Straight Talk - Danny Alkassmi

Travis Miller:
Hello and welcome. I am Travis Miller.

Jimmy Vee:
And this is Jimmy Vee.

Travis Miller:
And it’s another edition of Straight Talk with Jimmy Vee and Travis Miller and this is a special, special interview series that we’re doing, part of a special interview series we’re doing here with success strategies for the new automotive economy and we have an excellent guest with us today, Mr. Danny Alkassmi. And Danny is president of Rising Beyond, Inc., and he is an expert in showroom operations, brand loyalty in automotive internet marketing. Did I get that right, Danny?

Danny Alkassmi:
I think you did.

Travis Miller:
Well, excellent. Thanks so much for being with us.

Danny Alkassmi:
Sure, you’re very welcome. Glad to be here.

Travis Miller:
And we really appreciate you volunteering to share your time and expertise not just with us, but with the many thousands of dealers who are gonna listen to this program and hopefully benefit from it.

But of course, you know, benefitting from information only comes when you implement information and that’s the important thing I want to point out with all the interviews that we do and all the content that we provide that, you know, listening is great and I encourage you to expand your thinking, expand your mind, dealers, but I also want you to make sure to take time and effort to implement these ideas and to do something because standing still will not serve you well in this new automotive economy. And Danny, I imagine you probably agree with that.

Danny Alkassmi:
I totally agree with that and I think it’s very, very well put.

Travis Miller:
Thanks. So let’s get started cause I know everyone is busy and I’m sure everyone’s got cars to move and auctions to go to and sales to make happen, so let’s make sure that we can cram as much useable and practical information into our short time together as possible.

You know, this call is really about predictions and, you know, what’s gonna happen in the next 12 months in the auto business? That’s what everyone seems to be wondering and, of course, none of us have a crystal ball, but experts like yourself, Danny, are one of the best sources of predictions that we can find because you’ve been in the industry for long enough to see the trends and the cycles and we’re curious to know what your thoughts and predictions are for the auto industry over the next 12 months.

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay. Well, I would be more than happy to share that with you. Keep in mind, this is one man’s opinion and before I start sharing what I wanted to share with you, I would like to say or maybe point your attention to the fact that nobody really saw this coming. I would love to see a list of early predictions for ’09. I wonder if anybody got it right.

So having said that, I’d like to maybe point out three things. My gut feeling says that it’s not going to be as bad as it may seem to be. I have a feeling that the last six months of ’09 will offset or make up whatever hole we dig ourselves into in the early part of the year.

So, one, it’s not gonna be as bad. Two, I think there will be less of us, us being people in the industry, so less vendors, less providers, less consultants, and probably less dealers. So it’s gonna be gravy for those of us that get to stay around. And then finally I think everyone would probably be on pins and needles looking forward to 2010, so there you have it.

Travis Miller: Well, and I think you’re exactly right and, you know, it’s an important point that you made at the beginning that look, you’d like to see who made this prediction right for 2009, but, you know, I like the direction that you’re going in here because it’s optimistic, at least for those who are still on the market. The folks who no longer are in the market, there’s not much optimism left for them.

However, those of us still here, hey, we’ve got to do what we can and the opportunities are gonna be bigger for us once the – you know, the opportunities are gonna be bigger for us the fewer people in the marketplace as the market begins to rebound. So I mean, you know, really rather than being frustrated or, you know, hindered by the things that happen, you know, to look ahead of us at the landscape and say, “Hey, this is a tremendous opportunity for everyone left in the market.”

Danny Alkassmi:
I agree.

Travis Miller:
Now what do you think – I mean aside from the most obvious things, what do you see as sort of the biggest hurdles that dealers are gonna face in the next 12 months or so?

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay, and I’m glad you said – you saw the obvious. So I would say looking at it from my point of view, having been around many friends, many terrific dealers, I think the hurdle is going to be having the clarity or the expertise to navigate, the discipline to manage the business in this environment, having to control expense while still going after revenue.

Travis Miller:
Yeah.

Danny Alkassmi:
Having the balance between pushing the brakes and maybe pushing on the accelerator and not forgetting about the steering wheel in the process. You still gotta know where you’re going.

Travis Miller:
Good point.

Danny Alkassmi:
I guess my fear is that some in the process of managing all of this, they may go too deep in cutting the fat.

Travis Miller:
Uh-huh.

Danny Alkassmi:
So deep that they cut it right into the muscles which would actually be counterproductive.

Travis Miller:
Sure. Well, and it’s so tough to tell where the fat ends and the muscle begins sometimes.

Danny Alkassmi:
Yes, it can be. That’s what I said, the clarity and the expertise to be able to survive in this environment I think is going to be the thing to be able to get over.

Travis Miller:
That’s really – that’s an excellent point and I agree with you. I think you’re exactly right on that. I mean do you – you know, on a side note here, what do you think? What’s your recommendation for increasing that clarity so that in having a dealer be able to discern where the fat ends and the muscle begins so that they don’t make mistakes in credit?

Danny Alkassmi:
Well, the most sensitive area is going to be in the area of people. You know, good people are tough to find and when you have that individual working for you at any capacity you gotta make sure that they’re happy. You gotta make sure that they’re – make sure you don’t lose the good people around you because to be able to restart when that market rebounds, it’s gonna be very, very tough to surround yourself with those experts. They’ll be somewhere else.

Jimmy Vee:
Now Danny, as a consultant yourself, pretty much I think I know the answer to this question, but if a dealer may not have the wisdom or expertise or to know necessarily where the fat ends and the muscle begins, it could actually pay in the long run for someone – for a dealer like that to get to go out and buy or outsource for that type of expertise and wisdom. Would you agree with that?

Danny Alkassmi:
I would and try to refrain from guessing, try to refrain from having to make a decision under distress. Don’t be too proud to ask friends, colleagues, experts, ________ groups, your manufacturer. You know, they’re not out to get you, so don’t be too proud to ask.

Travis Miller:
Yeah, that’s true. Do you think that there are any surprises in store for dealers that they’re not aware of currently, you know, any more sharp turns to come up ahead?

Danny Alkassmi:
Boy, that is a really tough one, surprises that they’re not aware of. I think everybody’s smart enough to kind of foresee what’s coming and I think based on what I see, they’re prepared for what’s coming. I’m not really sure there’s gonna be – obviously a surprise is gonna surprise us all just like what happened late last year. After seeing that, I don’t know where to begin to guess where that surprise may come.

Travis Miller:
Yeah, like we’ve been shocked so much, I don’t know if we could be shocked again, that kind of thing.

Danny Alkassmi:
Yeah. I think, you know, I would really like to say that we’re – we’ve seen the worst. I think the good days are ahead. I think we’ve hit bottom.

Travis Miller:
Yeah. We frequently talk about the concept of growing and not just going and how you’ve gotta keep your business growing and not just going. And over the last several months it’s been like, you know, hey, you’re lucky to keep your business going, you know, and dealers are starting to settle more and more for just going, right, and saying, “Forget growing. I just need to keep going.” And there’s sort of a reversion back to this principle of, you know, not even being interested or concerned with growth and just being interested in staying afloat.

Yet the most successful dealers that we know and work with personally, we see them growing. A report just in this morning from dealers still using, you know, for instance, direct mail was the e-mail I got this morning, a dealer using direct mail for a promotion and getting a great response and getting an excellent ROI and making a – in fact, the money he made just from the single direct mail promotion. And this isn’t a big deal. This is actually an independent dealer.

The money he made from the single direct mail promotion that he did this month would have been – you know, is enough money to save a lot of dealerships who are facing possible closure this month and next. And so he didn’t just settle for staying afloat. He went for growth. And so what I’m curious about, in your opinion, from your perspective based on your expertise, what are your three recommendations for how a dealer can be growing and not just going?

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay. Well, let’s see. I could probably share with you a couple of general recommendations and maybe a specific one. So –

Travis Miller:
Okay.

Danny Alkassmi:
I would say start with – my top recommendation would be to invest in educating your management team.

Travis Miller:
Okay.

Danny Alkassmi:
I’m not sure we do enough of that. So I would say that would be a top priority this year. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a good book to read. I think it’s very relevant to what we do in the business. Another terrific book would be great, and it’s called Good to Great and that’s another book that I would highly recommend to dealers and operators. So that would be one to maybe spend some time investing and educating your management team. You want to invest in educating everyone, but specifically your management team.

Travis Miller:
Okay.

Danny Alkassmi:
Two, I would say work on perfecting your showroom experience, your service drive experience, basically all points of contact with the consumer. I don’t think we do a good enough job there, really don’t. You’ve gotta find a way to empower our people to just learn how to make things work for our customer, how to make things right, learn how to say yes instead of no, can instead of can’t, and do instead of don’t.

I don’t think we do enough of that and in this environment we’re running scared. We’re looking for that easy way out, so improve that. A specific area to improve in a particular dealership is what I call the black hole and that is in the area of appraising our trade-ins. I think this is one of the last frontiers that need to be tackled in our industry and it’s troubling a lot of us.

You’ve gotta put some credibility behind the process to do that. Use the tools. Use the information that’s available to you. Shy away from guessing conservatively or relying on one person’s opinion in a dealership. I think those three areas would probably be my top two recommendations.

Travis Miller:
Okay, good. And what do you think the top area of focus and improvement should be for a dealer in your opinion?

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay. When you say that, then there’s only one thing that comes to mind. I may be in the minority on this one, and I would say ________ employee satisfaction index.

Travis Miller:
Okay.

Danny Alkassmi:
I think you’re going to win with people and you’re not going to win with people that are left unsatisfied, left unhappy, left unproud to be with you. So start there.

Jimmy Vee:
It’s an internal ________.

Danny Alkassmi:
I’m sorry.

Jimmy Vee:
It has to be right internally before it can be right externally.

Danny Alkassmi:
I totally agree with that.

Travis Miller:
Yeah. Well, that’s very insightful, Danny. Thanks for sharing that idea. Something that we talk about a lot in gravitational marketing in fact is the idea of there being three levels of marketing. The first layer of marketing is what most people are most familiar with, which is the external marketing, sort of the skin.

If you think about this as, let’s say an apple, and maybe the same apple that dropped from an apple tree and bumped Isaac Newton on the head. You think of the skin of the apple, you know, it’s that shiny exterior. It’s what people in the outside world see and –

Jimmy Vee:
It’s the promises.

Travis Miller:
It’s the promises, yep, and, you know, the offers and the brand. And that’s what most people think of as marketing. But, you know, if you think about an apple, the skin of the apple really is a very small part of the sum of the whole fruit, you know. It’s just that very thin layer on the outside.


Danny Alkassmi:
Yeah.

Travis Miller:
And have you ever seen a beautiful apple in the store and then gone and taken a bite of it and been very disappointed? You know, it’s shiny red, you know, like a fire engine on the outside, but then when you bit into it, it was sort of mealy and crumby and dry and bland and just wasn’t right.

Danny Alkassmi:
Just had one this morning.

Travis Miller:
Oh, okay. Well, you know, and that’s –

Danny Alkassmi:
It’s disappointing when you have – when you bite into one of those.

Travis Miller:
Yeah, it’s very disappointing. And I think that – by the way, I think interestingly, I think a lot of farms have found ways to do some external coating, rub something on the outside of the apple to make a beautiful fruit that really isn’t very much quality inside, you know. And that’s how people think of marketing a lot of times is this external like a salve, something that you can rub on the outside that makes it all – that makes you or your company look shiny and new and perfect.

But see, these days with consumer confidence as low as it is and people being, you know, with the information age, people being connected virtually and everyone having a medium and everyone having a voice on the internet, for instance, if the consumption of your product or service, in this case, your experience at your dealership, isn’t as good, doesn’t live up to the expectations set by your external marketing. So now this is the fruit of the apple, the meat. If the consumption isn’t as good as the external appearance, then you misrepresented yourself.

Now think about that in the car business. That happens all the time, you know. Marketing one thing externally, then when you show up, people don’t even know that and they don’t even – the staff won’t even know what was on the radio or in the newspaper or in the mail piece. They’ve never heard of it before, but not just that. You made promises one place, but then didn’t deliver on it when they showed up in terms of the experience.

But now you take it even a step deeper here. You go all the way to the fees, which is the third layer of marketing. We say really truly it can’t be good. It can’t be right unless the center, the core, is right. It starts with the owner and extends out to the people. As you say, ESI. If those people aren’t happy to be there, if they’re not excited to be there, meaning your own staff, then how can the consumption experience be any good at all?

Jimmy Vee:
And we believe that’s marketing as a whole. It incorporates both the skin – well, all three, the skin, the consumption, the meat of that fruit, and the core and the seeds of the company. So –

Danny Alkassmi:
I like this example. I really like this metaphor. I think we’re on the same page with that.

Travis Miller:
I think so too. That’s excellent. So, and, you know, you’re right. I rarely hear anybody – you know, you said you’re in the minority there and I rarely hear anybody queue into that. You know, it’s always about which new trick you’re gonna use on the internet or which new direct mail piece you’re gonna use. And by the way, all that’s great, you know, but it’s just the skin on the surface.

Danny Alkassmi:
Can you prove it? Can you prove it?

Jimmy Vee:
Yes.

Danny Alkassmi:
Now you may find that secret, that magic to get the phone to ring, to get that lead to come through the internet, to get someone to knock on your door, but is there anybody there and when you open that door, can you prove it? Can you meet, can you exceed that expectation? You know, we’re all after that transaction, but one transaction isn’t gonna make or break anyone. We need to be going for much more than that. We need to be going for that relationship. That transaction is only the beginning of what may follow. I don’t think we see it that far.

Travis Miller:
I can’t agree with you more. Hey, Danny, tell me while we’re talking here and dealers listening to this, you know, some of them are gonna say, “Yeah, I like this guy. He’s all right.”

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay.

Travis Miller:
And, “I want to get more Danny Alkassmi, you know.” So give us some examples about how you and your multiple companies can help dealers cope and deal and succeed in these challenging times.

Danny Alkassmi:
Okay. Well, I sure appreciate the opportunity and I’m certain happy to give us a little plug there. I guess earlier we were just touching on that showroom experience, that ability to have your people get the right education, the ability to empower them to make things happen for you.

That’s what we do with RBI. Our bread and butter is our sales process called RBI Score. It’s built on having that balance between getting us what we’re looking for and that is the sale, the profit, and the ability to maintain our business, but getting that customer, getting that consumer what they’re looking for, and that is the product or the service that is going to meet and exceed the expectations and having someone stand by them during and after the sale.

It’s a sales process that is manageable, that is measurable, that is logical. So that’s what we do with RBI. And then our ability to help the dealer maintain and retain their clients by creating desires for them. We want their customers to want them. We want the customer to want the dealer as much as the dealer wants that customer. So I’d be more than happy to help them. So you want my name or –

Travis Miller:
So how does someone get in touch with you, Danny?

Danny Alkassmi:
Well, rbipro.com for the sales operation side, for the customer loyalty and the internet based marketing, odoclub.com, O-D-O-C-L-U-B.com.

Travis Miller:
Excellent. Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate you being with us today. I’d like to remind everybody listening that if you have questions about what we’ve talked about on this call, want more information on these ideas, on this topic, then you can always reach out to us and speak to one of our Rich Dealers advisors for a free hidden wealth evaluation where they will help you uncover some of the opportunities that may be lying dormant in your dealership and help plug you in with valuable resources such as Danny or any of the myriad of other opportunities that we know and recommend and might be able to offer you ourself.

And we thank you for listening and being with us, and Danny, thanks so much for your time and expertise here.

Danny Alkassmi:
Absolutely my pleasure. I’m honored to be on.

Jimmy Vee:
Thank you, Danny.

Travis Miller:
Of course, I’m Travis Miller, the big idea guy.

Jimmy Vee:
And I’m Jimmy Vee, the five foot high marketing guy.

Travis Miller:
And this has been Straight Talk with Jimmy Vee and Travis Miller. We’ll see you next time.

For more auto marketing advice visit RichDealers.com