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Keith Shetterly

Keith Shetterly Owner

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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, be warned)? 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 a business, 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

Marc McGurren
Wow - spot on sir. We truly are limited by our old school mentality in so many ways - but at the end of the day we still operate by a 30 foot rule. If you can walk outside the dealership look up and if your name is 30 feet above you - then you can do what you want. If not - we still have to operate under what the dealer wants. I am blessed to have a fabulous dealer to work and has been in business for 40 years and counting. He doesn't understand this "internet thing" but he does recognize the value and has given me and my team the latitude to take our dealership to the next level in digital marketing. Do we still struggle with the GOBN - you betcha. But that GOBN has also helped these dealers be successful for decades. They just have to be careful the GOBN doesn't stifle business moving forward. Great read!
Keith Shetterly
Thanks Marc! And the post is really aimed to get everyone to think, but it would be nice to get the dealers themselves to understand the limits this sets. The Internet, with all it's pluses and minuses, is opposite to the GOBN, and it's now more necessary than GOBN. It will just take time--time some do not have--to move over to that success and let go of so much GOBN.
Bryan Armstrong
Keith, Excellent post as usual and you bring some great points. It is ironic that almost daily I get requests from Dealers asking for help or advice yet after reviewing their unique situation, any change is usually met by "Oh, you're right, but my guys would never embrace that". I often want to back up and make sure I'm still talking to the G.M. or Owner. The tail wags the dog to often in this industry and atrocious behavior is tolerated for short term profit because somebody "produces". I guess the question would be, at what cost? Is your 40 car guy actually COSTING you 60 additional deals a Month due to his prima donna attitude or the way he tubes out a promising newbie? I recently had a good friend and man I respect pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit that he was placed in by the GOBN. The Status-Quo needs to change and hopefully the people that see this post will at least take the time to re-evaluate all they THINK they know. I gain knowledge daily and usually from the most unexpected source. Thanks for being brave enough to call it like you see it.
Keith Shetterly
Thank you, Bryan. It's an often ugly situation that you describe, when "30-car" guys have so much power to stop change. Or, sometimes, aren't even asked to change because the manager doesn't want to change--I know a few "30-car" guys who have embraced beyond the GOBN, and they have made a lot of money doing it. Examples to us all, and sorry for your friend! Yikes. $450,000.

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