By Jeff Sheets
The beauty of writing articles about the future is the unforeseen twists and turns. Based on the 1985 movie “Back to the Future,” I thought by now that all of us would be using flying cars and hoverboards. At this point, all anyone can do is look at the current trends and try to predict how those trends will affect the future. In this article, I will look at the broad changes and try not to get too specific, so that when someone reads this article years from now, they won’t laugh too hard and use it as an example of why we shouldn’t look forward. However, you must always look forward, because if you don’t sense the waves of the future, you can be “wiped out” by those waves.
Here are five things that OPE dealers should look for in the future:
#1: Technology will drive the customer experience in dealerships
The future OPE dealership will likely feature things that enhance the customer service experience. Don’t be surprised to see virtual reality videos that will give customers not only the sensation of what it is like to operate equipment, but also how to do so safely. Even now, with how-to YouTube videos produced by various individuals, one can see how to operate and repair most equipment, but virtual reality videos will provide a deeper way to experience the equipment and develop even better relationships with your customers. According to a report from digital agency SapientNitro, “Virtual reality is going to fundamentally transform the human experience of shopping,” predicting that it will “lift sales for those retailers who get ahead of the curve.”
#2: Environmental policy will continue to impact the industry
We all know that ethanol-blended fuels and policies to reduce greenhouse gases have impacted the equipment that is produced, with battery-powered products flooding the market. As an industry, we need to get ahead of the curve and be prepared to find better alternative ways to power equipment before potentially negative policies are implemented by governmental agencies with little forethought about the consequences. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is leading the way to set industry standards and be a voice of reason when legislation that is not well thought out makes its way to the industry. I strongly encourage all dealers to support OPEI in its efforts to be a place where your best interests are represented.
#3: Online presence and sales will continue to be important for dealers
Dealers will need to make sure that they are involved in as many platforms as possible to both market and sell equipment. Reaching tomorrow’s consumers will be done through smartphones and computers. You need to be looking for ways to make the lives of these consumers easier, especially when it comes to interacting with you. Texting is a good example of a way to reach consumers to let them know when repairs are done or to simply keep in touch. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter help you brand yourself as an individual dealer and reach consumers in a more personal way. I don’t know what will be the next new opportunity in this arena, but make sure you are prepared to meet the challenge and stay on top of this part of your business.
#4: Being efficient and having an eye on the future will be more important than ever
Businesses that always try to be more efficient and treat their employees well will be the ones that survive economic tough times. Don’t do things the way you did them yesterday just because it worked, but really take a hard look at why you do things the way you do them. If you are not trying to improve, then most likely you are falling behind the curve. Every day, you should be seeking new opportunities to make your business better. You may recall me writing about J.C. Penney, who adopted the “golden rule” as his mantra for business, and how it motivated him to do anything he could for his customers. What is motivating you each day to be better? That is a question you need to ask yourself, so that you can be the best individually and as a business. The changes will be fast and furious, and those who are not paying attention will be at a severe disadvantage in the future.
#5: Businesses must be vigilant about their reputation
In today’s world, your reputation can be adversely affected by social media in ways that were unimaginable 10 years ago. You need to make sure that what you are doing and saying meets the standards of how you want to do business – and train your employees to do the same thing. A negative review on Yelp, Facebook or a video posted online can do untold damage to your reputation and negate years of good business practices. You need to have procedures in place to be prepared for these situations. Don’t think it could not happen to you or your business. Be prepared for such situations in the future.
There are many other areas I could look at, but I think these five areas will give you plenty of food for thought about what could occur in the next several years and how to prepare for it. Henry Luce said, “Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.” Make sure you are preparing for the future as much as possible, so that you can be as successful as possible.
Personal note: This will be my last article for Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) magazine. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to write articles. Hopefully, in some way, I have impacted your thoughts on how to do business. I want to thank the publishers and especially OPE Editor Steve Noe for his encouragement and making me look so much better as a writer than I really am. My goal each and every day is to “change the world,” which really means make a difference in little ways every day, and I hope I have made a difference here.
Jeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past 11 years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at www.opeconsultingservices.com.