Trade shows, dealer meetings, and manufacturer training schools are excellent ways to network and share ideas. But, would you bring along your balance sheet to get feedback from fellow dealers? Your answer probably falls along the lines of, “Never in a million years.”

Yet, it’s that kind of sharing that can bring the most benefits, says Noel Lais, vice president of Spader Business Management. He knows from personal experience. He was part of a group of 20 recreational vehicle dealerships that did just that, 35 years ago. He and Duane Spader, the dealership owner, valued the experience so much that Spader started a consulting firm on the concept. They’ve been offering “20 Groups” for a variety of industries since then, including farm equipment, marine, and power sports. Spader recently announced a new group for the outdoor power industry, the Spader OPE 20 Group.

Noel Lais

“Every small business has strengths. Some may be really good at sales or cost management. Others may be good marketers or good at inventory control. These are all elements of a successful business,” says Lais.  

“When someone comes into a 20 Group and sees 19 others doing the same business and trying to be successful in the same industry, they can see their business from a different perspective,” Lais says. “You wouldn’t think of playing a basketball game without knowing the score. Small businesses play the game every day and many don’t have the score. When they submit financial information to the group, they get the score.”

Lais says that sharing confidential information is the biggest hurdle. The dealerships in the group are non-competing, which helps ease the concern over confidentiality.

The OPE 20 group brings together some interesting concepts for expanding your circle of experts. Perhaps you’ve commiserated with a fellow dealer at a meeting regarding a common problem. Give them a call and see if they’ve found a solution. Continue the discussion on other topics and maybe a more formal peer mentoring relationship will evolve. Take the first plunge and share financial information to get to the next level of analysis

Or, consider reaching out to a dealership you admire, maybe one your manufacturer has recognized. Start by congratulating them on their award. Then, ask for some of their time. In exchange, be willing to share what you do best. Don’t be shy. Something you consider ordinary could be a fresh idea for someone else. (Check out best practices from Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s 2012 Dealership of the Year, Mid-State Equipment.)

The time is right to start building these peer relationships, with the new year just weeks again. Everyone is thinking about fresh starts and making next year the best ever.

“No matter the size, businesses are becoming more global. You really need to learn from others. Find the best ideas from others in your industry — and the ideas that didn’t work."

Let’s start some networking right here. Answer our Dealer to Dealer question: What is one thing your dealership does really well?