Disruption and change

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As you read through this issue of Canadian auto dealer, or any other for that matter, you’ll discover a consistent theme about the forces of change and disruption that are impacting Canada’s auto dealers.

Our editorial team covers a lot of industry conferences and events, and change seems to be at the centre of it all. These days, more and more speakers issue alarmist calls to action for dealers to change dramatically or risk being left behind, or worse — be wiped out by a tidal wave of rising consumer expectations.

Now, of course, for those of us in the media, these apocalyptic stories catch our attention more than a speaker calling for a “steady preservation of the status quo.” So, I always review and assess our own coverage with that in mind. Are these threats real? Are they overstated? Do they make for good speeches, but the reality on the ground is much different?

Are these disruptions and threats more of an urban reality for Canada’s large cities, while the business of selling and servicing cars in our small towns will carry on much as it has for decades?

I always enjoy chatting with dealers to help assess these types of situations and questions. One dealer shared with me that when he goes to these conferences, his anxiety level shoots up and he returns home wondering if he should sell his dealership.

But then when he’s back home, he looks up and down the street and doesn’t see the same brand of dealership for hundreds of kilometres. He watches his staff serving the local residents with respect and care, and wonders if the threatening dark clouds will manage to pass right by his dealership.

Some dealerships and brands might be more protected than others, but not forever.

It’s a compelling picture.

But in my view, the forces of change are real and they are coming — they might just not arrive at the same time and in the same way of every corner of Canada. Some dealerships and brands might be more protected than others, but not forever.

The first reason for this, is that it’s not just automotive retail that is feeling these profound changes. There are broader changes to the way consumers interact with brands, the way they immediately gravitate to new technologies to make their shopping journey and path to purchase more enjoyable, and the time they have available for any retail purchase. You just have to witness the decline of major retail chains to recognize this trend.

The second reason I believe the change is coming, is that I recognize the pattern from the way people reacted to changes in our own industry — the media business. When the Internet arrived, and people migrated to more electronic forms of communication, there were many who said the changes would affect others but not them. Frankly, they were all wrong.

The smartest people in the media business recognized the change early, adapted their business models to accommodate their new consumers, and found new revenue models. Smart dealers would be wise to do the same. Even if it’s just hedging your bets, it’s a smart thing to do.

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Canadian auto dealer