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Tuesday, December 27, 2005 

Vol. I No. 7

I’m Going to Kansas City…

I’ve been to so many NAFA Chapter holiday parties recently; I thought that another entry on my most recent visit wouldn’t hurt. It gives me a chance to introduce you to a couple of interesting “party people” whom I met up with, and some old friends I met up with again at the Mid-America NAFA Chapter holiday party in Kansas City, MO on Wednesday (Dec 14).

I rarely get out to the Mid-America Chapter, so when I do it’s a treat to see people I usually don’t get to see more than once a year at the annual NAFA convention. Now occasionally people in the industry bring their spouses or significant others to these events; and when they do, it’s always nice to meet “the better half” as they are invariably introduced in the world of automotive fleet. In the case of Bret Watson and his wife Gail, however, no “introductions” are required. Both Bret and Gail, arguably the fleet industry’s “first couple” are both accomplished fleet managers in their own right. Bret works for Sprint (over 10,600 cars, vans & light trucks, #23 on the list of the “Top 300 Commercial Fleets” according to Automotive Fleet Magazine); and Gail for Nationwide Insurance (over 5,800 cars, vans & light trucks, #53 on the same “Top 300” list). Quite a power couple in the fleet industry world. While I’m sure there are many folks in this business whose spouses are in the same industry, Bret & Gail are the only two I know of who both are in charge of “Top 100” fleets; they’re their own fleet management think tank when they are together -- which is why, after the formal party ended, we sat and talked for hours afterwards. Of course, given my obsession we talked more about used car remarketing than anything else, and how upstream remarketing has really reached the “tipping point” in visibility and acceptability only recently – yep, even in a bar late at night at the Fairmount in Kansas City, can’t get used cars off my mind.

Now, I think somewhere in these passages I may have mentioned that, unlike other areas of the retail car business, the commercial fleet side of this industry tends to attract people who never leave it – from the corporate fleet managers to the corporate lessors to the franchise dealers. Therefore, a long-term view and integrity count a lot, as does investment in the future. The fleet managers at franchise new car dealerships, (those who focus on satisfying the automotive needs of businesses, are typically the longest term sales employees at retail car dealerships. This longevity is noteworthy - in an industry where your average dealership sports a 100% annual turnover in retail sales personnel (a shocking figure, but true, the “front end” sales personnel in a dealership, on average, stay less than a single year…).

All of the info above is meant as a prelude to another old friend I met at the Kansas City shindig, a person whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years, Bill Raynor, a fleet sales manager at Olathe Ford in Olathe, Kansas. Bill and I met for the first time when I was conducting the dealer focused small commercial sales program for Ford, then called “Ford Mainstreet,” now called “Business Preferred.” Ford was the first manufacturer back then to recognize that local as well as national commercial sales should be an important part of their franchise dealers’ business, and offered the first three-day training course (provided by yours truly) for both dealers and managers interested in starting up a local fleet focused department (a “dealership within a dealership”) in their Ford & Lincoln Mercury stores. In one of these seminars in Kansas City, I was the facilitator, Bill was representing Olathe, and, after the three-day intensive instructional seminar (the last day these folks had to produce a full blown business plan for the dealership), I remember a conversation Bill and I had about the long-term benefits of pursuing commercial sales in the dealership environment. Indeed, that loyalty to customer service, integrity and perspective were tangibly rewarded in the commercial end of things, in contrast to the transient pressures of the straight retail environment.

Well, ironically, it’s 10 years from the time Bill and I spoke about how commercial fleet was a long-term relationship business, and we met up for the first time since, at this NAFA holiday event, each of us plying his trade. Nothing like experience to validate ones predictions of many years ago. How ‘bout it Bill, makes me think maybe I didn’t put everyone to sleep with my ramblings back then…

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John: It is hard to sleep when the facilitator is jumping up and down, as excited as I was, and still am. Thanks for the tag. I agree, once the oil is in the veins, it's kind of hard to do anything else. I have thought about it, leaving, but always come back to my senses. In closing, I'll keep on selling the new stuff, so you can keep on having something to re-market.

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