The Shrinking Economy

Lessons From the Front Lines

brought on a new sales manager. “He began to make things happen, getting more production out of our sales staff by motivating them,” says Chairman and CEO Walter E. Douglas Sr. “Once the word began to get around, he was able to hire more proven sales individuals.” Avis delivered 2,400 new vehicles in 2009, up from its 2005—2008 volume of between 1,800 and 2,000 (see Auto Dealer of the Year).

2 DEVELOP AN ONLINE PRESENCE. Don’t just talk about it. “There has been an old school/new school resistance over the last eight to 10 years toward the Internet’s effect on automotive sales,” says John Giamalvo, dealer business analyst for the automotive information organization “While sales were strong, most dealers were learning about, but not implementing, necessary changes toward emerging trends. Those who have made provisions to change earlier have clearly been those who’ve run ahead of the pack.”

3 ACCOMMODATE CUSTOMER NEEDS. Extending store hours will make the dealership more user-friendly. Dr. A.V. Fleming, executive director of Ford Motor Minority Dealers, says it’s now widespread among Ford minority dealers’ service departments to be open Saturdays and weeknights. Three years ago, they’d have been closed. Customers also demand quick turnaround on small jobs such as tune-ups, so if dealer service departments want that business, they have to offer in-and-out work at lower prices.

4 CRAFT AN IDENTITY. During the first half of his 20 years in business, Bill Perkins, CEO of Eastpointe, Michigan-based Bill Perkins Automotive Group (No. 11 on the be auto dealers list with $105.5 million in revenues), was reluctant to show who he really was. Now he connects with prospective customers by making a personal appearance in most of his television ads. “That has been working for us. People are able to put a face with the name. In today’s market, it really doesn’t matter if you are a minority or not. What people are looking for is value, honesty, and a good deal. And that’s what we are offering to customers,” says Perkins.

As African American-owned advertising agencies continue to claw for a thin slice of the advertising dollars pie amid one of the worst economic storms in history, it’s become very clear that shops will either have to make adjustments, such as cost-cutting or improvements, such as incorporating digital media, to survive. Overall, advertising spending declined nearly 9% in 2009 to $116 billion, which left many black advertising agencies fighting for their survival.

While a few firms on the be advertising agencies list experienced growth last year, others have either seen flat progress or continued decline. In 2008, St. Louis-based FUSE (No. 9 on the BE advertising agencies list with $65.1 million in billings) took a slight

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