At the start of every bi-annual meeting, Azione Unlimited executive director Richard Glikes challenges his buying group’s dealer members to find five new profit opportunities and each of its 42 vendor members to add five new dealers before the end of the conference.
Glikes is a very focused leader, who runs a tight schedule and expects his members to support the group’s manufacturer partners and to avoid stagnation in their businesses. There’s always been time for just a little bit of fun at previous events, but Glikes is usually more focused on business, as he attempts to grow and shape his relatively new buying group.
This year’s Spring Conference 2016 at the Sheraton Wildhorse Pass Resort, near Phoenix, featured a bit looser vibe, however, with an entire Day 2 afternoon set aside for organized activities or free time, including spouses or “significant others” who were invited to the conference for the first time. Total attendance was around 240 dealers, vendors, and spouses.
“Our meetings in the past have been all work,” Glikes said. “We’ve typically only had a three-hour window on the second day [for free time], and we’d work until about three o’clock.”
But getting to the free was no cakewalk for last week’s attendees. The dealer-only meeting began at 1:30p.m and after having vendor members join the room at 5:45, the evening continued through the 6:45 keynote, 7:30 vendor trade show (an Azione first), and 8:45 buffet dinner. Desert winds forced the dinner inside to the same ballroom as the trade show and meeting room, so that turned into a pretty long day.
Azione dealers and vendors at the 2016 Spring Meeting But keeping everyone together in one place was the group’s goal, apparently. “We decided to do a couple things different this year,” Glikes explained. “We got a bigger ballroom, and they wanted to touch and feel the merchandise. We also wanted to get spouses involved...so if they interact with the people you work with, understand what you do, and become friendly with other people here, it’s all good.”
About 60 spouses attended the event, with many of them in the room for Tim Costello’s “Millennials, Promise or Peril” keynote, then dinner. Most also attended the coordinated activities the following afternoon, which included free time at the pool, a golf or tennis tournament, car and Kart racing at the Bondurant Driving School, horseback riding, or spa treatments.
Azione Unlimited (AU), still the relatively new kid on the buying group block, has continued on its growth trajectory with the addition of five new dealers, adding up to 15 new dealers since the start of 2016, for a total of 148. That’s a pretty active pace, considering the group added 35 total last year.
“I think, overall, a lot of people that were sitting on the sidelines are joining groups, period,” Glikes said. “I’m getting a lot of referrals from members, vendors, and reps, because they know about us, and they think that we can make their dealers better dealers. A better dealer pays his bills and focuses his business, etc.”
The group’s number-one criteria for adding new dealer members, Glikes explained, is that each company has to want to grow. “I don’t want to add a $4-million dealer who, for the rest of his life, wants to be a $4-million dealer,” he said.
And it’s a group, he added, that is evenly split into three tiers. There are dealers that are $1-3-million, $3-million to $6-million, and $6-million-plus.
“It’s about a third, a third, a third, which is great,” Glikes said. “I show a slide in my dealer meeting asking, ‘How many of you started out as $10-million dealers?’ And the answer is ‘Nobody did.’ We’re growing the next wave of big dealers, and I love that. They have energy. They’re malleable and they’re enthusiastic. And, they’re getting discounts that they never got before. Eight-five percent of our people have never been in a group before. Now they’re getting a sharing of ideas. They’re getting rebates, discounts. They’re getting free conferences, a healthcare program, etc.”
In addition to the traditional business of buying group meetings (dealer/vendor one-on-ones), the AU Spring Meeting also included a series of in-depth dealer testimonials on successful business pursuits, such as security installation and monitoring, production homebuilder relationship building, and proper financial planning, as well various roundtable discussions and small group sessions.
Another bit of business that was introduced during the Day 1 dealer meeting were the results of an AU software committee’s search for a management software partner for the group. The result was a hybrid offering from D-Tools and Slateplan.
“Everybody should have a defined process for how they do business, but they’re all one offs, and that’s an issue,” Glikes said. “We think that if you adopt the right software, it’s hand-in-hand. Software predicates process and vice versa. We’re hoping that if we have our [common] process in place, we’ll be a lot more profitable, efficient, and streamlined.”
Day 2 included a second presentation from Tim Costello, this still focused on customer demographics, but more directed toward marketing and selling the new Digital Customer Experience (DCX). He reminded Azione members to “think digital first” through more interactive websites, more personalization and customization capabilities in system designs, visualization tools for clients during proposal and system design, experimenting with VR/AR, adding text and voice to videos, and making kiosks and iPads standard sales tools.
After that, attendees were off to ponder these major changes to their approach to business, as they let their hair down racing go-karts, hitting golf balls, and playing tennis. Then on the final half day on Sunday, it was back to business with more small group sessions, and a look at those five new profit opportunities on the trip home.