Dealing with the Big ‘R’ — Recession doesn’t have to be what it’s feared to be

by : Jim Richter
From: Dealer Fixed Operations Magazine April 2008

A recession is kind of like the common cold; it’s a natural phenomenon, it happens every so often, it’s usually not life threatening, and if you’ve taken reasonable precautions it usually is just an inconvenience. Those who don’t take care of themselves can get pretty sick, but the ones who are in good health to begin with usually ride it out with a minimum of pain and suffering.

Get past the fear!
A recession is a normally occurring correction in our economic cycles. We’d all like to think that our market will continue to climb forever, but that’s not the way things work. When the economy is too good to be true it slows itself down until it levels out and gets ready for the next charge forward again. Dealers who have not prepared for this get hurt; those that have will simply have a downturn for a short time period. If the core profit centers of your fixed operations are sound and fixed absorption is high, then the worst scenario will be fewer profits coming from the variable-based profit centers. Many of my clients have learned this lesson from previous cycles and are better prepared for this one. Others with short memories, who focused their efforts on the quick money from sales are not prepared, and will end up suffering losses again as a result.

Putting basics in place
The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to get your parts house in order. Service and collision both feed from your inventory and the more you are counting on them to provide needed revenue, the more important the levels of service from parts become.

  • Clean up obsolescence: Remember your parts inventory is all net working capital. At a time when cash becomes a critical factor make sure it’s all usable. Factory based opportunities must be utilized effectively. This means sending back everything you can and applying purchase discounts to scrapping rather than gross profit, which saves tax payments. You’re only kidding yourself if you hang onto this stuff; junk today does not turn into gold tomorrow, it’s only Fools Gold at best.
  • Control the backflow of unsold service special orders and police returns from wholesale accounts and your collision center. Review your special order policies and procedures. I often find that these are not being enforced or have never been communicated to new employees. Don’t assume that they are working, Check it out! Contact me if you need to know how to do this.
  • Review the DMS settings for stocking levels. Many manufacturers have changed their terms and conditions since the last recession and many managers have not adjusted accordingly. If you’re on multiple weekly orders, or better yet a daily stock order, be sure that you are not stocking more pieces than you need. If they have it and you can replace what you sold today tomorrow, how many do you really need to stock? Frequently it’s only one.
  • Cut down on sheetmetal, especially if you can replace it quickly and reliably. This kind of “comfort stock” can tie up a lot of cash.
  • Make sure that you are aggressively developing a broad selection of valid stocking numbers through proper use of the lost sales function. Every job that gets finished today is one less special order, and you get paid today, not days or weeks later. It also reduces unapplied time in the shop and reduces work in process, all of which impacts your retained profits.

Review marketing strategies
Recessionary markets become very competitive. Just like the big box retailers are now experiencing, customers are looking for more cost effective ways to get what they need. Price becomes more of an issue than it had been before.

  • Review your matrix formulae and price levels. If the revenue levels are dropping and the gross profit percent is still high, you may be pushing business to competitors. Shop yourself on specific parts that are down in sales to see if you are still competitive. When that’s done, adjust your DMS price settings to bring yourselves back in line with the market. Revenue flow is the critical issue now and it’s OK to give up some margin to pick up increased dollars. When the economy comes back you can readjust it then.
  • Update your maintenance menus. The dollar has been taking a dive recently and most importers have been adjusting their prices accordingly. The market shopping exercise you did should also lead you to where you need to re-price parts used for scheduled maintenance. Once this is done get it to service so they can do their update and get competitive prices in effect in the service drive.
  • Get more aggressive in communicating with your customers, especially the wholesale ones. Just like your prices, the aftermarket has gone up substantially too. Much of what they stock has offshore origins so their prices have gone up as well.

Get ready for the ride   
Once you’ve got your basics in place you have to watch the business flow very closely and adjust accordingly. If you have the basics in place, then you should be able to ride out the storm. It’s very much like the person who takes vitamins and extra precautions during the flu season; hopefully he or she won’t get sick, but if they do it’s usually a lot less serious for them than the ones who are not prepared. Get going now!

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