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Key Control Best Practices for Rapidly Growing Dealership Groups

In a few years, automotive retailing could look very different as dealers respond to the rise in electric vehicles and shifting consumer preferences. Cliff Banks, founder of The Banks Report, says dealers who want to remain competitive will need to adapt by growing. “If you're gonna stay, you gotta get big,” he says.

In fact, this strategy is already playing out. According to Kerrigan Advisors’ Blue Sky Report, the nation’s 150 largest dealership groups and those with publicly traded stock bought nearly one-third of the 1,186 dealerships sold between 2019 and the first three quarters of 2022. Almost half of the 600 dealers surveyed said they planned to add at least one more dealership to their group in the next 12 months. Only 2% planned to sell one or more locations.

If your dealership group is following a similar trajectory, efficient processes and technology are critical to ensuring seamless operations across all stores. As you lay the groundwork for steady expansion, one critical aspect that demands close attention is efficient key control. Let's look at how you can implement effective key control practices that contribute to your success.

Be Consistent

Inconsistent key management practices can lead to misplaced or lost keys, increasing the risk of stolen vehicles and interrupting operations throughout your organization. Establishing uniform key checkout and return protocols across all locations promotes consistency, reduces confusion, and increases security. This is especially important if a high volume of cars enter and leave your stores consistently.

Implementing an accurate, dependable, and secure electronic key control system at each dealership will expedite the key checkout process and help ensure accurate key logs. As you’re exploring technology options for all your locations, look for a key control provider that will collaborate with you to customize system configurations, billing practices, training, and more. By working out these details upfront, you’ll be able to roll out systems quickly (or even move hardware from store to store) as you add rooftops.

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Build a Culture of Accountability

Effective key control isn’t just about managing keys but also about instilling a culture of accountability and security across the entire organization. When employees take ownership of the results of their jobs, they’re more invested in seeing the business succeed. As a result, they’re more likely to stay on top of their tasks, be proactive about solving problems, and take responsibility for their mistakes. They’re also more likely to work collaboratively toward the success of the dealership group as a whole.

To create an environment that’s conducive to employees’ success, set clear expectations and give your team the resources they need. For example, if you expect salespeople to hit a certain target but they’re struggling to find keys for test drives, it’s harder to for them to provide a good customer experience and meet their goals. If you have an electronic key control system that allows them to reserve keys in advance and see who currently has a key checked out, they’ll be better prepared to produce the best results. If they forget to return a key, the system can send an overdue key alert, helping hold employees accountable.

It’s also important for all dealership staff involved in key management to participate in comprehensive training programs. This training should cover handling keys properly, following security protocols, and using the electronic key management system.

By investing in your organization’s culture, the processes you’ve implemented will be set up to succeed.

Connect Systems

Clear, efficient communication is vital for multi-location dealerships, especially if inventory moves across the different locations. Consolidated information is important for both store staff and corporate leadership.

Store Level

Networked systems ensure all team members are informed about where keys and vehicles are across departments or locations. For example, if an employee at a Volkswagen store needs to demo a car that they think is at a Chevrolet store the next town over, they can log in to the Volkswagen store’s KeyTrak system, enter the stock number, and find out for sure. Then, the salesperson can reserve the keys and head right to the KeyTrak system to pick them up when they arrive.

Or if a customer wants to test drive a recent trade-in that’s being serviced, the salesperson can log into the system and see which service technician checked out the key and when it’s due back.

Corporate Level

To view activity across multiple locations, you can work with your key control partner to centralize key control reporting. Executive management will be able to evaluate the organization’s key control activity and performance at a glance, and they can receive automatic customized reports via email. The data could include:

  • Employees’ key activity
  • Overdue keys
  • Aging inventory

Networking systems across multiple stores facilitates seamless sharing of key control and inventory information, ensuring enhanced operational efficiency and improved customer service at each individual location. In addition, centralized reporting allows executive management to make informed decisions.

Testimonial graphic from Robert Taylor of Hendrick Automotive Group

As your dealership expands, being able to quickly adjust operations accordingly will help you remain agile in a competitive market. Embracing a big-picture approach to key control will not only enhance security but also contribute to your organization’s overall success and growth.

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