Dealership of the Future
With a changing industry and economy, more is required of dealers and owners than ever before. Staying on top of industry trends, developing high-quality marketing materials, training employees and setting up rental and financing programs all require time, a resource that always seems to be in short supply. This is where dealer networks come in.
Bob Ruhstorfer, president of Entek Environmental Technologies, recently launched a dealer network that aims to provide a comprehensive network of support and services to enable dealers to be successful in today’s market.
Ruhstorfer grew up in the industry, working as a young man in his father’s dealership. Later, as a field manager for RainSoft, he was responsible for recruiting and training dealers, and was president of RainSoft from 1998 to 2008.
Ruhstorfer explained that he experienced a paradigm shift that led to Entek’s dealer network focusing on “the lifetime value of the customer.”
“In the old world, a water softener was a one-time sale and the only time you saw the customer again was when it broke down,” he said. “Now our business model is to treat the customer with a long-term relationship in mind.”
Entek’s main concentration is in the Midwest, but they are supporting dealers throughout the U.S., from the east coast to the central southwest.
A “back-to-the-future” philosophy supports the network, Ruhstorfer said. “We’ve got some new and innovative products, and we are looking for opportunities going forward, but we’re carrying traditional ideas with us from the past.”
Looking at changes in the industry over the past five to 10 years, Ruhstorfer saw a need for a company that really focused on the dealers.
“With my roots being so deep in the dealer-oriented side of the business, I look at it from the standpoint that the customers should be the dealer’s number one priority, and the dealer is our priority,” he said. “Everything should flow that way, with the factory or the supplier being a support mechanism for the dealer’s business.”
The long-term success of a business depends on striking a balance between being analytical and numbers-focused, and also having an intuitive understanding of the industry and the people you’re working with, he suggested.
As expenses have gone up, it has become harder for dealers to maintain profitability. Meanwhile, financing has weakened and closing rates are affected as consumers who would have purchased in the past are waiting, sitting on the sidelines until they feel their own jobs and investments are secure.
Still, things are getting better, Ruhstorfer predicted, citing optimistic reports from contacts in the financing industry.
“One thing we can say for certain is that it hasn’t been getting any worse for maybe six months,” he said. “It feels like things have stabilized.”
Resources & Support
Financing options with various companies are available through Entek’s network, but perhaps the most valuable service they offer to their dealers is the experience and knowledge of their management.
Ruhstorfer and Dwayne Hannah, vice president, along with the entire team of field managers, all have a minimum of 25 years of experience in the industry. “We have a very seasoned management staff that is basically available for the dealer to tap,” Ruhstorfer said.
The team has experience in all aspects of the business: technical application, product application, service, sales and marketing. Especially for independent dealers, access to support in all these areas of business could be extremely valuable.
Another way the experience of the team can serve the dealer, Ruhstorfer explained, is through researching expansion options. Dealers may be able to do this on their own, but finding the time to research a product, make contacts and get the infrastructure and training in place is certainly a challenge.
The network also has in-house graphic capabilities for customized point-of-sale and marketing materials.
“We’ve got ideas and programs to introduce that can help expand profitability,” he said. “The dealership of the future is not limited to water filtration—we’re looking at other businesses and industries that can complement what the average dealer has to offer.”
Air purification and bottle-less coolers are two markets many dealers are exploring, and Entek is partnering with a company offering solar water heating equipment.
A focus on long-term sustainability is essential, Ruhstorfer said. Entek is encouraging dealers to incorporate rentals as a pillar of their business model, supplemented by recurring revenue from service and maintenance.
Taking advantage of the services and support offered by a dealer network can enable dealers to establish a profitable, long-term relationship with customers. Serve them well with your primary product, and leverage the strength of that relationship to remarket other products and services to them.