Opportunity Knocks

Dec 3, 2009

From adversity comes opportunity. That’s long been my mantra – I picked up the phrase from an editor I worked with many years ago. He didn’t coin it; he just followed its simple credo.

And these economic times unequivocally qualify as adverse. With February vehicle sales in the United States at 41% below a year earlier, the lowest in 27 years, adverse is one way to describe it.

In an effort to pare down more than their workforces, automakers, especially Detroit’s, are shedding or sidelining nameplates and offering fewer options on those that remain. For example, Ford’s longtime consumer and professional truck stalwart, the F-150, scaled back the options it offers. Other models follow, or will follow, suit. Toyota, of course, has long been known to focus its manufacturing efficiency on building its non-luxury vehicles with just the basics; that is, add the heated, leather seats at the dealership – installing various options during production isn’t cost-effective.

Though it makes fiscal sense for automakers to limit options, consumers, long used to an ever-expanding variety of them already installed, now and in the future are to be told, “Sorry, the vehicles don’t include them anymore. But we can still install whatever you want.”

And with their vehicle sales at record lows and some car dealers on the ropes taking a pounding the likes of which they’ve never experienced, they and the public know that it’s a buyers’ market. Dealers, no longer in the driver’s seat, will do whatever it takes to move inventory off their lots, and there are those consumers with the cash or less worried about losing their jobs who recognize vehicles will never be this good of a deal again.

And though the fed’s Auto Ownership Tax Assistance Amendment that allows car buyers to deduct their sales and excise taxes on vehicles with a price tag as much as $49,500 isn’t the great incentive it was intended to be, knocking off an additional $400-$600 from one’s income tax still is a plus these days.

And because the used-car market has been the high-margin center for dealers, doing what’s necessary to move those vehicles is another priority. A few enhancements – window and paint protection films, for example – can move used and new vehicles.

Plus, many dealers cut their service staffs because warranty work shrank as new-car sales dropped.

Add up these current conditions fewer new-vehicle options, a buyers’ market, the need to enhance a vehicle to improve sales and the lack of dealer service personnel – and they equal an opportunity for flexible aftermarket retailers and jobbers.

Now, then, comes opportunity, and it can be king.

As it has been in the past, it’s a good idea to partner with dealers. Now it can be even better for restyling professionals. Besides your own advertising of your services to bring car owners to your business door, car dealers can have you expedite their needs to move their inventory.

So, with more limited options that will be available to consumers, restylers can consider their own options:

  • work closer with dealers as their expediters (though some jobbers don’t like the 30-day, 60-day or more payment terms, work for the best payment terms)
  • become a dealer’s preferred and recommended one-stop-shop
  • be a true one-stop-shop that can do it all
  • form a consortium with other restyling specialists who can better and more expediently handle those jobs you’re less expert at

Even in this most adverse of markets there is opportunity.

Knock on its door.