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Wednesday, June 28, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 25

NVLA and NIADA: Doing the Vegas/Ft. Worth Shuttle

I’ve been on the road a lot for the past few years, and now, more then ever, I’m traveling almost constantly, but the week of June 6 was a first, even for me. In about four days I managed to attend two leasing 20 Groups and two national conferences going on simultaneously in Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas. It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of folks did not have this conflict; most people attending the leasing events wouldn’t have called to attend the independent (used) car dealers convention, and vice versa. But since upstream remarketing is a rapidly advancing function that applies to both constituencies, as a vendor in the business (and a well rounded “car guy”), I didn’t want to skip either annual event.

NIADA Keynote Speaker Lawrence Helms addresses the audience

At first, my intention was to split my time between the National Vehicle Leasing Association (NVLA) Convention, this year in Dallas; and the National Independent Automobile Dealers (NIADA) Convention in Las Vegas. But when I was invited to speak on the benefits of upstream remarketing at the two Excel Marketing leasing “Super Groups,” one scheduled before the NVLA annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other the afterward (also in Fort Worth), I knew that no matter how I scheduled it, I would be logging a lot of flight time (Philly – Dallas – Las Vegas – Dallas – Philly…all in six days). It was all well worth it though, and my only regret, as usual, was not being able to spend more time at each event mingling with the attendees.

First, the Premier “20 Group” for Leasing Companies, the Excel Management “Super Groups”

For those who aren’t familiar with them, “20 Groups” have been around for franchise and independent dealers for at least three decades now, and by evidence of their longevity and dealer attendance, have proven to be one of the most effective vehicles for offering consulting services to car dealers. The concept is simple, but extremely powerful: bring together a group (usually 20, hence the name) of non-competing dealer owners on a regular (usually quarterly) basis in a roundtable-like format, and, with a set agenda, compare in a composite, sales and performance metrics, and share best practices and new ideas for improving business. These “20 Groups” are probably one of the most efficient ways by which a dealer can improve operations, because the ideas presented are not just theory, but are working programs with proven results.

I believe the 20 Groups began with new franchise dealers, then grew to include independent vehicle dealers, and to one very innovative expert in the leasing field, Bill Thomas of EXCEL* Management Dynamics. Thomas has organized what I think to be the first 20 Group sessions specifically focused on local commercial lessors, patterned after the Dealer 20 Groups in format but obviously dealing with very different issues. The two “Lessor Super-Groups” represent the best and the brightest regional independent lessors in the nation, operators who have earned their stripes by managing corporate lessors correctly for many, many years. I think it’s safe to say that the loyalty that these folks have built up among their local leasing clientele exceeds both retail buyer/lessor loyalty and even the client loyalty represented by the national conglomerate lessors. Not to mention that, as truly independent lessors up against the international lessors (who are now trolling for smaller fleet size corporate business), these guys have to be good at what they do, both as business people and as solutions providers for corporate transportation needs. So it’s only natural they band together in the first independent lessor “think tank” of its kind -- the “Lessor Super Groups.”

Occasionally, in vetting best practices and industry innovations, these folks invite selected vendors to come and introduce their wares, usually after one or more lessors represented in the group have already tried the vendor service and had a good experience. We at Driveitaway were fortunate enough to be in that select group of vendors this time, and presented to both groups, when each met either before or after the NVLA conference. Fortunately, my good friend and client, Scott Crawford from Wilmar Leasing was in the first group to welcome me on June 6 & 7th, and my good friend and client Ben Rosenbloom from Acme Leasing, was in the second group, to close out the week on June 11. Apart from talking about the innovations in upstream remarketing (which I always like to do), and about the most recent developments and efficiencies of the Driveitaway program & platform in particular (which I always really like a lot), I was pleased to be able to hang out with these folks, truly among the best in the business and first-class entrepreneurial types. A couple hail from downtown Philly to boot: Tad Yoder, from Marple Fleet Leasing, and Joe McMahon, from McMahon Automotive Group.

Now, onto the Opening Ceremonies of the NVLA Annual Conference…

Moving from Fort Worth to Dallas (actually Grapevine, TX) was a relatively easy jaunt, so after presenting to the first Super Group, we attended the June 7 opening ceremonies of the NVLA conference, which included a keynote address and opening cocktail reception in the exhibit hall. Once again, I ran into so many old friends I didn’t have time catch up with them all, and the next morning I was back on a plane.

Now, I really did want to attend some of the outstanding seminars at NVLA that were scheduled for the next two days. The first day included such topics as “Effective Marketing Techniques for Commercial/Fleet Lessors,” “Vehicle Reconditioning,” “How to Spec’ a Medium Duty Truck,” Effective Marketing Techniques for Consumer Lessors,” and, my personal favorite, “Maximizing Your Presence on the Web.” That was my favorite topic not only because we’re a Web-based automotive company, but because it was presented by my old friend Tarry Shebesta of Automobile Consumer Services and I heard he actually cited this blog as a reference on how to maximize presence…Thanks Tarry; I’m always glad to hear what people are reading….

The second day of the NVLA conference, which I also reluctantly missed, included seminars on topics such as, “Outsourcing,” “Legal and Legislative Update 2006,” “Deciphering Credit Reports,” and “Tax and Accounting issues” among many others. I also missed the Mesquite Championship Rodeo event held that night as well as a closing “Texas Hold’em” dinner the next night.

…Then a Flight to Vegas, to attend the NIADA 60th Annual Convention, Already in Progress…

Getting into Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon didn’t leave much time for the NIADA’s 60th annual convention, but as it started that Monday (5th) and didn’t end until Saturday, I at least had a day or so to catch up with some old friends. The Las Vegas Convention Center was filled with independent dealer events and activities, and if I actually tried to mention all of the outstanding seminars during the four days, I’d need another whole blog entry. I do want to mention two panel discussions of particular interest though: “What’s Happening in 2006 and How it Affects your Dealership,” which reported on automotive Internet (vehicle sell and buy side) advances; and the panel discussion entitled, “Acquiring Inventory Electronically – Best Practices for Independent Auto Dealers.” Now, a few years ago that seminar would have had a tough time playing at the NADA (franchise) dealer annual convention, but in 2006 it was one of the best attended events at NIADA – the industry is advancing in this area, more rapidly now, I think, than most outside observers suspect.

All in all, the NIADA 60th annual convention seemed to be one of the best, most well attended I’ve ever been to…I wish I’d had time to attend a lot more of it.

Randle Smith, new NIADA President, giving the incoming speech

…Almost 48 Hours in Vegas, so it’s Back to Fort Worth, Texas…

I closed out the week by flying back to Dallas/Fort Worth Saturday night (June 10th), to get to the last Lessor Super Group 20 Group the next morning. As I said, the plane landed a little later than expected, so I never got to attend the NVLA convention closing dinner. In fact, I seemed to run late the rest of what was left of that weekend, but having logged as many air miles, attended as many things, and met as many people as I did in a short amount of time, I’m grateful I was even conscious towards the end of it…at the end of my last Super Group presentation on Sunday morning, I wanted to close using the classic line that Dean Martin once said on stage in Vegas, “Ladies & Gentleman, I’d like to do more for you but I’m lucky I remembered this much…”

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