My two boys know my brother as the slightly crazy, lots of fun, fishing buddy, car racing and car dealing Uncle Dan. Uncle Dan is the general manager of Salisbury Chevrolet, a GM dealership in upstate New York.
We had gone home to celebrate Uncle Dan’s 40th birthday that weekend and no one was really worried about the impending bad news from Detroit. Why should we be worried? Uncle Dan’s dealership was a profitable and venerable one. They have one of the top CSIs (Customer Service Index — THE measure of customer satisfaction) in the country. They are profitable and well-run. They have not one but three “World Class technicians” the highest certification a mechanic can achieve — many dealerships don’t have any. Last year they sold almost 600 cars. In fact, if there were more dealerships like Uncle Dan’s, GM would not be in so much trouble.
Uncle Dan did think the whole process was pretty crazy. He can’t understand why GM would want to go and fire its “customers”. Dealers are GM’s only customers. Consumers buy cars from dealers and dealers buy cars from GM. They pay their own expenses, own the property and buildings they work from, pay their employees, train them, etc. And, if they can’t make a living, they go belly up. That’s the market at work. (Now, of course, Uncle Dan does understand that GM will have some savings in terms of being able to cut dealer relationship people but overall, he considers the much ballyhooed “shedding” of dealerships to be pretty short-sighted.)
Then Uncle Dan’s dealership got “The Letter”.
Now GM has made lots of noise about under-capitalized dealerships. Weak dealerships. Low volume dealerships. Uncle Dan’s s was none of these. Nearest we can figure, GM’s decision was made with the help of a board and a handful of darts. So much for carefully thought-out and strategic. This was more like surgery with a chainsaw.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Dan.
But Uncle Dan’s a fighter. He and the owner of the dealership are fighting to keep their business alive. They compiled the evidence and are working through the system. They also decided to be open with their employees and customers. they told everyone immediately. (In the age of social networking, we all know that this kind of information will get out faster that the speed of sound.) No sense trying to keep a secret like this.
Uncle Dan is also taking to the airwaves. He does pretty well on camera and Big Sis (that’s me) helped craft pitches and messaging. So far he’s made the rounds of all the local media — broadcast and print. He’s been on Fox News and The Early Show. He’s keeping his messages clear, concise and focused. He’s not sure this is going to help but he can’t not try. Meanwhile, the visibility is doing good things for his business at a time when things could be truly awful — he had one of his best months ever in new car sales last month.
- Clear, concise messaging — stick with it too. Say it over and over and over again. Know it. Live it. (In this case, he does live it.)
- Grab onto to the national story, watch it closely and be ready and willing to jump in the car/truck and go anywhere. (Fox News called him on his cell last night and gave him very little time to get to their studios and get in the chair but that’s just what he did.)
- Be ready. Dan’s spent years in the marketplace cultivating relationships with the local media. Now that he needs them — they are there for him. (And, of course, happy to put a face to an important national story.)
- Know what you are getting yourself into. Dan made a strategic decision to fight this in the public eye. He also knows his own strengths and weaknesses.
Good luck, Sweetie. We love you and we’re rooting for you, Anna and the whole gang.