Day One of a Dealership Rescue: True Stories from the Blacktop
I had just arrived at the office that morning, coffee in hand, and sat down at my desk to start another day when I received a frantic call from an investment firm. After 47 years in the car business, not much in the business surprised me anymore. I am a specialist in dealership “turnarounds,” after all, and I have spent my career fixing up broken stores that have been squandered by either ignorance or stupidity.
The investment firm informed me that they had purchased a small domestic dealership a few years earlier for a relative; however, the firm had not performed to their expectations. As this call unfolded, I began to realize just how poorly the dealership was performing. They needed help. Serious help. So the firm contracted me to step in and fix it.
I agreed to replace the dealer principal, get approved by the OEM as the interim operator, determine if there had been misuse of funds, restore profitability to the operation and “hold it together” so that the investment firm could finally sell the dealership, all in sixty days or less.
When my team arrived on the first day, none of the employees suspected a thing. We were armed with a letter from the investment firm recommending the dismissal of the previous dealer, whose position would be filled by me.
Slowly, the employees filed in to begin their workday, unsure of what to expect from us. In many ways, these employees were totally blindsided. They had been told by their dealer that, “All was well!”
We wasted no time in getting the communication to them, that all in fact was not well, and that a change had to be made. That morning, we held small “stand up” meetings with groups of three to four at a time. By 9:00 a.m., on a Monday, no less, we had spoken to every single employee except for the General Manager. Suspicious, no?
As the day unfolded, the employees informed us that the General Manager did not normally arrive until 2:00 p.m. daily! That was a major problem, especially when the dealer was only selling 60 units per month and losing money. Talk about a red flag!
Low and behold, after getting the word that there had been a “Hostile Takeover,” the General Manager shows up at the dealership. He was under the impression that he would be “Buying In” and that the store would become his -- a pretty good gig if I do say so myself. So he came in very aggressively and quite angered by what we were doing. Once he managed to calm down, I asked to see the following documents:
Employee work schedules
Employee compensation plans
Documented sales process
Documented finance process
Documented service advisor customer workflow
After waiting around for two hours actively evaluating the dealership’s interactions with every customer, I received none of these documents. Apparently, they did not exist despite being a staple of most dealerships. We were starting at square one. The dealership rescue had begun.
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