Constant Change

Constant Change

The Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association still operates on many of the principles that it was founded on more than 100 years ago, while at the same time keeping its finger on the pulse of the ever-changing world of retail automotive. BY CAROL WHITE

There are some things in retail automotive that haven’t changed much since the early 1900s. For example, the original minutes taken at the first meeting of the Brooklyn Motor Vehicle Dealers Association states that one of its missions at the time was to create an exhibition to show off the new cars being made and generate excitement with the public in hopes of making some sales.

The association, now known as the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, also indicated that there was a need even back then for representation regarding taxes and regulations that were being handed down by local government. For more than a hundred years, dealer associations have fought the fight, and most likely will continue to long after you and I leave this earth.

Fast-forward to 2015 and you’ll find that regional dealer associations still place advocacy for its members and producing elaborate car shows to entice, inform and influence today’s consumers as top priorities. In fact, this year marks the 115th anniversary of the New York International Auto Show. (See sidebar)

Although many aspects of the auto industry have remained constant through the years, there are changes taking place today that dealers must embrace to ensure the vitality and future of retail automotive.

Mark Schienberg, president of GNYADA, realized when he joined the organization in 1985 that its dealer members needed more. “It’s not enough to just hold an auto show, put out newsletters and hold a golf outing,” he said. “There’s so much more that retailers need and the world has been changing so quickly that, for an association, it’s important to offer services for dealers. For example, education.”

Early in his career with the association, Schienberg was asked by New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles to assist with the vast amount of incorrect paperwork being submitted by dealerships. The solution was to offer education and training to billing and title clerks in proper procedures, which was highly successful and led to GNYADA’s increased focus on education for dealers and their personnel. Today it offers more than 60 different programs for every area of the dealership – everything from receptionist training, data security, BDC boot camps, sales training and even how to manage difficult people.

Training in the earlier days was usually conducted at area hotel meeting spaces. “We agreed that training and education was the future of this industry, and we decided that if we were going to get serious in this area, we needed to build our own facility and house all the training programs.”

In 2005, GNYADA opened the Center for Automotive Education and Training (CAET), a $28-million, 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility where all of its education programs are conducted. Located in Whitestone, N.Y., in the borough of Queens, the center is also available for corporate meetings, seminars, product launches and even social events. The 5,000-square-foot atrium is constructed of steel and glass and boasts a 42-foot high ceiling. The center also has a 40-seat, fully equipped boardroom, various classrooms, a computer lab, breakout rooms and fully equipped training bays. Thirteen manufacturers use the center for their training programs, including Toyota, which maintains permanent service bays for its training.

Finding skilled technicians has been a challenge for dealers all over the country. With the average age of today’s service technicians being 48, that need is not going away any time soon. In answer to this dilemma, GNYADA collaborated with Lincoln Technical Institute in building a training center at the facility. “We interviewed just about every post secondary technician-training program, and what we liked about Lincoln Tech was, first of all they were willing to invest $8 million in fitting their facility out with the latest training equipment,” said Schienberg. The school’s approach to training and even mentoring the students once they graduate was another factor in GNYADA choosing Lincoln.

Working with a for-profit company such as Lincoln – instead of partnering with a community college for training – provides GNYADA with more flexibility to change its course offerings as the industry changes. One area it has turned its focus on is recruiting more women into the business – not in just administrative positions, but in every area of the dealership including the service bays. “Women’s analytical and diagnostic skills are incredibly strong,” explain Schienberg, making them perfect candidates for positions in fixed ops.

Schienberg also pointed out that 50 percent of all new car buyers are women, and they influence more than 85 percent of purchase decisions. Dealerships, therefore, should reflect this changing demographic. “I think the industry, lacking a better description, has been a good ‘ol boys club for way too long,” he said. “We have to break the mold. The world is changing and statistics show that the influence of women car buyers is huge.”

Based on feedback he’s received from his members, Schienberg believes saleswomen probably have higher closing ratios, grosses and customer satisfaction scores than many of the men in the business. Their ability to break down barriers, put the customers at ease and listen to the buyers needs are probably big contributors to that theory. “Women come in with a fresher approach,” he said.

In addition to women, the association is actively recruiting people who are more familiar with the customs of its customers in the dealerships communities. In Queens alone, the population is 28 percent Hispanic and 24.3 percent Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “Our neighborhoods are very diversified,” said Schienberg. “We have more languages spoken here than any other place in the country. This is a person-to-person business, and you need to be able to have people in the dealerships who speak different languages and understand the culture of those individual groups,” he said.

In addition to keeping abreast of consumer trends, Schienberg and his team are keeping an eye on another movement in the industry – the emergence of publicly traded and mega dealer groups. “New York was probably one of the first places in the country to see consolidation of dealerships. So we’ve been looking at what sort of services are meaningful to those kinds of operations,” he said.

“I think what’s going to happen in the years to come is, as the industry is changing from a “Ma and Pa” kind of operation with single store operators to publicly traded companies and mega dealers, we’re going to be looking at who we are and what is our role within this industry.”

Schienberg believes that Warren Buffett’s, and possibly George Soros’, entry into the market is a good sign that the future of automotive retail is secure. “These are pretty smart investors, and when you see somebody like them coming into it, they know it’s a good industry, an important industry and one that’s going to be around for a long time.

“And while it may change, it’s still an industry that employs a tremendous amount of people in our communities and pays them extremely well. In many cases, it is the economic engine of their communities. And I don’t see that changing. I think the association plays an important role in all of that and so I think the future for the retail auto industry is extremely strong.”

115 Years of Awesome!

The New York International Auto Show is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – marketing events in the country. “Where else can you go to see, under one roof, virtually every make and model that’s available and be able to talk to people who are experts in those different lines? And it’s a non-threatening environment for the consumer,” said Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which sponsors and orchestrates the show. “They’re looking to have a good time, but they’re also looking to make decisions.”

Of the 1 million attendees at the show, GNYADA estimates that more than 50 percent are 12-month intenders, those consumers who plan on purchasing a new vehicle within the next year. The association also found that a large number of those people came to the show interested in a particular model but left with additional choices (32 percent). “That’s really showing that the show is doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Schienberg. “It’s giving them a lot of information and helping them make some decisions on what to buy.”

In its 115th year, this year’s show is expected to be more spectacular than ever with an estimated 60 new reveals, more than ever before. The luxury and exotic car sections of the show will see new offerings from Cadillac, Porsche, Rolls Royce, McLaren, Aston Martin and Bugatti, to name a few. “The exotic car manufacturers are really embracing New York as the place to be and do their introductions,” he said.

Manufacturers spend millions each year to bring their vehicles, exhibits and staff to New York City, but it’s worth it for them. “This is one of the most powerful markets for vehicle sales in the country,” said Schienberg, adding that all the major media outlets are located in New York City which gives the exhibitors exposure for the entire duration of the show, not just during the designated press preview days.

Over the years, the NYIAS has evolved into a hybrid auto show – a mix between a show for the public and a trade show for people in the industry. GNYADA decided years ago to reinvent the show – making it more than just putting cars on carpet, explained Schienberg. A series of roundtable and panel discussions, symposiums and forums are organized around the show each year. This year’s Automotive Forum, co-sponsored by J.D. Power, NADA and the New York International Automobile show, will feature a keynote speech by Warren Buffett on how industry and economic conditions will shape the future of automotive.

Press days at the NYIAS are April 1 – 2 and is open to the public from April 3 -12 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.