Virginia dealers and executives in the car industry recently gathered to discuss electric vehicles and other hot topics at the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association’s (VADA) annual convention. On this episode of Inside Automotive, host Jim Fitzpatrick is joined by Don Hall, legendary defender of the franchise system and the president and CEO of VADA, to discuss the important takeaways from the event.
Participation in dealership conventions and conferences is crucial for retail automotive leaders who want their industry to remain profitable and sustainable. “The truth is dealer associations belong to the dealers of their respective states,” explains Hall. “If the conventions or the leadership isn’t doing the things that you want them to do, then change both because it is indeed your association.” Another important reason to attend events hosted by organizations like VADA is to meet with fellow dealers and experts with insights into both the national and international car business. Hearing from these individuals can vastly improve one’s understanding of new topics. One such topic is that of electric vehicles.
Support for the technology varies wildly, even in the retail automotive community. Hall notes that while the general dealer population seems to be split evenly on the issue, those who attended VADA were mostly against electric vehicle adoption. However, he warns that resistance to the EV transition creates more problems than it solves. “One of the things that I have said over and over again, that was certainly presented throughout the convention as well, is this: the fact that EVs exist is a national decision; it isn’t a state-by-state decision,” he remarks. “Your OEMs are going to have to abide by both what’s going on in the EU and what the federal government decides.” Failing to accept this reality not only prevents storeowners from getting a headstart in what is potentially the car business’s future but also gives automakers ammunition to lobby against the franchise system. Hall notes that legacy manufacturers want to have the same reach and profitability as Tesla and will see dealers as a threat to this goal if the opposition gets out of hand. Instead, he urges his colleagues to embrace the new technology and accept that times are changing, at least for now. “Let’s get excited about the opportunity to touch and sell new folks these new kinds of technology,” he remarks.
Another vital conversation happening at events like VADA is the industry’s staffing challenges. The dealership population is shrinking, and with more long-term employees, managers and storeowners retiring every day, the rate of new entries into the business remains far too slow. “We’re losing a talent pool,” warns Hall. “For the first time in our history, the average age of people in our business is very old, and it’s getting older by the years…” To attract younger workers, employers must begin to treat their teams differently, he argues, especially in the areas of health benefits, support for single parents, flexibility for those with medical issues and the overall work environment within dealerships. “Failure to do so means we will have a lot of dinosaurs working who will not embrace technology, who will not embrace change.”
Hall does acknowledge that the industry is improving in this regard and that organizations like VADA are helping educate dealers on ways to improve. However, many storeowners are still refusing to adapt to the new workforce. This, he explains, is often because dealers base their perspectives on the experiences they had when they themselves first entered the business. “We have to shed that and recognize that it’s not that this generation is less willing to work, it’s that this generation may…understand something better than you and I understand it, and that is that quality of life matters.” While veteran automotive retailers will remember manning their positions from open to close without ever taking a day off, this does not demand that today’s working conditions reflect the past. “We’ve gotta change in order to accommodate them and their desires, to have an excited, motivated workforce who make sure that consumers have the best buying experience that they could ever have,” concludes Hall.