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Last weekend's NADA show had all of the makings for a great show: vendors, timing, speakers and even terrific weather (for New Orleans in winter). The one thing that was missed: the D in NADA. Without the dealers, it's a relatively expensive industry supplier meeting. As the trade show and the main body of the industry in the US, it's the dealers' best resource for gettin' er' done. I've never walked around unabated.

This is not a blast on the NADA, its leadership or affiliates. Considering that this blog is for best practices, we'd prefer to look at ideas and solutions prior to next year's Orlando get together. More should have been done to get the dealers there that considered it and declined. NADA, its exhibitors, partners and others deserve more for the effort that is put forth every year to provide solutions and resources to a massive industry.

Absolutely knowing that attendance would be down, a stronger message could have been sent including promotion of the event in the past couple months. Lowering ticket prices, getting airlines, hotels and other necessary partners involved to chip in with big discounts would have been instrumental in getting more people out. On the surface, those are the 'easy' things: better promotion, better attendance, better planning leading to better results. OK, enough said on that, I went.

This year is done and over, we can't change it. Keeping in mind existing factors and the expected continued drop in sales, how can we drive going forward and build for NADA '10? If the industry is down this year, will less than 10% of the automotive retailers be represented next year? How many people will think "I didn't go in '09 and I don't think it hurt me, maybe I'll skip the next one!"

Maybe a couple things need to change. Having attended the major shows and events over the past eight years, it's clear that change is needed to be more effective. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Setting expectations for what dealers will be able to get out of every session, event, speaker and meeting.
2. Promote each event individually in the lead up to the show via email and other marketing.
3. Hold speakers and contributors accountable for the content of their sessions and change them every year. People don't want to hear the same folks talking every year.
4. Follow up. Maybe NADA should follow up with every attendee each year with their staff of consultants and make sure the value from the show is delivered.
5. Come with the expectation to learn first, network second, see everyone you should third and then maybe shift to how many drinks it takes to forget the taxi ride back to the wrong hotel. No, it shouldn't be number one or two no matter how much fun you can have.

Many of this industry's best and brightest companies were on display for about 80% fewer dealers this year. The busiest booths I witnessed were all associated with the web, web-based and/or services that are made for the Internet. In order for all of us to build the business right now, we have to be focused on customers, best practices, smart spending, brand building and right-sizing.

If we act now to make NADA 2010 better for everyone, we'll have a tremendous show. One other way we might be better served is to cross promote events (no matter how insane that sounds in a hyper-competitive environment). Digital Dealer, JD Power Automotive Roundtables, Ward's Spring Training, Synergy Sessions and more can further benefit by helping the community in addition to getting more dealers to attend through lowering fees and providing more value. Just an idea...

If you were at NADA:

1. What were your perspectives?
2. What do you see happening to push business forward?
3. Who were the most exciting companies in your opinion? (without blatant self-promotion)
4. What do you think was missed that must be addressed in a proactive manner going forward?

Learn from the past to better look forward and plan. It is in our complete interest to create a healthier place to both work and thrive from the inside. It must start with helping dealers sell more cars.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

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