Keith Whann
Keith Whann
NIADA
General Counsel

In his role as NIADA general counsel, Keith Whann regularly advises independent dealers about the daily challenges and ongoing compliance and regulatory issues they face. DealerADvantage recently spoke with Whann to get his thoughts on dealers’ top concerns in the final months of 2008.

Finding Lending Sources

With growing economic uncertainty and credit tightening for both independent and franchise stores, Whann acknowledges that dealers face a tough road ahead. “I think they find lending sources any way they can,” he says, “and I’m not being tongue and cheek with that.”

If you’re having difficulty finding lending sources, Whann suggests that you ask colleagues about their partners. From there, he recommends contacting your dealer associations, such as NIADA, for their lists of preferred providers that operate at the national and regional level.

“Then start to be creative,” Whann said. “If I’m an independent dealer, I would talk to my local banks to see who’s there.”

Keeping Pace With Change

“Change has become a constant, and that’s probably one of the biggest challenges for an independent dealer,” Whann says. “We’re living now in a computer age, an automated age where everything is real time. That creates challenges within the dealership to stay current.”

To keep pace, Whann said dealers need to set clear priorities and develop a plan to achieve those objectives. “Do the things you do well,” he advises, “and get help in the areas where you need to look for other resources.”

Rather than feeling like you have to go it alone, Whann recommends you capitalize on outside expertise:

  • Third-party vendors. If you need help merchandising your listings online, for example, Whann suggests working with automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com. Not only do these companies provide the tools necessary to credibly advertise your inventory on the internet, but they also reach a large audience of in-market shoppers. Other companies can similarly help shoulder some of your workload, he said, including photo, data and inventory management service providers. 
  • Dealer associations. Whether you need advice on compliance and regulatory issues or access to educational resources for yourself and your staff, these groups can be a great place to turn. NIADA, for example, publishes “Used Car Dealer” magazine to provide the latest business tips and techniques, operates NIADA TV to share on-demand video seminars and annually hosts a national convention with workshops presented by industry-recognized experts.
  • Auction partners. With market conditions continuously fluctuating, Whann said dealers should leverage this expertise to ensure they have the right cars in inventory and that they’re paying the right price for them.   

Going Green

As consumers increasingly purchase more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles, Whann said dealers must sort out which cars to carry. At issue are vehicles that may leave buyers with inconvenient refueling options and the question of whether problems are covered by your service warranty provider.

“How does the independent dealer get the information to buy this vehicle, represent it for sale and, if there becomes an issue, be able to repair it?” Whann said. “That’s where I think the technology helps; being online and doing things. These are big challenges because we’re talking about major technological differences in how these cars will operate.”

Staying Focused

“I know independent dealers who have done all of this, who have embraced the change and said, ‘OK, look, it’s not like it used to be. I’ve got to do things differently.’ By using their website and partnering with other websites in the way they put cars up there, they’re having the best year they’ve ever had this year,” Whann said. “So it can be done. What you’ve got to do with all this change going on around you – change in the marketplace, change in the economy, change in the customer’s profile and the lenders in the space – if all this is changing and you stay the same, you’re likely not going to have success.”