In the near future the Internet will be in everyone's arsenal of retail weapons. Until then, a few manufacturers and a few dealers might buy some time and get more than their fair share of sales through the short-lived cyber sales schemes.
Many of my articles zero in on manufacturers vs. dealers. I have the schizophrenia of a retailer who consults, and writes for both. As you might suspect, I often stand alone listening to the voices in my head debating some pretty divergent positions.
The real battle in retail is not at all about whether dealers or manufacturers prevail, but rather why certain products captivate the public and others don't. Almost invariably the whole food chain profits when great products link those in it.
Equally true is the certainty of bickering and failure that beset every strategy stemming from awful products. The tough thing is spotting the difference between great products held back by poor marketing and poor products temporarily propped up by short-lived sales schemes.
It takes time and a ton of money to design and build a great vehicle. But, once you've read the tea leaves, hocked the ranch and built the car, you can't stop and you can't start over. So automobiles that don't hold market share create a manufacturing dilemma. They either drag behind the company like an anchor or they inspire an alternative; there's no middle ground. The alternative is sometimes a new invention but more often it is a selling system, a pricing program or an advertising scheme.
Enter the Internet. Many of us pray to the gods of the Internet because they promise a non-product solution to sagging sales. It's only a non-product solution that holds the potential of a speedy turn around for an under performer. But we all know that, in the long run, mediocre designs can't sustain themselves as sales stars simply on the basis of a change in presentation. And more often than not, discounts are rarely enough to defeat the fleas on a real dog of a product.
So the Internet as a sales tool is mostly about expanding the popularity of already successful products or buying a little time for the dog with fleas. Invariably, whether you type it, talk it, or phone it in, a car sale depends on a few basics: great product, value pricing and a compelling sales presentation.
Traditionally, product and pricing are the domains of the manufacturer while presentation is the province of the dealer. Although the Internet blurs these lines, its murky water is clearing as more and more products are presented on-line, as e-prices are shaped on-line and as we gather more design cues on-line directly from shoppers and consumers.
The result is that the use of the Internet, e-mail and electronic data collection are becoming mainstream tools of the trade for manufacturers and dealers alike. As such, using the Internet as a unique competitive advantage is quickly losing ground. In its place are real intelligence and business development and that spring from creating and working a digital database.
Hence a clear view of today's situation suggests that it's a losing wager to bet on the world wide web for a sales process as opposed to embracing it as a means to create better product through more intimate relationships between consumers, dealers and manufacturers.
It is only a matter of time before the best products will also have great cyber process. Perhaps this is why the initial dot-com madness tanked and has been replaced with a new, new age economy that focuses on real earnings harvested from real products. No longer is hypothetical connectivity joining theoretical communities believed to be a confluence to sales and profitability. We are now a retail community favoring whole foods, real ingredients and sincere partnerships.
In the near future the Internet will be in everyone's arsenal of retail weapons. Until then, a few manufacturers and a few dealers might buy some time and get more than their fair share of sales through the short-lived cyber sales schemes. But, like the fate of the high flying dot-coms of the 1990s, those who use the digital media to “get real” will catapult into the future while those who just buy time, will not.
Peter Brandow is a 25-year veteran dealer with stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is president and CEO of Brandow Companies.