Strategic Planning: The Science of Dealership Success

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There is a wealth of information available at your fingertips on strategic planning and the benefits to your dealership that come from it. It has been the subject of many best-selling business self-help books over the last decade or more. You support the notion, your board has indicated a need for it, and you have at least read through the table of contents of several of those best-sellers.  Now what?

Strategic planning is a step-by-step guide created by a dealership to map out how it will reach goals and set a foundation so everyone in the company knows what is expected of them.  Essentially, it is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Done correctly, it is a part of an overall planning process that is continually evolving.

Running any meeting effectively is difficult; running a strategic planning meeting is a science that many professionals (either the same people that wrote the best-sellers, or just those that have “been there and done that”) have tried to perfect. Hiring an outside facilitator, whether a professional strategic planner or just an independent facilitator that is gifted with keeping a group on task, is our first suggestion in making these sessions as productive as possible. You can run this meeting yourself, but be careful to keep these things in mind:

  1. The facilitator should not have an opinion, because it can block or steer other opinions. You are reading this, so your opinion is probably pretty important in the process.
  2. The facilitator should not have any conflicts with any of the opinions or givers of opinions participating in the conversation.
  3. The facilitator should not have any history, or at least not any stake in repeating the history, with “the way things have been done before” in your dealership.

Why Bother with a Strategic Plan?                                                                   

  • It gives the business a chance for a successful future
  • It provides consistent organizational focus
  • It offers a rational basis for resource allocation
  • It builds teamwork among board, management, staff, ownership

My Vision, Mission, and Values Statement are already professionally framed on the wall… what is left to do?

Strategic Planning begins with articulating a mission and vision…and ends when that mission and vision are integral parts of day-to-day operations!

  • Review Vision, Mission, and Values
  • What things are important to us?
  • What do we want our dealership to be?
  • Who do we as individuals want to be?
  • Why do we want to be that?
  • Do NOT answer any of these questions with numbers!
  • S.W.O.T. Analysis
  • Internal Strengths: What do we do best? Strengths are assets!
  • Internal Weaknesses: What are the things we know, right now, that should be improved?
  • External Opportunities: What is out there that is an opportunity for us? This can be markets, products, services, and/or methods/processes.
  • External Threats: What warning signs are we seeing that could indicate impending failures? Threats can be obvious or invisible, emerging or powerful.
  • Create and Revise Goals
  • Goals are a concise statement of direction of what the organization must achieve to attain its vision
  • Answer some of the Vision, Mission, and Values questions WITH NUMBERS
    • Revenue, Gross Margin, Net Income
    • Level of Inventory, Debt, Working Capital
    • Number of Locations, Product Mix, Headcount
    • SMART Goals

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-oriented

  • Create and Revise Strategies and Objectives
  • In broad strokes, how are we going to meet our goals?
  • Some ideas are answered in numbers, others are not
  • These are not specific tasks to solve a problem, those are Action Items…keep it high level
  • Brainstorm Action Items and see if some natural groupings exist
  • Use action words such as create, develop, promote or analyze
  • Create and Revise Action Items
  • Specify tasks to be accomplished to move toward your vision
  • Write them down and track their status
  • Assign each to a responsible party
  • Set a date to start and to finish

After you have created goals, strategies, objectives and corresponding action items, you are ready to put your strategic plan into action. Pay special attention to action items because these will tell you how well you are working toward your goals. Meet regularly to review the status of action items, support one another in implementation of tasks and don’t let things slide. Identifying problems early and bringing additional resources to solve them is key. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. It will be challenging, but take time to acknowledge victories along the way.

A good strategic plan is a road map to success for your dealership. Taking the time to do it right will light a lamp on the horizon, pointing the way to your vision. For more information, contact me at

For more from Marc and the Equipment Dealerships team, watch their Stories from the Road Video Series.

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