Mindspear Blog Articles

Jeff Gandy

How We Thrived During the Pandemic

Preparedness and a willingness to take on risk rules the day

Its been a busy 18 months at the three dealerships and I thought it might be a good time to touch on what happened and how we not only survived but thrived during that time.  The governor’s order for shutting down the state of Illinois came down on March 20th, 2020.  As a company I think we were much better prepared than most dealers, either motorcycle or auto. 

Throughout 2019 we had made a significant investment in our infrastructure that have gave some real flexibility in where and how we can do business.  Our entire team from owners down to the photographer could work from anywhere.  In the months of November and December of that year we were lucky to have put together a disaster preparedness plan and tested a lot of the features that later would give us the breathing room to deal with some very rapid changes calmly and carefully as the pandemic unfolded.

By chance, in the summer of 2019 we had a scare at the Elmhurst dealership.  A mechanic made a mistake with a battery charging system that started a fire in our service area.  We were very fortunate as the fire suppression system kicked in when the fire started around 1AM and extinguished the blaze.  Our security cameras happened to be focused directly at the location where it started and later we were able to watch footage of the entire event.  If you’ve never seen a lithium battery burn inside a Can-Am Spyder it leaves quite the impression.

The owners had put money into a new CRM and an IP phone system that same summer.  It was a huge improvement and as the fall progressed, I was learning the capabilities of both and working on integrating that with all our business processes.  We have 3 locations with 2 in Florida and one in Illinois and we can handle call flows and leads seamlessly into all three locations.  Things like spillover in calls or leads or loss of a location were no longer problems without an answer.

Not only did I need a working disaster plan, but I was simultaneously planning for a month-long trip to China in January and February of 2020.  I work remotely from China once or twice a year and have been doing so since I started with iMotorsports.  I am fortunate that the company has always given me a lot of flexibility with my schedule and role.  Still, every trip requires a lot of planning and backup planning.  I had a scheduled departure date of January 18th so during the entire month of December I had worked with the sales staff to make sure they had our IP phone application on their personal phones and had learned how to access the CRM from home.

By far the two most important reasons we held our own and then leaped out in front was that we already did a significant amount of business online and the owners decided to push forward with doubling our marketing budget instead of running for cover.  Our systems let us track, process and ship units nationwide.  Our salespeople can access their primary tools (CRM, phone, email, inventory) entirely through their phone.  A customer can see, finance, and purchase his motorcycle entirely online, then just wait for the delivery at their home.  This was in place and being used prior to the pandemic and was part of our core business process.  While people were trying to adapt, we took advantage and surged into the gap.

The implication of the stay-at-home orders that were being put in place across the country was that a huge portion of our market was suddenly going to be faced with no money, no job and other things to think about besides a new motorcycle.  Several of our competitors and many dealers across the country chose to just close the doors and wait.  This created market gaps, wide-open areas where market share is available if you just want to work for it.

We also had a head start because I was in Beijing as the crisis unfolded.  While people were debating if this was real or what was happening, I was in daily contact with our owners and able to tell them what was happening on the ground in China.  Yes it was real and yes we needed to think about what might happen.  The door for travel slammed closed less than two weeks after I landed there, and I was barely able to get back out in time and return to the United States on February 4th

I had built a model trying to anticipate trends in the coronavirus pandemic so that I could predict how to spend our marketing money most efficiently.  We monitor statistics across our key data points (phone, swings and digital) on daily and sometimes hourly basis.  What I was looking for was decay and rate of decay in marketing assets.  We threw a lot of things against the wall the first few days just trying to stay ahead of what was happening.  It was obvious from the beginning that we were going to see a decline in performance on every front.  The question was, what would show weakness first and culling low performers to put effort into better solutions.

If we had to shut down any location, we were prepared to shift everything from online leads to phone calls to another location in a different state.  There was real peace of mind there and we didn’t have to waste days putting together a plan because our disaster plan was already in place.  Instead of focusing on infrastructure I could focus on marketing.  There were several packages available from our advertisers and our manufacturers to help with the situation and we worked to leverage these to their maximum.

By the end of April and early May of 2020 we suddenly knew that not only were we going to survive but we were on our way to a record setting year for sales and profit.  It was difficult at times and could be tough on our sales staff, but we were able to take our people who had serious health concerns and allow them to work from home.

While 2021 has been very challenging for other reasons (primarily inventory) we still have had a great year.  However there has been a real downside.  If you are familiar with the powersports industry you are aware that most dealers were about 20 years behind the automotive industry.  Very slow to adapt technology, very slow to understand social media.  We had exploited that gap to our advantage and ruthlessly took as much market share as we could grab.  The pandemic has forced the surviving dealerships to catch up and narrowed that gap considerably.  We still lead, but its nowhere near as easy as it was in 2019.  That, combined with younger blood moving into this industry and the older hands retiring cements that trend into a more competitive market.

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