Floyd Jerkins founded Jerkins Creative Consulting in 1991 and worked with hundreds of dealers before selling his consultancy to Spader Business Management in 2015 and casually retiring. Floyd and his wife, Jane, moved from Southern Illinois to the beach in the panhandle of Florida. In 2018, Hurricane Michael blew through the area and Jerkins helped several businesses get back up and running.

“I volunteered for several weeks helping others in our area after the storm. That fueled an old flame that I thought was dwindling. After much thought, I started up my Executive Coaching Service on a more formal basis to work one-on-one and help people get better at what they do,” Jerkins says.

Rural Lifestyle Dealer talks with Jerkins about the changes he’s seen in the industry — over the years and since he casually retired — and how dealers can remain competitive and successful.

Rural Lifestyle Dealer: What trends have you been watching over the last few years?

Floyd Jerkins: The rural lifestyle market is in the early stages of consolidation. The distribution channel will continue evolving toward more consolidation. Customers have gotten smarter and dealers have aged, creating a whole new segment of customers and dealership operations people.

Consolidation is a natural occurrence when you have an aging owner population that needs to find a successor, whether it’s a family member or through some kind of acquisition. The stages of consolidation start with single store and single owner. Then, it moves to multi-store and single owner before multi-store and multi-owners. It’s on a slow roll now and it will start to speed up as the number of owners shrinks. This will provide some great opportunities in several ways for existing owners who want to expand or find a way out.

“ESI = CSI: Employee Satisfaction Index leads to Customer Satisfaction Index. Turn your customers into advocates.”

— Floyd Jerkins

I also believe new owners are emerging who have never owned a business like this before. They will succeed because many of the rural lifestyle dealership operational best practices mirror other industries.

The main thing is to have a plan to address your business in relation to what’s happening to your brands and regional market area. We saw in the ag market where a single-store dealership became surrounded by merged dealerships and it became challenging to compete with them.

Brand purity demands from manufacturers was a driver in many acquisitions and mergers — it was also a survival mechanism for OEMs. It used to be that a dealer would absorb a shortline just to be able to shut off a competitor, but then never really produce with it. OEMs are after performance because they need a continued broad reach in the market, which is why they turned to the mass merchants.

Younger dealers should be extremely aware of that psychology and look at where they're going to be at in 10 years because I think the market is moving faster than what many think it is. Areas of responsibility are also changing rapidly due to social conditions and construction of urban areas. 

I still provide education on what we call shark or bait. It's about helping dealers/owners understand that you have to become a good shark, or you have to become good bait. There are key financial and operational strategies depending on which way you’re going. You need to decide because you're going to be one or the other. That’s part of developing a plan.

RLD: What changes are you seeing in the daily operations of dealerships?

Jerkins: When you start looking at specific functionalities like marketing and sales, it wasn't that long ago, and even still today, that owner-operators of smaller dealerships, (those doing $5 million and less in revenues) are still handling sales. Marketing your business versus selling in your business requires different skill sets and different views.

Selling is a system of doing certain relational processes correctly to maintain high margins and repeat and referral business. Giving out prices to every customer, but then not having a dedicated follow-up system is not good process management. It leaves hundreds and thousands of dollars on the table every year. Typically, if a dealer is selling, they are not tending to other parts of the business. To succeed, each department should be optimized. 

As a whole, rural dealers have gotten better at marketing, but I don't think they're great. However, marketing is a function of operational sophistication, the ability for the operation to fund it, support it, and have a vision for it. You can’t fake your way to success. 

RLD: How can a dealer start handing off daily responsibilities to have time to create the vision?

Jerkins:It's a very big strategic decision. What strengths does the owner have? Are they selling because that’s what they’ve always done or because they’re great at it? Just because they own the place, it doesn’t mean they’re good at everything.

For instance, marketing a dealership is really a full-time job and requires specific skill sets. Using technology to inform and persuade a market isn’t the same as what it was 5 years ago.

Learning to delegate can’t be answered in a few paragraphs. Without a concentrated focus, owners are just sporadically touching marketing elements. How you stand out from the clutter of advertisements makes a huge difference in the image of your business.

The smaller operation may find it tough to fund that added expense, but a focused marketing function is necessary for growth and expansion — and to stand apart from the competition. Manufacturer brands are still important in marketing, but they should be second to the dealership brand. That's what should carry the weight of their messaging.

Today, dealers have the ability to outsource all their marketing or portions of it, but they have to set a budget for it. And, they need to be able to define their marketing reach and target audience and use CRM tools, so marketing flows into sales. The two functions should feed each other. 

RLD: How can a dealer stay up-to-date on all the new ways to market? 

Jerkins: This may sound counter intuitive, but the main thing is not to be everything to everybody. It’s easy to get caught up in the clutter today, especially with social media, but start with one tactic and become good at it, so that you can see leads, sales and profitability.

Everybody wants to win that new customer. New business acquisition is critically important, but so is retaining existing customers and knowing what they need, sometimes before they need it. And, the clincher is turning your customers into advocates. The best way to do that is through building relationships at the dealership level. If a customer calls in and asks about a piece of equipment, but the salesperson never calls them back, they’re never going to win that customer. If the customer has to call back, the dealership’s value lessens and price becomes the most important factor.

RLD: What practices can dealer principals follow each day to improve their businesses?

Jerkins: Develop a quality mindset where you want to improve in one area 1% a week or a month. The personal touch to the customer is more important now than ever before and there are numerous ways to do this. It all starts with that dedicated team of people who love the customer service side of the business. 

Look at the products you sell as products — they are not what makes your dealership unique. Your dealership brand is what makes you special.In a smaller business where the owner is hands on, the culture of the operation all starts with the owner.

Owners also have to get in a position mentally to let go of power and control, so others can handle some of their daily tasks and they can concentrate on strategy and vision. Learn how to delegate effectively, allowing others to succeed even though they might do things differently than you.

Floyd Jerkins can be reached at 618.218.1763 or through his website, www.floydjerkinsexecutivecoaching.com

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