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March 12, 2007 – Year-long dealership technology project encounters problems and potential

March 12, 2007
Filed under Features

A little more than a year ago, several powersports companies approached a long-established, family owned dealership with a proposition: let us modernize your business with cutting-edge technology and then you report on its impact.
The dealership, located in Jasper, Ala., accepted, even though the technology would bring radical changes to the way it did business. At the time, S&W, the Alabama dealership, did not use a dealer management system (DMS) and charted its parts and accessory sales via paper invoice, rather than on a system that could lend itself to selling parts online.
A year after a DMS and other new systems were installed, S&W was expected to come forward with financial data that would show if the new technology had translated into improved sales and profit.
Instead of data, however, the year-long project has produced mostly questions over the level of commitment that both sides — the dealership and the companies involved — put into the effort.
Beyond the questions, however, is the thought on both sides that the potential for technology to increase S&W’s profits is still possible.
“We’re a lot better off than we were,” said S&W owner Jim Wilson Jr., whose store sells about $8 million annually. “They’ve showed us a lot of things that we were not doing that we needed to be doing.”
A Troubling Start
The problems started even before the MIC Systems & Software’s DMS was installed. S&W, which has about 14 full-time employees, lost a computer-savvy employee who was expected to help the dealership ease the transition to the new system.
“I knew we were in trouble,” Wilson said.
Wilson also said the initial training sessions for the new system were too short.
“When they left, my guys were in a daze,” he said. “They threw a lot of stuff at them. And some of it took. Some of it didn’t stick. Some of it just fell off the wall.”
It didn’t help, Wilson said, that his staff didn’t have much computer experience.
“If we would’ve had a computer genius over there on the parts counter, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” he said. “But I told them up front that we have people on the parts counter who don’t know a hoot and a holler about a computer.”
Neil Frame, general manager of MIC Systems and Software, said the level of computer knowledge among S&W’s staff wasn’t as big of an issue as the dealership’s overall commitment.
“The fact is we came in there gung-ho, ready to go,” Frame said of the initial training that was held a year ago.
“But we as a group (the program’s suppliers), all of us, experienced a problem in strong commitment and the right people to get the job done in the dealership and we eventually lost our focus because of those circumstances.”
Technical Support
With the lack of computer knowledge among the S&W employee base, did Wilson consider adding computer-savvy staff that could make the transition easier?
“You work with you have,” he said. “I had no intentions of running out and hiring 15 new people to throw them on the (parts) counter. We were already having trouble keeping people on the counter and keeping it going. So we didn’t have the right personnel to begin with, and I told them that before they got here.”
Wilson said the dealership also had problems at times getting adequate technical support.
“The system they have can work,” he said. “That’s not the question. I like the system. We think we can make the system work. It’s going to take some time for us because we’re not really getting the support that we need to have.”
Frame said S&W, like all of MIC’s clients, had access to a technical support phone service that is available seven days a week from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. MST, After that, MIC support staff are available via beepers.
“This is the perfect example of being able to point out when you’re making a decision to buy software, when you’re making a decision to automate your dealership, there has to be a commitment within the store to do that,” Frame said, noting that in S&W’s case, the dealership’s struggles in hiring service and parts managers also played a role in the difficulties of getting the new technology running.
Sales Aids
ARI, one of the companies involved in the project, worked to increase S&W’s sales with two marketing venues — a new Web site and
direct mail.
Wilson said he wants to keep the new Web site as he’s had positive feedback from the public on it.
He isn’t so sold on the direct mail, although he does see some long-term use for it when he’s able to get reduced-priced new units. In those cases, Wilson sees direct mail as an opportunity to expand his traditional marketing reach.
Nancy Krajcir-Bennett, manager of ARI’s corporate communications, said her company and S&W were unable to take full advantage of direct mail because of the difficulty ARI had at times in contacting Wilson.
“A lot of times the timeliness of any particular offer would go away simply because of the problems we had connecting with him,” she said. “In a lot of cases when we finally hooked up it was too late to do any kind of promotion. In order to take full advantage of MailSmart (ARI’s direct mail program), you really need to have the dealer available to make the time commitment to discuss what it is they want to promote and then go forward with it.”
What’s Next
Although the year-long project did not go as both parties would have hoped, they have not parted ways. In fact, Wilson said he’s trying to set up a meeting to talk about the future.
“I think it’s throwing stones at each other,” he said of the past year. “They look at us and say, ‘We’re not getting any help from them.’ And we look at them and say, ‘we’re not getting any help from them.’
“But we do see all the potential that this system has,” Wilson said. “Now if we’d had a computer whiz in here, I’d probably be sitting here singing its praises. But we hit a brick wall early and it was very hard to get over it.”
Plus, Wilson said S&W has benefited from the new systems in the past few months after rearranging staff, moving a more computer-savvy person to the parts department.
“We’re not going to throw this to the side and say, ‘Well we tried this for a year and it’s over,’” he said. “We’re going to continue to work this.
“And that’s why I want to sit down with them and say, ‘Look guys, if we’re going to start paying a monthly charge for this, what are we going to get from you now that maybe we
didn’t get before?’ We’re hoping to continue this relationship.”
The same can be said on the supplier side, Frame said.
“I do believe that we can still make a success of it because we’ve taken situations just like his and worse and brought it to the position it needs to be,” he said. “But it’s going to take a while.” psb

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