FORD’S DIANNE CRAIG HEADLINES NSADA CONFERENCE IN HALIFAX
Last year, the Nova Scotia Automobile Dealers Association (NSADA) tried a new style of conference, more intimate and interactive, with high profile speakers. This new approach was well received, as the event doubled in size this year when it was held April 5 at the Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax.
Called the CADEX East Conference, the event kicked off with an interview style question and answer period with Dianne Craig, the President and CEO of Ford Motor Company of Canada. Sitting comfortably on a couch, Craig seemed relaxed and at ease answering questions from event moderator Niel Hiscox, the Publisher of Canadian auto dealer.
Craig was warmly greeted by local Ford dealers when she arrived, and several delegates we talked with said they were impressed with her openness and ability to answer some tough questions.
Craig said Ford dealers in Canada taught her a lot about the business and about the differences between the Canadian and U.S. markets. She also said dealers are a vital part of Ford’s operations in Canada. “Our dealers are our customers first. They are our business partners second,” says Craig. “It’s just as important to listen to the dealers as it is the customers.”
Craig also said she doesn’t like the big incentives that exist in Canada, saying they are good for short-term sales but aren’t good in the longer term. “If I am a customer, why in the world would I not take that?” she says. “I think it’s bad for the industry.” She did add, however, that at the end of the day, Ford still has to keep its dealers competitive.
Craig also talked at length about emerging trends affecting OEMs and dealers such as social media and the changing customer. “It’s moving so fast for our dealers, and it’s moving so fast for Ford,” says Craig, who says when she arrived in Canada, Ford didn’t even have a Facebook page.
She said dealers and Ford play a key role in the social media conversation, adding that Ford needed to put resources in place to ensure they could respond properly to customer voices. Craig also addressed issues such as succession planning, facility image programs, the new customer and fielded some questions from delegates.
In an exclusive interview with Canadian auto dealer after her session, Craig said she loved being in Halifax, and had praise for the event. “I think it’s terrific,” said Craig. “We can all learn from each other. I think the speaker line up they have for the conference is just terrific. All the topics are very timely, and it’s always great to see my Ford dealers here in Halifax.”
Attendees and organizers also had praise for the event. “I thought it was fantastic,” said Mike Velemirovich, NSADA President. “Today’s event was the largest we’ve ever had. A great turnout with a fantastic roster of speakers and a lot of engagement from the dealers in the audience too.”
Sean O’Regan, President and CEO of the O’Regan’s Auto Group, said more dealers should attend the event. “They should be here. It’s a great time to meet your fellow dealers in a relaxed setting and enjoy their company and you always pick up a bit of what’s going on.”
O’Regan said the content was excellent. “I’m lucky enough that we generally travel down and do a conference or two a year, but I thought the presentation they had, for instance on social media, was as good as anything you’d see at NADA. They had a very good discussion as well on succession planning, that I thought was really good.”
“We more than doubled attendance at the conference today from last year,” said event organizer John Sutherland. Executive Vice-President, NSADA, “We really raised the bar,” he says. “The TD Auto Finance support for the event has been huge.”
Sutherland says it’s the first time that he’s aware of that a Canadian leader of an OEM attended a dealer association event in Halifax.
“I thought it was a great event for our dealers,” said Gino Cozza, Head of Sales TD Auto Finance Canada, and the event’s exclusive sponsor. “Certainly a lot of valuable information, starting with Dianne Craig, she had some interesting insights.”
Succession planning was a hot topic at this year’s event, and was debated at length by an expert panel consisting of Chuck Seguin, President of Seguin Advisory Services (and widely regarded as one of Canada’s top experts on succession planning for dealers) Rick Gauthier, President and CEO of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), and Andrew MacKinnon, from Sinclair, Billiard and Weld, a Dartmouth-based wealth management and employee benefits firm.
The panelists shared stories of how many dealers don’t yet have a proper exit strategy in place. Seguin said this lack of planning puts the family’s wealth at risk, and dealers need to start having discussions about their future with their successors. “They think that ‘Deep Pocket Jones’ is going to come along and write them a big cheque,” says Seguin.
Digital marketing expert Paul Potratz led delegates through an energetic presentation about the changes in digital marketing and social media. Potratz said a key to marketing in the digital world is to stop doing “Me” marketing focused on yourself, and focus on answering questions and being a resource to your customers. That requires a change in the way you conduct yourself digitally.
“You need to be innovating every single day,” says Potratz. “We are an on demand economy. We have to become an on demand dealership.”
In an interview, Potratz said dealers need to adopt new digital tools. “We are drawn to video. Video is a thing of today. We’d much rather watch a video than read,” he says. “Get out there and shoot a video, ask customers what’s unique about their car, why do they love the car… Put it in video, get it on your website.”
Potratz was followed by an engaging presentation on the state of the automotive retail sector with an overview of the health of the economy in Canada and Nova Scotia by Michael Hatch, the CADA’s Chief Economist. Delegates said they appreciated gaining insights into how the local economy could affect car sales in the province.
The day wrapped up with a “fireside chat” with Rick Gauthier, CADA President and CEO. Moderator Niel Hiscox discussed a broad range of issues of interest to dealers, and Gauthier provided his perspective and insights into work the association is doing on behalf of dealers. Gauthier also discussed the Suzuki Canada withdrawal from the Canadian market, and said the association would be working in support of the dealers. “These dealers need help and they need representation,” says Gauthier.
The CADEX event was followed by the largest ever President’s Dinner, an annual event celebrating the industry.
The NSADA’s members consist of 120 new car franchised dealers in the province and an associate membership comprising suppliers to the automotive retail sector in Nova Scotia.