Like many other industries, automotive retail is constantly changing and evolving. From technology to customer experience, to service appointments, each area of the dealership needs to continually fine-tune its approach. Here to discuss the importance of embracing change and growing with the industry at the dealership level, is Natasha del Barrio, CEO of Bert Ogden and Fiesta Auto Group in Texas.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you so much for joining us, Natasha.
Natasha del Barrio: Thank you, Jim.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Let’s kind of dive right in here. You’ve been in the press with an article in Automotive News, talking about how agile you’re able to have your dealership when it relates to the changing needs of today’s consumer. Talk to us a little bit about the importance of that and how that’s done.
Natasha del Barrio: I mean, the importance is paramount. There was a book I once read called Make Waves or You’ll Drown, and that’s exactly where we’re at. I mean, we’ve got to change the way we do business or we will no longer be relevant. What is even a greater balance than that is that we’re kind of in the middle of the transition in terms of there’s still a subset of customers that want a very traditional hands-on experience, so part of the agility that we’re looking for is how do we move forward in the new relevance of the industry without losing the high touch appeal for the customers that want that, and how do we properly balance that so that we’re meeting each customer at their own pace?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. There’s been many studies, mostly recently one by Cox Automotive that says about 1% of the consumers out there today enjoy the current customer shopping experience at a dealership. What are we going to do about that in our industry and what has to happen in order to change that drastically so that consumers really look forward to buying a car rather than thinking oh man, this is just going to be a grind?
Natasha del Barrio: Well, I mean, we need to stop making it a grind. They think it’s a grind a lot of times because quite frankly it is, but I think that we’ve got to consider even the way that we do business ourselves, beyond the automotive transaction. We don’t like the wait. We don’t like the traditional means. We like transparency, efficiency, speed and so those are all the things that we’ve got to bring into this experience. With that, and this is not a standard retail purchase, this is a very large purchase, within that, the personal touch is so critical. Something that we’re trying to do is meet all the consumer means in terms of digital retailing. We’re trying to make sure that we’re making that process as seamless and comfortable and transparent for them as possible and we’re envisioning ourselves, physically, within the dealership, as a delivery facility and a customer experience facility. So, we’re trying to take all of the pain out of the online transaction and focus on absolute transparency there, and then making everything very convenient, very comfortable, very high touch when they come into the store.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay. Today, if I log on to the Bert Ogden Auto Group, am I able to purchase a vehicle completely online and have it delivered to my home?
Natasha del Barrio: Yes, you are.
Jim Fitzpatrick: What percentage of your business is currently done that way?
Natasha del Barrio: It’s a very small percentage, in the single digits right now, Jim. This is a newer venture for us. It’s something that’s been in the works for about 18 months. It went live I want to say about three months ago so we’re still working out some kinks, but quite frankly the kinks aren’t so much the technology. The kinks are adjusting our own internal culture and mindset to make sure that we make good on the promise that we’re giving to our customers. At this point in time, our customers can go online, fully purchase the vehicle online, including all of their ancillary selections, and there’s just a finite number of documents that would need to be signed in store that are regulated by the state, but that’s where it becomes very much a customer experience and a delivery experience.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. We spoke to another dealer that said that he’s getting the feeling as though we’re falling into the situation that Best Buy fell into a few years back, where people were going into dealerships to experience the product on a demo drive or what have you and kind of touch the vehicle, kick the tires, learn from the salesperson or the product specialist about the vehicle, but then they would go online and then connect with the cheapest source out there and, if they could, just either pick the car up or have it delivered to them. Do you see the industry going in that direction?
Natasha del Barrio: I mean, there’s some of that, that’s going to go on, but it’s not something that’s a concern for me. Ultimately, these consumers, they’re going to want to buy from someone that they know and trust if at all possible because with all likelihood, especially as a new car dealer, they’re coming back to us for service. The other thing is, there are specialty units that we deliver far out of our area and vice versa, but most customers want immediate gratification. Once they’ve committed to that purchase and made it, they want to be able to have that vehicle same day or next day.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. Got you, got you. Let’s switch gears here a little bit and talk about the importance of a good culture inside of a dealership. The Bert Ogden name enjoys a very good name in the marketplace where you are doing business, and that doesn’t come easily. That comes from a good team running the dealerships. Talk to us about how you build a good culture in a dealership. I know that’s a very loaded question. We could probably spend an entire day on that, but kind of give us the high points of what you would tell other dealers that have to be in place in order for there to be a culture of trust and transparency among the staff.
Natasha del Barrio: I tell you what, Jim, this is a topic that I really could go on about, but I will try to be concise. Culture is everything. I firmly believe that the customer experience is completely contingent on what our employee experiences are. So, if our employees are happy, if they’ve got a solid culture, it’s just going to fall in line throughout the process of the transaction. One thing that I find to be critical to building a solid culture is communication and transparency. It does us no good if that vision is held at the top and never communicated. It does us no good if expectations aren’t set and people aren’t held accountable for them. I tend to be very verbose, but that bodes well for getting people on board with the vision, and I truly believe the more that they understand where we’re going, the why, and the opportunity, the more that they’ll embrace it and own it as their own.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re a female in the retail auto industry. In fact, not just in it but at the top of it. You’re running a large dealer group as a CEO. I think a lot of women in the auto industry would look at this interview right now and say hey, we need more of this. How do we attract more females into the automotive arena?
Natasha del Barrio: I think the females that are in the automotive arena have got to get out there and reach out to these women. I mean, there’s really no other way to do that. There is a precept in many people’s minds that this is a male-dominated industry, and largely it is, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Women are very good in this business. I mean, there’s many positions that I have just really seen women take their natural talents and natural abilities and be able to apply those in a way that are very disarming to customers and makes them very successful, but we won’t break through those mental precepts unless we get out there and get in front of young women wanting to come into this industry.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Let’s switch gears a little bit. You’re the CEO, as I mentioned, of a large auto group in Texas and there’s a lot happening in the auto space today with regard to things that threaten the retail business as we know it. Rideshare companies and Tesla selling vehicles directly to consumers and bypassing the franchise system among other things, such as gas prices and interest rates that are increasing and things like everyone running to SUVs and pickup trucks, which bring up the affordability issue in terms of these cars getting very expensive, or I should say these trucks getting very expensive. What are some of the things, as the CEO of a large group, that keep you up at night? That you look down the road and say this is going to be a challenge for us?
Natasha del Barrio: You know, Jim, it really is the culture, it’s maintaining the culture. Because all of those things are relevant, but they’re not insurmountable. They do become insurmountable if we don’t have the right mindset if we don’t have the right people, so really focusing on how are we best informing our staff of what their industry threats or opportunities are and how relevant are we remaining in providing them the tools to combat this? You know, I just had a meeting not too long ago where we saw gross shrinking in a particular area that just made no sense, that was not consistent with what’s happening in the industry. As we dug into it, we found that there was an information feed that was stopping at mid-level management and not filtering all the way down to the staff, and that was the entire answer to where that gross had gone. The people on the ground levels dealing with the customers didn’t have all the information they needed to stay in front of the customers, overcoming objections, and be relevant. It’s really a matter of providing resources, providing information, and overall support to make sure people can do their best in the position amongst any circumstance that comes their way.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. Well, Natasha del Barrio, thank you so much for joining us on CBT News. We very much appreciate it. Continued success to you and the Bert Ogden Auto Group. It sounds like you’re knocking the cover off the ball, so keep up the great work.
Natasha del Barrio: Yes sir, thank you. It was an honor.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you.
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