🎙 Prelude to a Global Pandemic Shutdown – From the Eyes of Auto Retail

Prelude to a Global Coronavirus Shutdown

When the novel Coronavirus (nCoV19) first reared its head to the United States, the 2020 NADA Show was about to take place in Las Vegas. President Trump had already blocked airline flights from China entering our borders, and his potential opponent for this year’s election had publicly called him a xenophobe.

If that doesn’t highlight the reversal in political rhetoric since then, how about the fact that while COVID-19 was discreetly spreading itself to thousands of unassuming Americans across our homeland, Democrats were pushing for impeachment and the FDA was trying crack down on teen vaping.

Seems like a century ago now.

As for the auto industry, here’s a clip at the end of an online panel discussion from February 11 that sheds light on our sentiment going into NADA, prompted by me asking, “Should NADA attendees be concerned about Coronavirus?”

When you listen to me frame the conversation, notice two things…

  1. My expressed concern was based on the idea that Las Vegas is a popular tourist destination for Asians. This reveals my own naiveté that the disease wasn’t already here.
  2. I also had doubts that the City of Las Vegas would want anyone to know if there were cases of COVID-19 in their city. And notice in the video that one panelist got my drift.

Our Responses Reveal Our Sentiments at the Time

MIKE B: How many cases are in the US right now? 11?

KATIE: Candidly pointing out that she has always been a germaphobe.

MIKE C: Man beside me on the plane wearing a mask, not because he was sick but because he didn’t want to get sick, which seemed extreme at the time.

GROUP TO ME: “Way to be a buzzkill, Ryan.”

We Had No Idea What Was Coming

As you can see from the conversation, none of us had an inkling of what was about to happen to our country, across the globe, and within our own industry. Two days later, most of us on that panel were in Las Vegas, doing what we do. Working hard and being family.

The Coronavirus, let alone a pandemic, was not on our minds.

And coincidentally, I contracted a virus while in Las Vegas and came home with a significant fever that laid me up for an entire week before I returned back to full health.

Was it the COVID-19? I may never know.

A month later, on March 10, still ONE DAY before the NBA had postponed a Jazz-Thunder game just prior to tip-off, a move that triggered the domino effect that has led to today’s current global shutdown, social distancing, and civic quarantine, we had a follow-up session with two of the same panelists plus a couple others.

Let me tell you, our sentiments were a stark contrast from one month ago. And we still had no real idea what we were about to be facing. Watch from 2:18 to 8:58 to get a feel for how serious things were beginning to shape.

Unlike the session before, where Coronavirus was the final segment, and less than a two-minute conversation, the March 10 session led off with Coronavirus front and center, with me asking each panelist if and if so then how the Coronavirus concern was affecting them.

At this moment in time, a nursing home in the State of Washington had just had an outbreak – the first real concerning outbreak in the US. The number of people globally reported as affected had just reached 100,000.

Here’s Katie Jackson-Richter, COO of Cuneo Advertising offering perspective about the new seriousness of the matter at 8:58 in the video.

“When you talk about the impact this is going to have on the auto industry, nobody really knows. But we as leaders within our space have to first start with common sense. Make sure our teams are safe and our clients get the service they need. We have to serve the needs of our people and our clients. We have the experience we need to guide us through this. This is not a time to take things lightly. We have to be serious about this.”

Collaboration and Sharing Will Be Key for the Auto Industry

About 18 minutes into the discussion, I challenged the panel as to whether or not the auto industry can learn from the Coronavirus scare about the importance of collaborating and sharing information to accelerate innovation.

Here’s what the panel had to say…

Bill Sattree, our partner for Smart AI Mail, believes that we are going to have to learn how to integrate with each other more, specifically in our communications.

Katie says she believes it is possible so long as greed doesn’t get in the way. We as an industry have that choice, she says. “We serve the needs of the industry in one capacity or another. We are getting paid to a job and if that means we have to collaborate then we should welcome that.”

Bill Playford, also on the panel, agrees. “It is a choice,” he proclaims. “I look at things mathematically, but a lot of people don’t. There is a lot of opinion and greed and a lot of hubris driving companies in this space.”

Mike “The Car Guy” Correra from DealerBuilt suggests that much of the “greed” is based on fear. A fear that dealers are going to see through what they are being shown and see what is real. “Most vendors don’t want that,” he says.

“But,” says Correra later in the program,

“It’s an exciting time to be in automotive. It’s an exciting time for our market and it’s an exciting time for our industry. I’ve always believed automotive can be a better place if we just allow it to be and I think some of that ego that we talked about earlier is now starting to retire or away and we’re seeing a new day and it’s really a really fun place to be.”

Where to go from here?

Over the last several weeks, dealers have been scrambling to reduce and cut costs, including labor, causing a domino effect with Automotive Vendors, also doing the same. Needless to say, it has been devastating for the entire industry. At least within my circle of friends.

In response, practically every company has come out with an official COVID-19 response. And the pundits of the industry seem to all have the answers. But as Katie pointed out in the February panel. Nobody has the answers.

“If we just try to do the right thing on behalf of our clients and those that we serve and our employees and team members,” she says, “you avoid fear based sales approaches no matter what.”

Join Us and Be Part of the Conversation

Here on AutoConversion, we have an entire month’s worth of conversations still to sort through as we head into April and a supposed peak in the COVID-19 spread across the US, and healthcare facility resources.

Visit our Masterminds section for a list of the webcast programs we offer for those in Auto Retail and the Automotive B2B industry. Each individual program requires its own one-time registration, but once you register then you are able to participate in any of the events within that program – absolutely free.

About the Author

Ryan Gerardi
Creative, resourceful, and resilient B2B sales and marketing technologist who works with people and businesses on a variety of levels to help elevate their game, their brand, and their businesses.