While the industry collects itself in the aftermath of COVID, dealers are on the frontline tackling never-before-seen automotive trends. On this episode of Inside Automotive, host Jim Fitzpatrick is joined by Tim Bergstrom, CEO and president of Bergstrom Automotive, to discuss how the car business has changed and what he foresees in the future.
For better or worse, COVID has forever changed the industry landscape. Although the car business is slowly recovering from its ordeal, dealers are still struggling to find their footing in this post-pandemic economy. Bergstrom notes that retailers are now more subject to OEM decisions on inventory than they were before 2020. “We’re still not in control of what’s manufactured,” he explains. “The manufacturers are in charge of how much they build and where they ship them in the world…we’re at the mercy of where they send it.” This automotive trend has also affected consumers. Many vehicles take months to arrive, and shoppers who purchase a product on backorder are likely to feel nervous about their decision the longer they wait.
However, this is not to say that car dealers are not up to the task. Many storefronts have become more accommodating to car buyers as a result of the pandemic. To help customers feel more at ease, Bergstrom Automotive adjusted its policies to allow for seven-day, no questions asked returns. “It’s that added reminder that you can do it the right way…and it adds credence to how we do business,” he adds. This is an excellent example of how dealerships can differentiate themselves from each other and stay competitive, regardless of the automotive trends affecting their business. Since every dealer prioritizes customer service, storeowners must be creative in terms of developing new ways to engage with and benefit their clients.
The pandemic also forced the automotive industry to adopt new forms of technology, with digital retailing becoming widespread. Dealers must now split their attention between their store’s online and in-store touchpoints. Although many consumers do prefer the convenience dealership websites can offer, Bergstrom cautions against prioritizing digital retail at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores. “We ultimately want to have the consumer drive the experience: we want them to purchase the way they want to,” he remarks. Rather than over or under compensating for this automotive trend, dealers should remain flexible, allowing customers to approach the car buying process in the manner which works best for them, whether in a showroom or on the internet. By letting their audience choose how they want to interact with their brand, dealers can feel more confident structuring their business models.
The COVID pandemic has also altered the relationship between vendors and OEMs. Car manufacturers have made aggressive pushes into the retail business in recent years, making franchisees increasingly anxious. Many retailers now believe that automotive brands are plotting to supplant third-party dealers with direct-to-consumer sales models. Bergstrom believes that the industry must evolve if it hopes to remain successful. But regardless of how the business looks in the future, he adds, it will always need the expertise and reach of dealers. “I can see the benefit of trying to, as a manufacturer, take care of their owners, and [talking] directly to them, but…there’s a lot of value in those boots on the ground that consistently help with the guest,” he explains. “I know very few brands that don’t have some sort of retailer network within it.” Ultimately, both sides of the industry must work together to care for their customers, regardless of the automotive trends affecting the car business.