The future is now

We’ve known for months that automakers GM and Chrysler were headed for bankruptcy. Their fate and that of the thousands of dealers they have been working to cut loose have been front and center in the media.

A little closer to home, our friends in the RV industry have seen two of the largest manufacturers — Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp. — fall to bankruptcy as new RV model shipments plunged in the United States to a 30-year low. And now, right here in the midst of our beloved boating industry, Irwin Jacobs’ Genmar Holdings, Inc., the second-largest manufacturer of boats, has fallen victim to what the company CEO referred to as “a perfect tsunami,” and filed for Chapter 11.

Analysts are suggesting many more bankruptcies will follow this summer. Dealers, likewise, predict that there will be great attrition among their colleagues by the end of July. And I’m reading a book now that suggests it has the answers on how to prosper in “The Great Depression Ahead,” an ominous prediction that the worst may not be behind us.

These are, no doubt, unprecedented times. And the question of discussions surrounding the severity of today’s economic trends oftentimes focus on when it will all end. What’s lost in all of that, however, is that our business has changed. Forever.

Already, there are numerous theories regarding how the supply chain must cope with new trends in consumer demand. There’s talk of just-in-time inventories, the need for greater turn ratios, and monumental changes in the boat buying process.
These things, while certainly worth consideration, will not make or break your business, however. The truth is that if you’re sitting around waiting for the answer to any of these questions, and not doing the soul searching or re-strategizing that you need to for the sake of your own future, the timing of a turnaround won’t matter.

The game has changed in this economy. Auto dealers are being let loose. The Big 3 say they need fewer dealers to sell the same number of autos. And those, in many cases, are products that consumers need.

We sell a luxury product that rarely is purchased out of necessity. And there has been a fundamental change and a shift in buying habits. The more appropriate questions to ask yourself are about competitive advantage. How are you selling yourself? And what is it that you are truly selling? A product? A service? Or a lifestyle?

Over the years, the best companies have been built by selling a lifestyle created, nurtured and delivered through high-quality dealers, through rewarding experiences such as consumer events and through outstanding customer service, all of which complement a product by building passion throughout their customer base.

In the days ahead, during whatever these difficult economic times may hold, your greatest opportunity can be found in establishing the systems and processes that ensure you’re delivering that superior experience to your customers. There are many ways to do it. Just look around you. Read the business magazines. Read this magazine. Learn from what the leaders are doing. Your future may well depend on it.

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