Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with dozens of amazing car dealers across the country.
They are holding up well. They are adapting. They are innovating.
But make no mistake, they are hurting.
Some describe it as a financial haircut; others have really struggled with having to lay off most of their staff, as government stay-at-home edicts have all but shut down their businesses and livelihoods.
As dealerships (and OEMs) have discovered, these aren’t easy businesses where you can simply press pause during a crisis. They have fixed monthly operating costs that I’ve heard range from $500,000 to $1million per dealership. Each month that passes, the financial hole created by the pandemic just gets bigger.
As their dealerships re-open, it’s also not easy to determine who to bring back, in what order of priority, and what all the right next steps are going to be.
But I have to say, their financial hardships rarely come up in our chats, unless prompted. Dealers are generally more concerned about the health and safety of their staff and their communities than the financial health of their businesses.
Car people are good people. The way they’ve stepped up to offer their services to support the front line and medical workers in their communities is inspiring and impressive.
Car dealers are not the “sit and do nothing” type. I’m sure the stay-at-home measures are no fun for these go-getter entrepreneurs. But they are doing their part, and I’ve gained a lot of respect and understanding for these men and women during this crisis.
One message that really struck me was a lesson on leadership from CADA Laureate award winner and dealer principal Vaughn Wyant, from Saskatchewan. He said that, when he went to his dealerships to talk to his teams, he told them to consider the conduct of paramedics. When paramedics arrive on an accident scene, regardless of how traumatic it might be, they are trained to calm people down, to reassure them, to be positive.
Wyant said that he told his team that he was their paramedic. Even though he can’t tell them exactly how the pandemic would all unfold, he could still reassure them that they would get through it and there would be life on the other side.
But most importantly, Wyant said, his staff needed to go home and be reassuring paramedics for their spouses, their children, their neighbours — their communities. It was a powerful image of true leadership, which is to foster calm and confidence, instead of needlessly spreading panic, fear and mistrust.
The first wave of the pandemic might well be subsiding, but there will be an ongoing need for paramedic-like behaviour in the months to come.