I come into contact with at least one car dealer somewhere on the east coast, either by phone, e-mail or in person every work day. Many of them are clients and many more are VIADA members. One client I have had the honor to serve is Joel Lyles of Auto Link in Hamilton, VA (www.AutoLinkOnline.net). Mr. Lyles served on the inaugural Motor Vehicle Dealer Board for eight years. He is an ordinary car dealer with some extraordinary ideas, meaning, he has a good business, a good reputation, and he works hard for what he gets. Most car dealers are honest, hard-working people.
Joel came to me a few months back wanting help in articulating an idea he had for VIADA and its members. In short, what he wanted was to get the members of VIADA to band together and help one another out while at the same time helping out the clients they serve every day. His idea started with the premise of you having a client wanting a vehicle either you do not commonly carry or do not have at this time. Instead of getting a name and number and giving a promise to call when you find it, his idea was you could log on to a website, maybe with the client at your shoulder, and help this client find a vehicle by shopping the inventory lists of other VIADA members.
At first, I objected to his idea saying, “The chance of many dealers sending deals to other dealers is highly unlikely.” But, Joel pointed out in the end we would all win. Sure, a deal might be passed on to another dealer but, if everyone bought into the idea, then you would also be on the receiving end of such a transaction. Another benefit would be in the fact that VIADA and both dealerships would gain additional credibility and recognition. If that website prominently identified our association and educated the consumer on who and what we are, that car buyer would be more inclined to do business with either dealership, and maybe even seek out another VIADA dealer the next time they are in the market to buy a pre owned vehicle.
Fortunately, we have already gotten a start on Mr. Lyles’ idea when we launched www.VirginiaUsedCarDealers.com (VUCD) early in 2005. This site does many of the same things Joel envisioned. First, it reaches out to the public in an effort to introduce to them the finer qualities of VIADA. Second, it provides over 4,000 vehicle listings for them to search, shop and compare. Finally, the site links to each participating member’s website, driving prospects to their dealership and building credibility in their business. The participating members also get the service of mining their inventory data and photos to other third party advertisers like Cars.com and Vehix.com and about 80 other similar websites. Now the question is will they use it? The answer is, YES, but not enough. Many members have tried it and once they do they see the results and for less than a dollar a day, it is no wonder dealers like Mike Duman of Mike Duman Auto Sales says VUCD “.. is a no-brainer!”
When I presented this idea to the Board in 2005, I could tell I had some nay sayers in the room. I even had Ted Bowman telling me the Internet was a fad and I better go see if my job was still available at the family’s car lot. During my presentation to the board, I brought up another man who was thought to have had a crazy idea. In the early 90’s there was a Republican congressman making small waves. At the time, the Democrats had been in charge of the US House of Representatives for over 40 years. It was this man who dared to ask, “Why can’t the Republicans take control of the House?” Others in the party thought he was nuts. They were content with the status quo because they had adapted to it. Newt Gingrich is credited as having a leading roll in the Republican Revolution and was elected Speaker of the House in 1995 when the Republicans took control of the House for the first time since 1954.
So, that got me to thinking, how else can we think outside the box. As a business man, for instance, I would like for all VIADA members participate in VUCD, maybe even purchase a website and/or window stickers from us also. But we do not stop there. In the last couple of years we have grown and our clients now stretch from Florida to Ohio to Maryland. We have clients in North Carolina, but we would sure like to have a few from South Carolina. My point is the sky is the limit as to what we can grow to be. I then realized, the same is true for VIADA. I try to attend the VIADA Board meetings and I have to say, I get something out of every meeting I attend and recommend every member try to attend at least one in 2008. If you do, the topic always seems to turn to member drives and incentives and benefits. We currently have almost 1050 members. Our goal as an association recently is to have our membership exceed the 1100 mark. Why is it so hard to be a VIADA member? I have been told there are about 3,500 licensed used car dealers in Virginia. It seems to me our goals should be about 4,000 as we will always be grateful for those Associate members. Far fetched? JTZ Enterprise has a few New Car Franchises as clients and I can tell you all of the 600+ Virginia New Car Dealers are members of their ADA group. Its as if they have that sign up form in the dealer license pack they get from the MVDB! I asked a client of ours once why that was. He said there was no reason not to be a member. He thought my idea that there may be a reason to not join was a crazy one.
I am proud to say the association is working toward that goal. If they want to break my goal down into bite size pieces, I understand. I firmly believe VIADA is the true Symbol of Quality when it comes to the used car industry in our commonwealth. I witness VIADA’s attempts to reach out to the public in a number of ways. Another neat thing happened a couple of months ago when Howard Kershaw went on a radio talk show in the Tidewater area and spent a half hour or so, not promoting K’s Auto Way, but promoting VIADA instead. You see, by educating the consumer, there will be a day where some in the public will only do business with a VIADA dealer. Just like they look for the ASE logo when they want a mechanic or the AMA logo when looking for a doctor. When that day comes, it will be a no brainer to be a member. The first time one loses a sale because they are not a VIADA member, they will come to us, we will not have to go find them at auction drives or member roundups.
Let’s all take a look at 2008, from both our own business prospective as well as from VIADA’s. I encourage everyone to try to think outside the box. Together we can excel in our industry and promote our association.