The NIADA Convention in San Antonio was excellent for me! And for most who attended! What was the value? What were the big takeaways? Why would so many sit it out?

This year, I was in attendance as a speaker. Besides our interaction in the classroom, Michelle and I spoke to dozens of dealers inside and outside the event. As a former BHPH dealer myself, I’ll attempt to answer some on those questions through the lens of the dealer attendee. 

First, dealers who stayed home missed out on some highly valuable nuggets! Some were simple ideas shared by industry experts in response to audience questions during the moderated panels. Others were offered by presenters in the educational breakout sessions. But, some of the most impactful things I heard (and that so many dealers should hear) came from simple “shop talk” between dealers at lunch or over cocktails in the hotel lobby. I mean the kind of things one doesn’t hear anywhere else (brief comments in a Facebook group don’t come close). I’m talking expanded stories like “how I grew my BHPH from $1,000 to where it is today” to “the smartest thing we ever did to buy the best cars” to “how I went from a huge line of credit to being debt free!” Ever consider the impact of even a 3-degree shift in your business over 2 years or 5 years, for example? Even casual conversation with other dealers can have this kind of impact. 

Then, from the vendor and provider side of things, where better to see the latest technology and services? Where else would dealers be afforded the opportunity to see all the industry’s best providers in one place? The expo halls at conventions are the best place to compare solutions for your business. And discover new ones! See demos. Meet the team. Get a real sense of the company’s understanding of your business and its needs. BHPH dealers who skipped NIADA missed the chance to meet the folks and see business-improving technology including text-to-collect platforms, integrated underwriting tools with CRM capabilities, repo management solutions, payment kiosks, etc. Are some dealers content to use older, less efficient technology and leave progress to their competitors? Of course, many do not see the value in leveraging technology for greater profitability, better customer experience, etc. Those who do should attend NIADA and all of the industry conferences. 

Of course, there are times that dealers are not seeking the latest and greatest and shiniest tools and technology. They are simply looking for the most reputable providers and solutions. Who is “best?” Clearly, what could be best for one, may not be the best option for another. For my purposes here, I’ll use what Michelle and I refer to as “Best-in-Class” providers. These are the ones we recommend to our clients, usually a “Top 3” list in cases where there are several. Most of those providers were at the NIADA convention. I declare as best those providers who 1) offer good value, 2) demonstrate the highest levels of dealer support and satisfaction, 3) have shown staying power in the industry and 4) have solid, reliable folks at top of the company. I’ve been at this a long time. In San Antonio, I reconnected with vendors that I have known for 20+ years. I may have utilized their services as a dealer myself or maybe just referred dealer clients to them. Either way, I know first-hand how they handle customers and how committed they are to the success of their dealer customers. In short, the actions of their top executives speak louder than the words of their business-card-carrying sales team.

Call me old-fashioned but I place high importance on the significance of a firm handshake and eye contact. It’s the basis of creating or reinforcing relationships. When dealers are choosing “partners” for their business, I see no better way to move from what my Illinois dealer friend Gordon Tormohlen calls “transactional” arrangements to those based on a solid relationship. Transactions come and go. Even companies come and go. But real relationships can and should last. Having a solid relationship with a vendor is valuable when changes or setbacks arise. It helps to do business with folks who really know us and who understand what’s important to us and our business. 

We’ve all heard it said that training (or education) doesn’t cost, it pays. It’s a simple premise: training and education should not be viewed as an expense but, rather, as an investment. And with any investment, we’d expect to see a return or dividends. Is it mere coincidence that it seems to be the same pool of dealers who attend the conventions year after year? Or is it that these association members consistently earn dividends through mining for nuggets, improving their efficiency and profitability by incorporating the latest and best tools, and by forging new relationships and solidifying established ones? Regardless, Michelle and I hope to see more BHPH dealers joining their state associations and soaking up the related educational opportunities. We also look forward to many more handshakes and lunch table chats at future conventions.