By Sheryll Poe, NADA Contributor

The first-ever, all-virtual NADA Show 2021 crossed the finish line today, waving the checker flag on three days of learning, networking and event programming. It was, as NADA 2020 Chairman Rhett Ricart said in his final day opening remarks: “a one-of-a-kind experience.”

And after three days of coming together virtually, one thing is clear: the community of dealers and managers, OEM executives, and allied industry representatives are ready to go full throttle in 2021 and are looking ahead to meeting again in person for NADA Show in Las Vegas in 2022.

Getting to Know NADA’s New Leaders
Ricart took to the Main Stage one last time to introduce NADA 2021 Chairman Paul Walser. “Paul, you’re passionate, articulate and you believe in collaboration, which is perfect for NADA,” Ricart said before handing over the ceremonial leadership keys.

Walser roots in the automotive business in Minnesota run deep: His grandfather worked for General Motors, and his father, Jack, started Walser Automotive Group in South St. Paul in 1955. Walser joined the family business in 1974 and has grown the dealership into a network of 25 distinct franchises across 30 rooftops in Minnesota and Kansas.

Walser started his first chairman’s address by pointing out that while the auto “industry has stood the test of time,” 2020 was an exceptional year. “We saw our country, economy, society itself shut down and it was scary and horrific for so many.” But, thanks to the support and effort of the NADA, “we survived a global pandemic and an economic freefall.”

Now, with that experience under their collective belts, dealers have an opportunity to get better and stronger. Walser illustrated his point by holding up a clean sheet of paper, a sign of potential and a new beginning. “This is an important moment for dealers everywhere,” Walser said. “The truth is we don’t live in the same world we used to.”

Walser outlined three areas that “if improved could materially strengthen the franchise system.” As chairman, Walser will focus on promoting diversity and inclusion, improving the OEM/dealer relationship and encouraging dealer involvement and participation on political and regulatory issues. On this last area, Walser encouraged dealers to reach out to their members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation. “Build those relationships, whoever is in office. It will make a difference one day.”

Walser then introduced new NADA President and CEO Mike Stanton. While he’s only been in his current position for six weeks, Stanton has a long history with the NADA and the auto industry, Walser noted.

Stanton came to NADA in 2000 as a national sales manager for the former NADA Used Car Guide, and worked his way up to chief operating officer before taking on the president and chief executive officer role.

His first automotive job was as district manager with Isuzu North America, assisting 16 Pennsylvania dealers with their sales and service operations. “I’ve seen the industry through the eyes of the dealer, the OEM perspective, as a dealer vendor…and I have watched NADA grow over the last 20 years. The bottom line is: I’m in love with the mission we have at NADA,” Stanton said.

Stanton said the first priority for NADA and its leadership is to help auto dealers get through the pandemic and get back to normal business. His other priorities include assisting Walser in his goals as chairman, and finally, proactively educating new policymakers in Washington, D.C. about the importance of America’s auto dealers to their communities and the economy. “The mission at NADA stays the same: We work for dealers. We’re here to strengthen the franchise system, and we educate and advocate for the dealer’s interests.”

Learning from Each Other and the Experts
Each year at the NADA Show, members and attendees choose the topics they would like to see discussed in the popular peer-to-peer learning sessions collectively known as The Virtual Exchange. These Zoom room discussions and group chats featured brainstorming and problem-solving among auto industry peers on a range of topics – from attracting and hiring technicians to connecting with customers.

It was a full day of franchise meetings, with nine OEMs, including as Ford, Chevrolet, Lincoln and Volvo meeting with dealers in virtual rooms. These live meetings were invitation only and will not be archived.

There was no shortage of collaboration, questioning and knowledge sharing on the Live Stage with plenty of super-fast, fun sessions covering including communications and video strategy, getting through the pandemic, and the ever-popular NADA Economic Outlook featuring NADA chief economist Patrick Manzi.

In the workshop area, top NADA instructors and industry leaders led sessions on leadership, increasing leads and sales, cybersecurity risks and scams to look out for, digital marketing, hiring millennials and Gen Z, and so much more. In each session room, there was a chat function where attendees could share their reactions and a Q&A stream to submit questions that were then answered at the end by the session presenters.

One of today’s workshops tackled a very difficult topic: mental illness awareness and suicide prevention. Some 4 % of people today suffer with anxiety or depression, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Christy Buck, LBSW at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, introduced attendees to the “Be Nice” action plan and warning signs to look for. “Depression is a biological condition and much like any other illnesses, we need to look for signs and symptoms,” Buck said. Jeff Elhart of Elhart Nissan Hyundai Genesis GMC has created Elhart Cares at his dealership. Based on the “Be Nice” plan, Elhart empowers his employees to check in with each other and show they care.

In another session, titled “Merchandising and Marketing Strategies for Remote Retailing,” Jason Monaghan of the Newton Motor Group talked about how he has embraced remote retailing and adapted his website with the Newton Fastpass, which allows customers to pick a vehicle and submit the majority of their paperwork and forms online.

An Electrifying Closing Celebration
The first-ever virtual NADA Show closed out with a bang as Emmy Award-winning singer and songwriter Patrick Sieben gave a high-energy performance at the virtual Show Closing Celebration. Patrick and his band, the LVB, are one of Las Vegas’ top bands, filling arenas across the U.S. while playing alongside Bon Jovi, One Republic, and the Chainsmokers, among others.

Patrick & the LVB started their NADA Show set with a special guest as now “former” NADA Chairman Rhett Ricart rocked out on guitar and threw in a few backup vocals on “Jesse’s Girl.” His performance really brought out the emojis in the live chat stream as attendees complimented Ricart and the NADA team for holding such a great event under such difficult circumstances. As attendee Eric Kulongowski put it, “Rhett is awesome, great show! Looking forward to in person again next year!!!”

Missed any of the action? Read recaps of day one, and day two. And don’t forget: session recordings will be available on-demand through April 11, 2021 for all registered attendees. Be sure to revisit all things NADA Show on social media using the hashtag #NADASHOW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Posted by NADA

National Automobile Dealers Association