Opinion: Family-Owned Dealerships Must Act Now

A picture of Ron Wheeler

The red flags are up, alerts are sounding and lights are flashing. Do you see them? Do you hear them? The alerts are front and center. Everywhere you look, be forewarned—2023’s obstacles are placed firmly in front of you.

Though these obstacles come from all directions, consolidation and inventory should weigh heavily on your mind. As you consider the many ways to deal with these changes I believe the obstacles will show you the path to take in 2023.

If you are a family-owned dealership, you have a couple hidden red flags facing you.

Inventory and a slowing economy light intense competition’s fire. Competition relates to pricing, ordering and marketing. For the past couple of years, most of you have not had to work on these areas, but gaining market share in 2023 will require you to go old school.

Dealership consolidation is not a new topic. However, the impact you will feel from the resources these larger groups bring to the market will be much more obvious in the coming months. They will create challenges regarding inventory ordering and pricing, staff training and facility improvements. One advantage they possess—exclusivity, especially with their marketing companies—will amplify your hidden red flags.

Large groups’ plans, staff and research are theirs and theirs alone. Their exclusivity has not been a big deal over the past three years, but it will be a problem in 2023. If you are not mindful, their potential advantage will take hold. Their talent is not necessarily better than yours, but you are probably sharing your talent with your competitors.

Here’s why marketing disadvantages have become an issue for many family-owned dealerships.

Three major website providers, who together have about a 75% market share, now are one company. Consolidation leads to economies of scale, as they adopt the same process and procedures. These acquired companies’ platforms will be very similar in functionality and content. The result means you will have an effective website but not much of a competitive advantage.

To win, you must eliminate the red flags and enhance your path to future success.

Do your research to determine how many dealers are using one of these three providers. The providers have different names but are the same company.

Ultimately, your vendor is also working with most of your competitors. I am not suggesting you change website providers, but you need to know this. Any advantage you thought you might have probably has evaporated.

Perhaps your most significant hidden red flag is the website companies’ consolidated digital services. As competition increases and the large dealer groups gear up, your marketing vendor—the one providing SEO, SEM, social, digital targeting and email—now is working directly or indirectly with most of your competition.

If this concerns you, you are not alone. You would not share your inventory or your sales staff with a competitor, so why would you share your marketing? In a super-competitive marketplace, you need to evaluate this situation.

To win, you must eliminate the red flags and enhance your path to future success. As you examine your dealership marketing, consider these seven key points in this internal discussion. This is the fast path to a competitive advantage.

Partner. Everyone needs a partner—someone they can count on to provide unique and exclusive marketing efforts. Working entirely with vendors who supply the same or similar services to your closest competitors is not to your advantage. A partner is focused on your business and how to provide you with a competitive advantage.

Transparency. A good partner will be very transparent. Start with what you are paying for services. Several horror stories are floating through the industry about very shady practices. Be sure to get a detailed invoice and full results showing the activity in all areas.

Communication. I have seen many dealers put up with more communication problems. Many times, dealers have said they do not even know who their representative is, or they have not heard from their rep in months. Some are even worse, saying they have called and emailed their rep but got no reply in a week. Time will be money. Changing speed and reacting to market conditions and competition requires effective communication.

Strategy. If you are working with many vendors, you more than likely lack a successful marketing strategy. You might have silo efforts in place but nothing like a true marketing strategy. A strategy requires a partner, transparency and communication. Ask yourself: What are your goals? What are your target areas? What competitors are you targeting for additional market share? How are you growing your database? How will you achieve these with all your available resources?

Creative. Because creativity is 50% of a strong marketing plan, you must ask some basic questions. Can you get the best month-to-month plans from a vendor or partner? Of the vendors you are working with, who has your business’ pulse to give you direction and leadership?

Integration. Integration is an overused word until you list marketing channels at your disposal. Ask yourself how you intend to integrate your message with this list: Website, search, Google display, Facebook ads, Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube, OTT, pre-roll video, TV, radio, email, Conquest email, digital magazines and direct mail. These areas have derivatives and require unique creativity and posturing. If you really want a competitive advantage, you must maximize your spending with a strong, targeted media plan.

Analyze. Finally, an effective partner will provide you a complete picture of your efforts in real time. They will not just provide a data dump. If you fail to track vehicle detail page views, you are already behind and unprepared to compete in this market.

The changes you can make quickly are significant. Ask yourself if you need a partner or a vendor working with numerous competitors. It is a simple question and one worth asking and acting upon as we move into 2023.

Good luck in 2023, and let’s go sell some RVs.

Ron Wheeler is founder and principal at Wheeler Advertising. Ron has been a speaker at RVDA for more than 30 years and at NADA for more than 18 years. He has spoken on topics ranging from dealership branding to RV effectiveness, social media and digital marketing. He began his RV advertising career more than 30 years ago. Ron was RVDA Convention and Expo chairman for six years and also sat on the RV Hall of Fame board. His company works with RV dealers in more than 30 states and into Canada.

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