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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Nenni

5 Tips for a Family-Run Dealership

Having grown up in a family business, and spending time with dealers who have family-run dealerships, I’ve got a good feel for the related dynamics, politics, and pressures. My father’s business was successfully passed from him to one of my brothers, but we all worked there from time to time, and I grew up in the challenging environment that is family-run-businesses. After seeing so many challenges, quarrels, and political wrangling going on with family dealership, I decided to offer my opinion on five tips for improvement.

  1. Kids, you need to recognize that your parents will always have enormous lessons to teach you. Most of us don’t realize until we’re in our early 20s, how smart our parents actually were. There is no substitute for experience. Kids, while you may be right that your dad and grandpa don’t know anything about digital marketing, they do know a ton about the basics of how to sell cars and how to keep customers happy. If they didn’t, the dealership would have likely failed years ago and you would have nothing to take over. If you start first with respecting your parent-managers for the experience they have, you can then work to have that respect given to you.

  2. Parents, you need to recognize that these young kids and their ideas about these internets are worth your time to listen and understand. My father would fight any idea he had not heard of, since he has taught us everything we know <grin>. Grandpa, mom, aunt, etc. the world you sold cars in has dramatically changed. Sure, many of the basics are still the same, but the volume and flow of information and power have shifted to the consumer. Your kids can help you, because it is their generation that are your customers today and in the future. Respect that they may have some good ideas, and then you have a better opportunity for returned respect from them.

  3. Stop fighting over opinions, and instead look at the data. It is hard to argue with clear metrics that are showing success or failure. If one group is working to convince the other of their opinion, support your argument with solid data and metrics. If you don’t have those metrics, then you have some homework to do, and must recognize that the strength of your argument is starting from a weak position.

  4. If you are not a family member, then work to get along with each generation of leadership. Don’t choose sides, and try to pit one against the other. In the end, this strategy will result in your eventual demise. Decide if you want a long-term career at this dealership, and if that answer is yes, then try to be a mediator, not a divider.

  5. Be kind to each other. At the end of the day, you all are family, and long after the business is potentially sold or closed, the importance of strong family relationships cannot be minimized. No business is worth a lifetime of serious family fighting. It is a process of giving, taking, and making compromises. You must first seek to understand, before you should expect to be understood.

I hope these tips help you, as I love family businesses. The family business can be a great model for succession planning if done properly. For a father or mother, there is no person they more trust than their sons or daughters. Owners without a succession plan can find themselves without the ability to retire with the lifestyle they desire. A generational succession plan can ensure your children are put in a great position for life success and prosperity, that they can then pass on to their children.

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