For auto dealers, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
The past 16 months have been filled with stops, starts, restarts, more stops and more restarts. By the time this article comes to print, in the next few months we all should be many steps closer to seeing the responsible and safe management of COVID-19 and its variants.
The percentage of vaccine penetration should be high enough right across Canada to keep the lid on a fourth wave. With warmer weather right around the corner and restrictions slowly being released, we can look forward to improved times with great certainty.
By July, there should be more Canadians vaccinated than not. And by the fall there should be more Canadians with the full vaccine protocol that will hopefully fend off a fourth wave when we all begin to head back inside during the colder months.
What remains, hopefully, will be a relieved consumer, now able to return to some degree of past normalcy—but there will still be tense consumers, showing levels of anxiety in certain circumstances. If masking and social distancing are to continue indefinitely, anxieties will remain, perhaps diminished from pandemic peaks—but remain, nonetheless.
Consumers are only part of the equation. Management and employees will continue to feel the pandemic stresses. Government decisions on in-class versus online learning, for example, will have a tremendous impact on management and employee stress levels. Health and safety regulations will continue to be stringent, many of which will become embedded in regulations for an extended period of time.
Uncertainty will certainly be the order of the day for the foreseeable future.
Dealerships operate as part of lengthy, complicated international consumer supply chains. We are all too familiar with supply chain disruption, for it has caused many delays in product and replacement parts shipments. More importantly it has highlighted the risks and dependencies in global supply chains. This latter point
is not exclusive to automotive, and applies to a host of end consumer products.
Collectively, dealers have proven their ability to respond to elements of uncertainty swiftly and comprehensively during world wars, economic financial collapses, and health and safety concerns—just to mention a few.
Over the past 16 months, many adaptations to amended processes and behaviours have been realized. Working from home and home delivery enabled by digital capabilities have changed consumer behaviour towards procuring certain goods. Offices have been shuttered, and web-based online meetings have become the norm.
Regardless of offices reopening to some degree, web-based online meetings have been largely proven to be a positive way of conducting business and providing services. And although it’s not a full replacement for face-to-face meetings and gatherings, web-based capabilities have allowed many of us to continue working and provided a medium to communicate and exchange critical ideas.
Dealerships have been very lucky during this pandemic; they were quick to pivot and governments were quick to accept how safe dealership protocols were. Not to be lost, vehicles are essential to empowering essential workers, along with the way vehicles were financed, which created an essential need to keep dealerships open.
Our business was well suited to appointment only practices. Fixed operations were always appointment-based and the migration to appoint only for the retail side was very easy for both consumers and dealership employees. BDCs never skipped a beat in maintaining quality communications with customers.
Dealerships have become experts in dealing with uncertainty since the beginning of their existence. Collectively, dealers have proven their ability to respond to elements of uncertainty swiftly and comprehensively during world wars, economic financial collapses, and health and safety concerns—just to mention a few.
Consumers, in turn, have also responded by accepting the pivots provided by dealers. Flexibility, based on addressing various elements of uncertainty, has become the norm for franchised automobile dealers. This pandemic was just one of many uncertainties asked of auto dealers.
Brands also play a part
As franchised auto dealers, we must follow the branding and related processes as prescribed by the brands we represent. This has always been the case. However, the degree changes from time to time and currently we are in the midst of at least one significant decade-long migration.
As brands transition their product portfolio through various iterations of vehicle propulsion and reduced emissions, dealers must continually pivot and adapt. Dealers collectively surprise most other businesses and industry observers at how quickly and completely they seamlessly execute during uncertain times.
Governments also play a part
Governments this time around provided much needed liquidity to keep businesses open and thrive. The CEWS, CERB and other programs have proven very effective in replacing lost cash flow, enabling dealers to keep their doors open. All levels of government played a role, from consumer protection to health and safety protocols and subsidies.
Dealers again are very fortunate in the support they received from various levels of government. They justifiably had a very strong lobby for years, making industry issues known, front and centre.
They are well positioned, when major uncertainty raises its head, to quickly gain the support required to remain part of the solution to keep consumers, businesses, and the economy rolling. This approach recognizes that dealers thrive on uncertainty, and can be relied upon to produce desired results when many businesses could not.
Much of the conversation today has to do with returning to normal. Citizens and businesses alike want restrictions lifted. The only question remains: how will we have changed, and how will we collectively redefine normal?
Many of us have altered our business processes and practices. Some of those will naturally return to pre-pandemic ways, but I contend that many other alterations will become permanent. Again, dealers thrive during times of uncertainty. Dealers make the most of their limited time to reassess past behaviours and migrate to new and improved ones.
For the majority of auto dealers, uncertainty is the only certainty in their day-to-day business lives; it always has been and likely always will be. Conquering the challenges that uncertainty brings is the fuel that keeps us all going.