With conference season getting into full swing for independent dealerships — including the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association’s annual conference, which runs Monday through Thursday — BHPH Report (Auto Remarketing’s sister publication) connected with Steve Jordan, NIADA’s chief executive officer.
Below is a Q&A that ran as part of a larger feature story in the May-June issue of BHPH Report.
How exciting was it to see the mood of member dealers improve significantly as noted in the first-quarter survey results?
Steve Jordan: I’ve got to tell, it’s been very exciting to see this confidence grow as much as it has after being so cautious for as long as it has. It seems like every presidential election cycle always brings this level of uncertainty within businesses, voters and even the financial markets. It seems like everyone takes this wait-and-see attitude about what’s going to happen after November. In this particular case, I think many of our dealers are very buoyed by the fact a pro-business environment exists in Washington, D.C., now when it really hasn’t been that way for so long.
Now you’ve got three branches of government that controlled by seemingly those who want to put the interest of small-business owners and taxpayers first. It’s encouraging to see a new wave of Congressional leaders in D.C. that understand small businesses and understand that taxes that these small businesses pay are really the backbone of our economy. For so long, our dealers have felt like they were either targets or could be targets of this unpredictable regulatory environment. Now I think they see that the tide is really turning. It’s really encouraging to see confidence grow as a result of that.
Whether it’s proposed tax cuts for businesses or repealing and replacing Obamacare, there’s also been talk about taking two regulations off the books when one is added, I think there is good reason to see confidence soaring. Certainly our quarterly business confidence would support that. We’re seeing some of the biggest jumps in confidence than we’ve seen since we put this survey in place.
Without revealing the specific person, what was the most interesting story from a dealer about his/her operation you heard during the past 12 months?
Jordan: I’m not sure I’ve got just one story, but I can tell you something that’s been a consistent story that I’ve been hearing a lot of dealers talk about and that is the delayed tax season. Once the tax season started, the precipitous decline once it did start was a little bit interesting.
Many people knew as telegraphed by the IRS that some those initial checks were not going to be hitting the market until mid to late February. People knew it was going to be delayed, but once it started, it was almost over as quickly as it began. It was this quick spike in tax season and then it was gone. That’s one of the most consistent stories I’ve heard this year.
I will tell you another interesting perspective from a guy who said for the first time he had remembered where used-car values actually dropped during the spring market. His experience was car values were dropping during the spring market when that traditionally just doesn’t happen. I also thought that was pretty interesting. I think much of the data also supports it.
How much stronger is NIADA’s standing on Capitol Hill now as compared to when you took the lead at NIADA?
Jordan: I would say member engagement in matters of legislative and government affairs has significantly increased over the past four or five years. I think that’s primarily because NIADA has worked really hard to try to create new ways for dealers to tell their story on Capitol Hill and around the country. I think that makes a really big difference.
So by extension, NIADA’s voice has gotten stronger because more dealers are engaging in that kind of narrative. We now have a larger chorus of voices contributing to the conversation in addition to a lot of the things we were doing before. I think we have a lot more opportunity for engagement than we ever have. Our voice is really growing and that’s very exciting.
It’s definitely been a team effort on that front as we build on some of those past successes but look at more ways we can continue to build. There’s an old saying in D.C. that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. I’m happy to report that NIADA is not on the menu.
For the dealers who navigated the challenges of the past couple of years, how strong of a position do they have now to possibly enjoy quality results for the remainder of 2017 and beyond?
I think dealers who have weathered the storm over the last couple of years have a very strong position and should feel pretty secure in the position they have in the market. There have been so many external factors that have put pressure on dealer operations. Whether it’s regulatory compliance or access to capital or having to restructure your financial relationship as well as subprime finance companies buying as deep as they have been, it’s all put a lot of pressure on dealers to adapt and conform. Not to mention all of the changes in consumer buying habits, all of the digital and online considerations, how you interact with customers, there has been a lot to absorb in the last couple of years.
We’re going to continue to see a lot of changes in the industry going forward to meet consumer demand and expectations. Dealers who have been able to navigate a lot of those concerns over the last couple of years should feel pretty confident in their position. Given some of the dealer business confidence survey results, it looks like they’re also starting to see that as well.
What are the top three things on your association to-do list you hope to complete by the end of the year?
Jordan: First and foremost, we’re focusing on our convention. One of the biggest priorities every year is to continue to provide a convention platform that meets and exceeds the expectations of our dealers and members. In short, hosting the largest NIADA Convention in our history this June is a major priority. The early returns on our exhibit hall and registrations numbers would support that we’ll meet that objective. That’s very exciting.
Thinking about what we’d like to get done before the end of the year, I would say a couple of things. One would be that we’ve talked for so long about reinforcing and expanding the position of NIADA in the legislative arena and regulatory world in D.C. and around the country. I think we’re doing a really good job and we’ve got a lot of great momentum. But what you’re going to see over the next six to eight months is a focus on expanding and growing our educational opportunities for dealers. Specifically we’re going to retool and grow our Certified Master Dealer program. There’s going to be some very specific things coming. We also have some other things coming to the table to support that education goal we have to serve our dealers.
Another thing that personally I would like to see and I know our board would like to see is a very specific plan to put in place between NIADA and our state associations in continuing to build that bridge to work more collaboratively with our state associations. Not that we don’t already, but I think that’s an important objective, which is to work more closely and collaboratively and help some of those state associations that need help in growing. It will all help to fulfill our mission.
We would also like to raise about $250,000 for our political action committee. That’s something we’re working on as well. I’ll keep you posted.