Education is the key to future industry growth

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Doug Sullivan knows that guiding the country’s largest dealer association is far from just a ceremonial position.

He is also no stranger to the association life. As a former OADA president, he helped negotiate the merger of the OADA and TADA under the Trillium banner back in 2012.

The co-owner of Bickley Ford Sales in Huntsville, Ont. Sullivan, who took over the Trillium Automobile Dealers’ Association earlier this year, says he is excited about the opportunities to build on past successes to continue to make TADA a strong and vital voice for Ontario dealers.

The North Bay native started as a salesperson at George Stockfish Lincoln Mercury in 1981. He became a partner at Stockfish Ford in 1992 and again at Pinewood Park Motors in Kirkland Lake and at Sunset Lincoln Mercury in North Bay in 1995.

He sold his interest in the Ford dealerships in 2002 but continued working for the Stockfish Auto Group. In 2005, he became co-owner, with the Stockfish Group, of Bickley Ford in Huntsville.

As the new TADA president, he took time out to answer five questions from Canadian AutoWorld about the industry and what lies ahead for him this year.

Canadian AutoWorld: What is your first order of business as president?

Doug Sullivan: My first order of business was to continue to support our education program that was launched the year before my term. Working closely with our education committee chair and our executive director was one of the first things I communicated.  

It is important our association executes on a long-term strategic basis and this is one program that requires us to be consistent and relentless in supporting the future of all the Ontario dealers.
 
We saw the TADA and CADA claim victory regarding HST assessments on finance income recently. What is the biggest issue Ontario’s dealer body faces today and what needs to be done about it?

One of the biggest issues is that our industry continues to be an easy scapegoat for taxes and user fees from a provincial government that is struggling to make financial ends meet.

Gas taxes, carbon taxes, licensing fees and road tolls continue to be the leading conversation when funding issues such as Greater Toronto Area transit discussions arise. There is only so much the average family can absorb before they are forced to drive less and perhaps change the types of extra curricular activities their families enjoy to make ends meet.

At the end of all of this, the Ontario dealers will eventually see this hit their pocketbooks as people consider options and perhaps drive less over time.

Prior to 2012, Ontario dealers were represented by two associations – the Ontario Automobile Dealers’ Association and the Toronto Automobile Dealers’ Association. Unification of the two groups means one voice under the Trillium banner, but how do you ensure you meet the needs of both metro dealers as well as rural points?

All of our services are provided equally to any dealer in Ontario regardless of the size and location. We poll our members annually asking for their input on services that we provide or need us to provide.

Our executive director also conducts 20 to 25 town hall meetings with our dealer members in their communities to best understand what they need from us to understand what we can do and have done for them.
 
Why has the TADA made education and recruitment one of its top priorities moving forward?

Our industry is suffering from a labour shortage and it is predicted to only get worse as time goes on.

Unfortunately, in grade school and high school, our industry is typically not on the radar within the majority of the guidance offices.

The skills and talents required from a technician, for example, have drastically changed in the last 10 years and it is important for the future of our dealerships that we help educate educators about the realities of our industry.

Part of it starts with helping them understand the various roles within a dealership. We launched carsandjobs.com this past year to give a broader audience access to our job opportunities and inventories.

We have over 600 job listings on that site at any given time and those are real jobs from within our member ranks. By attending career fairs and working with the college and university recruitment offices we are starting to have impact on those that perhaps were not considering our industry as a career opportunity.
 
You've been in the business since the early 1980s and held a variety of jobs in several dealerships. Who has the toughest job at the dealership?

I think most of our dealer’s would say that our service writers have the most challenging jobs in our stores.

For the most part, they are dealing with happy folks. But as we all know, when there is a situation with something and a customer has to pay to have it fixed, they can get a little frustrating. Service writers have to be able to deal with those situations and still stay positive.