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The Good Ol’ Boy Network (GOBN) Limits Dealer Success

The Good Ol’ Boy Network (GOBN) of the car business limits us in how we apply experienced and/or capable people, how we run our dealership’s business, and in how we approach women in this business for everything from ownership, to manager spots, to sales positions. And, by doing all that, limits our success.  And our profitability.  Let me tell you my own experience with the car business GOBN, and then I’ll address the point I’m making on limits.

I came to the car business in my 40’s (I’m now 52) with experience ranging from owning my own business, to Fortune 100 Consulting, to several years at Microsoft. I entered the sales floor, as perhaps many do, because I had a financial issue—I had a cash flow problem with my business, and so I was making an effort to offset that slowdown.

I was privileged to work with several great salespeople who were happy with me until I started selling #1 consistently. Eventually, they came back to liking me, but what really happened next was inevitable: I knew so much about sales and marketing, and the dealership group’s attention to marketing and the Internet was severely lagging. They couldn’t run a marketing program in any coordinated fashion to save their lives. I tried to help, but I ran right smack into the GOBN: I couldn’t possibly understand the car business! And the people they had running all the marketing and Internet were just fine. Really. They knew them all very well, how could it be otherwise??

And so I sold lots of cars and left when my cash was right again. The main store’s GM called me very shortly after that, though, and he said “I get it even if other’s don’t. I need your help in a BDC with phones and Internet, can you come back and help me?” And so I did. And a shout-out to my old GM, Mike, by the way: Thanks very much for that!

He and I worked together and took the BDC—even back then—to running 40% of the dealer’s vehicle retail business. I eventually moved on to an eCommerce position at a large group, and for me the rest is history as they say—I’m now an independent consultant (, but I still have all that experience, both outside and inside the car business. Plus I qualify now for some entry into that GOBN. Who knew?

Though that’s still not true with everyone who considers me, because I’m not twenty years in this business making all the same mistakes they are making (if not direct business mistakes, then business-limiting mistakes because they are still GOBN-oriented).

So, what are a few of the most common GOBN limits? First, that experience outside the car business isn’t any strong help to a dealership; second, that running the dealership AS a business, instead of by GOBN “relationship decisions", is not possible nor profitable; and, third, that women are never, ever part of the GOBN.

Yeah. I said it. Women are limited by the GOBN in the car business. Still. I’ll write more on that in a minute.

I already covered the GOBN’s reaction to experienced and capable people when I wrote about my own entry into the car business. What I see for GOBN for relationships that hold back their business success is perhaps best given in questions: Who knows a GM who buys a random direct mail piece because his buddy at another dealership “killed it” and sold “fifty cars” from it last month? Or has seen the management clearing-out that happens with some GM regime changes? Or still sees print advertising spend over digital because the GM has a long-standing relationship with the local newspaper? And so on. Exactly.

And back to women, then, to wrap up, and I’ll ask some more questions: How many women GMs and managers are there? Would a successful woman ever get online as a dealership Marketing Director and write on an automotive professional blog site (using both their personal name and their dealer’s name) in angry posts, some containing profanity (see the thread here)? Would even my actions there be done differently? Why do lots of capable women leave the sales floor? Why do the ones who stay do so well and yet cause such jealousy?

GOBN, that’s why. For all of that and more.

We need experienced, capable people with new ideas; we need to run our dealerships as businesses, not as clubs; and we need more women in sales, management, and ownership.

And we lag on all these because of the limit of the GOBN, both in business practice and in attitude. Removing that limit will do more for long-term dealership success than any new efforts on Internet, Social Media, Reputation Management, etc. ever will alone—simply because those are all really most successful when change for business success is really embraced.

And the car-business GOBN hates change. Have you noticed? So did the dinosaurs, perhaps, and they are now encased in rock. Don’t be a GOBN fossil and miss modern success and profit.



By Keith Shetterly,
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

Views: 865


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Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 29, 2013 at 7:49am

Alexander, the dinosaur analogy actually gets a lot of traction, so silly it may be.  They were successful for millions of years, and their environment changed around them.  As consumers are changing the environment of dealerships, mostly enabled by the Rise of the Internet in Car Shopping.  JD Power has an interesting stat that shows in 2005 car shoppers visited on average 4.5 dealerships before buying.  Today their data shows the average as 1.4 or less.

And I can't say I've been in every dealership--THAT would be silly, certainly.  However, I've been in many, and I've networked for years with professionals across the country.  I've seen the GOBN damage dealership's business.  Long ago, that didn't happen.

The environment for that dinosaur has changed.

Thanks for the comment, by the way, and for reading!

Comment by Alexander Lau on January 29, 2013 at 7:43am

I believe it depends on the exact dealership, resources, overall strategy and demographic. It's very difficult to just say "change." I don't think it's quite that simple. If tactics have been measured as successful over a period of 10, 20, 50 years or greater, do you honestly think they'll be willing to differentiate their sales process(es)? IMO, they're going to be very hesitant to change, if it's working.

The analogy to the demise of the dinosaurs seems a bit silly. Most paleontologists believe a comet, meteor or asteroid crashed into the earth some 65.5 million years ago, resulting into their sudden extinction. I don't see the correlation. The dinos were killed by factors outside of their control. Unless you're referring to the 'origin of birds' theory, where it's believed some dinos evolved into birds, etc. (although that has been brought into question, as well)? Successful dealerships are in control, I'm sure a lot of them GOBN-based, know darn well what they're doing or they wouldn't be in business.

When it comes down to it, dealerships should always look to improve and putting women on the sales floor to sell to everyone (especially women) is a great tactic. IMO, it reduces intimidation factors.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 29, 2013 at 7:35am

Cathy, I love that!  :)

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on January 29, 2013 at 7:34am

I'm proud to say my GM is an awesome, forward thinking female. There are women everywhere in this dealership...from body shop estimators to technicians, from managers to sales staff, from office staff to the majority of our service advisors...this is a place where being a woman is celebrated. We don't think about the GOBN, we're busy gettin' stuff done! Making it happen and rockin the heels :)

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 29, 2013 at 7:33am

Thanks Subi!  :)

Comment by Subi Ghosh on January 29, 2013 at 7:31am

I, for one, am a Sales and E-Commerce Director. I'd been an Internet Director for about 5 years. I'm not afraid to speak up here (anymore) . I didn't always have the support from my workplace to speak up in places like this. And that makes all the difference. I got in on the ground floor of an Internet Department and kicked my way to the top... not because I knew the right people... I knew noone in this industry. But I'd like to believe it was because I had thick skin, a goal, the passion to help me get there, and I wasn't taking "No" for an answer.

This industry is one that embraces women now (for the most part). I see that trend at every conference I go in. But, I think it takes a specific type of personality (man or woman) to really make it in the industry. As long as those factors are there with the added "right team" ... I think the possibilities are endless for women.

Call me naive, but I think the industry has changed a bit . So be cautious to screen the women for the job, but for god's sake... get on board! Women have a lot to offer this industry and will help you think differently about simple processes you've had forever. Not just women, anyone who hasn't been a part of the industry will, but give a lady a chance! ;)

Comment by Keith Shetterly on May 20, 2011 at 9:06am
Thomas I., you are not alone.  Unfortunately for some dealerships, just at a time when the car business needs most to be run as a business, the GOBN stands in the way too many times.

Comment by Thomas Ieracitano on May 20, 2011 at 8:14am

I grew up in South Florida an Boca Raton, I have relocated a few years ago to South Georgia where my wife is from and I enjoy many of the small town-ism's.

But, I cannot get over how 'more things change the more they stay the same' and the GOBN is alive and well. My wife (who also has car business experience) also calls some of the stores 'Pet Farms' which Keith you had eluded to in your GOBN.

I have encountered the GOBN not only in Retail as well as on the OEM side of the car business and like you Keith amazed at the decisions made based on , well I am still not sure of the thought process but it is not based on being profitable, business acumen or analysis.

In any case its good to know I am not alone!

Comment by Keith Shetterly on May 19, 2011 at 4:32pm
Thanks Amanda, Derek, and Tom!
Comment by Tom Gorham on May 19, 2011 at 4:30pm
Great article Keith!  I think the Internet is part of the impetus for change as far as bringing in outsiders who can be a breath of fresh air to a stale GOBN.

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