a customer is wandering the showroom or calling about a vehicle with no one to help. Tailor the behind-the-scenes necessities to the reality of what’s actually happening in the dealership at the time.

Pick up your cellphone, but use it wisely. Snap a picture or video of an interesting vehicle on the lot, and post it on social media with a link. Sometimes it’s enough just to get people talking on the dealership’s media outlets about non-auto items – perhaps an open question such as “What’s everyone doing this Friday night?” or “The weather’s still warm, so what’s your favourite ice-cream flavour?” People love to chime in on such questions, and when they do, it can generate leads as you realize who’s following the dealership’s outlets. Do a Google search on the dealership and see who’s commenting on it, who’s leaving reviews, or other online mentions. Look over the website and make sure everything’s up-to-date, such as the right vehicles being promoted; any new employees have been added to the “Meet Our Team” page with the correct contact information; and even that everything’s spelled correctly and set up to draw customers in.

Look at deals from a year or more ago, and see how they were financed. If a deal was done at a high interest rate, contact the customer. There may be a possibility that trading in and financing a new vehicle could result in lower rates and potentially lower monthly payments – a win-win for dealer and customer. Also look for customers coming up on their purchase or lease anniversaries, and get in touch for the possibility of a trade-in.

If no one’s in the showroom, take a walk back to the service department. Introduce yourself to customers who are sitting waiting, and offer them a coffee. If they seem open to it, ask if they’d like to come up front to see what’s new in the showroom.

While many people are go-getters and will find a way to fill in any down time, managers should generate lists of things such as those mentioned, as guidance when the showroom is empty. There may not be any customers around, but slow periods can still be productive for everyone.