Just as people in the auto industry were starting to use the past tense to describe their experience with the pandemic, outbreaks of COVID-19 have sprung up across the country, and in some ways we are now back to where we started.
At least, in terms of provincial government restrictions on business and heightened fear and anxiety among consumers. As of this writing, we have more than 282,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada and more than 10,000 deaths, according to CBC figures.
In Ontario, the government imposed a strict lockdown in Toronto and Peel, meaning car dealers were restricted to appointments only for car sales.
Alberta imposed new restrictions, Manitoba moved to “Code Red” restrictions, neighbouring Saskatchewan was mulling new restrictions, cases were doubling every 13 days in B.C., and the hardest hit province, Quebec, was considering extending the winter school break.
Thankfully, the far North and our Atlantic provinces have managed to bunker themselves in and have experienced limited outbreaks.
As bad as this wave is, the auto retail industry is much better prepared for it this time around.
The first wave hit like a tsunami. Auto retail, like most industries, was crippled by the triple forces of forced shutdowns, bunkered-at-home consumers, and staff who were legitimately concerned for their own health and well-being.
But dealerships adapted. Fast.
Their provincial and national dealer associations mounted a widespread, comprehensive and ever-evolving campaign to provide them with the best information on how to move ahead, sharing updates from governments in real-time, providing best practices and advice, holding webinars, offering guidebooks — while continuing to advocate for dealer interests in the halls of power.
Dealers and dealer groups also took charge, in many cases, reaching out to their own teams for ideas about how to still operate safely, efficiently, and profitably in the midst of a global crisis. It was innovation in action, and the entrepreneurs who lead our industry have never shone brighter.
I have visited several dealerships recently and was impressed by the lengths they have gone to not only ensure the safety of their staff and customers, but to make it clearly visible they are doing so.
From temperature checks, screening questionnaires, hand sanitizers and masks upon entry, to high visibility signage and floor markings to guide your sales or service journey, there’s no question this is now a different, and safer, retail experience.
Even on the showroom floor, one dealership I visited had set up smart desks where the sales advisors screen was mirrored on a screen about 10 feet away at the end of a desk, where customers could sit and watch their deal being pulled together in real-time. Each of the smart desk stations were also marked with green tape to indicate they had been sanitized. This approach not only promoted safety, it delivered the transparency the industry needs more of too.
So, while the industry braces for the great unknown in the coming months, we are confident dealerships will continue to innovate their physical and online businesses at an incredible pace. That’s just car dealers being car dealers.