In the Academy Award-winning motion picture "Pulp Fiction," Uma Thurman tells John Travolta a joke about a momma, poppa and baby tomato walking down the sidewalk. The baby tomato keeps lagging behind. Finally, the frustrated poppa tomato turns, stomps on the baby tomato and says, "ketchup."

Sure it's silly, but there's a message there for any auto dealership owner who thinks he or she can keep doing business the old-fashioned way. The truth is, today's dealerships must empower their management team, sales force and service department with the latest in training to retain a competitive edge.

If dealerships don't keep pace and provide their people with more skills and knowledge than its Internet-savvy customers (who have access to all kinds of information), it won't be "ketchup." It'll be bye-bye. Ironically, the means to provide the knowledge skills necessary to stay up with the industry changes are readily available on-line.

But using the Internet for training purposes is a new way of doing business for most dealership owners. In the old way, knowledge was passed down from the top - to the sales managers, then to the sales force, and the service managers and so forth. Or, employees were sent off site where the cost of the presentation, plus travel, meals, lost productivity and work time added up to more than $700 in real costs per employee, per day of training!

Recent trends have shown the traditional training approach through live programs has become expensive, burdensome and non-productive in relation to the time involved.

As classroom learning has fallen in recent years, the use of long-distance training has exploded. In just the last three years, live training has fallen by 25%, while web-based training has increased by more than 300%.

In the first year of the new millennium, nearly 70% of the companies in America will access some form of Internet training.

The key for dealers is to find on-line training that meet a dealership's immediate goals while at the same time having the opportunity to support special programs and initiatives. This can now be done without leaving the dealership, without "downtime" and without distracting staff from key business activities.

For an example of what is available, look at The Automotive Universities Network www.autoUnetwork.com, where courses and sources are listed.

The benefits to the dealership include reduced training expenses, reduced training time, access to training at home or at work, unlimited course reviews and a master topic menu of expert courses. In addition, dealer management can review employees' scores and courses completed.

Internet training also allows course chat to exchange ideas with other students, e-mails to send questions to the expert course authors, and a truly global training network.

Remey Ortiz, general manager of Vista Ford in Santa Paula, California agrees.

He says, "Our dealership is looking forward to web-based training. Most of our training is through Ford, and I know we're going to the Internet in the near future. We've already had some training on the web, and we like it."

The speed with which things move in the Internet world has been compared with everything from dog years to the life span of a fruit fly.

In this accelerating frame of reference, dealerships must be ready to "reinvent" themselves regularly, all to keep pace with Internet-savvy car buyers and the diversity of competition. This is an era of "knowledge-based" economies. Access to information, learning readiness and the ability to transfer knowledge to the sales team are a prerequisite for success.

Fading away are the days when you could throw a customer's car keys on the roof, hustle them into signing and then bounce them off to financing. These are the days when knowledge is the foundation to a successful sales team.

Auto dealers must find the means to empower their employees with state-of-the-art-training infrastructures that are easy to use and implement. From this foundation of applied knowledge, dealerships will see their sales team and employees transformed into a truly focused and highly productive work force. The difference will show on the bottom-line.

Rob Scher is president of The Scher Group and founder of ez2master.com and ontimetraining.com which features high-ROI training concepts with clients that include the Ford Motor Company and Coldwell-Banker. He's at 330-422-2028.