By Phill Jones, Managing Director at Motors.co.uk
Last week, I went to the automotive retail equivalent of Disney World – the 2017 NADA Convention and Expo in New Orleans. The Brits call it “nada” and the Americans “N.A.D.A”, but either way we know that for the industry it’s – to quote Ron Burgundy – a big deal. With more than 23,000 visitors and featuring 1.1m square feet of exhibition space, this is the premier event for seeing the products and services that power American car dealers.
Here are my key takeaways from a brilliant few days:
1) Analytics and tracking
The principle theme that I spotted from a digital retailing perspective was analytics. The number of Dealer Management Software (DMS) vendors exhibiting, and the language used in their marketing collateral, highlighted the value in using data to understand and improve your business. There were some very interesting new companies who were providing better insight into online traffic, handling of leads and business performance. The importance of internet traffic (the vast majority of consumers start their car search online) uncovers a number of data sources for audience profiling and tracking. These tools which are quite common in other areas of digital marketing are flowing through into other areas such as call and email handling.
I’m a big fan of data and can only encourage dealers to use this to understand their business to help make informed decisions. However, I still also believe that an “art” remains in connecting with a consumer. There is a danger in becoming robotic in process and data. But combined with an underlying philosophy around customer service, they can provide real insight and opportunity to deliver significant improvements. There was almost an embarrassment of such companies on show, to which I provide a warning that data and tracking is only of use if it is analysed and acted upon.
2) Digital replacing physical exhibitors
I last attended NADA 3 years ago. Comparing this visit to my last, I felt that there were fewer exhibitors of “physical” goods (showroom facilities, hydraulic ramps, mechanic equipment etc) at the expense of software, media and website companies. Given my profession, that should be a good thing. Yet the child in me felt a little sad to see fewer of the exhibitors of products that I never normally get to see, but are still very cool. I still managed to find myself falling into a trance watching an automatic car washing machine. A feat of engineering excellence.
3) Manufacturer support
A key difference between NADA and smaller shows in the UK is support from manufacturers. Ford, GM and Toyota had very large presences here, as well as some smaller retailers such as Suzuki and Mitsubishi (and some beautiful Shelby customisations). The OEMs on show used this event to get their team together for seminars and account management meetings. Their dealers were made to feel special and would have felt pride in representing their brands. I hope that OEMs begin to support the British shows to help build an easy way for dealers to gain insight into latest trends and products.
4) Cox Automotive
Cox Automotive (parent company of Motors.co.uk) made a real statement at NADA. Its “village” (almost as large as the actual village I live in) consisted of enormous stands for group companies including: AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book, Dealer.com (the Media division); VIN Solutions (CRM software); Xtime (after-sales software); vAuto (stock intelligence); Stockwave (intelligent stock provisioning); Manheim (including supporting inventory solutions businesses); and Dealer Track (DMS software). I was proud to be representing Cox Automotive International working with colleagues from Australia, Germany and Canada on the variety of solutions we offer across the world and welcoming travellers.
5) USA! USA!
As a final thought; NADA epitomised the USA in many ways – it was big, loud, impressive and a bit confusing! But one thing that stuck in my mind was the incredible positivity. Dealers came into the exhibition open minded to learning about new providers. It was common to see dealers signing up to new products in the exhibition hall. Selling wasn’t a dirty word, it was good. If America is the home of capitalism, this show was its epicentre. But people weren’t signing to show off, they were signing up because they want to improve and were open to ideas and taking risks.
It might be the local ale talking, but at a time when our thoughts of America are conflicted by scary messages in the news, I remained impressed by the ambition that fuels the American dream.