Ensuring a successful future for automotive retail means ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page.
In April, Jim Williamson, of Williamson Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Uxbridge, Ont., was elected as President of the Motor Vehicle Retailers of Ontario (MVRO). Known previously as the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) the association represents the interest of new car dealers in Canada’s most populous province.
Williamson, a third-generation dealer, has long been an active member of the MVRO board and at the forefront of advancing the concept of automotive retail. His retail locations—which are still family-run businesses—have consistently ranked at the top in customer satisfaction and have seen sales and service volumes grow significantly over the last decade.
In an exclusive interview, Autosphere asked Williamson about assuming the MVRO Presidency and some of the initiatives we can expect to see from the association going forward.
Autosphere: Congratulations on becoming MVRO President. Tell us a little about what the role means to you.
Jim Williamson: It is a great honour, and I am humbled to represent new car dealers here in Ontario. As a third-generation car dealer, my passion for our industry has run deep since I was a child. My entire life has been spent in this amazing industry and I love every aspect of it. To be chosen by my peers to lead MVRO is one of the proudest accomplishments of my career.
AS: As a progressive dealer and active MVRO board member, where do you see the role of the association in continuing to bring value and support to its members and the automotive retail sector?
JW: MVRO has long been known for its well-respected voice when it comes to our governments. This has been a tremendous advantage to our association. We will continue to leverage this relationship as the industry encounters threats to existing sales/distribution models or unfriendly policies. The role of an association like MVRO is to help protect and fight for our industry’s best interests. Since 1908, MVRO has been doing just this for our dealers and will continue to do so as the business evolves. A good example of the association working in support of the dealer body was our success in ensuring that new car dealers were deemed an essential service during the pandemic something few sectors can say.
AS: As we head forward into the post-pandemic era, what do you see are some of the most significant challenges facing dealers?
JW: I think consideration by some vehicle manufacturers in exploring various go-to-market models will continue to be on our radar along with all other dealers and associations. The role and importance of dealer councils working in partnership with the manufacturers collectively now and in the future will continue to be extremely critical. Infrastructure support, as we begin to transition toward electric vehicles is a very important conversation.
Government mandates are currently not aligned with infrastructure programs, and this will continue to remain a challenge for both OEMs and dealers.
Education, along with a curriculum that supports automotive service technicians in Ontario is in desperate need of a revamp, in order that we can service the vehicles of the future and all the technology that comes with them. Our dealers will need the advocacy of the association to make this change and to have a future funnel for technician talent.
AS: Despite the economic uncertainty ahead, what do you feel are some of the biggest opportunities for dealers and the automotive retail sector?
JW: It may sound cliché, but customer service and experience are going to continue to set us apart from our competitors. Our ability to provide the service experience our customers want versus telling them how we will service them will prove to be a loyalty driver. Another area of opportunity is to review how we are attracting new talent and recruitment strategies to provide environments for generations that may have different work/life balance priorities or goals. This is an opportunity for our industry to attract new talent by looking at this through a long-term retention lens.
AS: Are there any specific TADA initiatives that you’d like to share with us that are in the works as we head further into 2023/24?
JW: Our international technician recruitment program has proven successful and has seen some great results. This program will continue to support our members as they face a critical talent shortage in skilled trades. Diversity and attracting new talent in all areas of our industry continue to be top of mind and have been gaining great traction with programs such as our Women Driven Initiative. This is helping attract new talent to our workplaces that we all so desperately need.
The Ontario Government has also begun ramping up the Digital Dealer Registration rollout—we will continue to work closely with them on this program. To date, over 300 dealers have successfully signed up for the program. As the program expands and more services are added we are truly excited about how this will help change our businesses as well provide a much better experience for our customers. This is cutting red tape and helping to save both consumers and dealers time and money.
AS: Is there anything else you’d like to share as it relates to your presidency?
JW: MVRO is well-positioned to continue advocating for and providing value for dealers across Canada. The hard-working team we have in place takes great pride in serving the new car dealers in Ontario every day, and I am proud to stand alongside this amazing group. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our Board and Executive members past and present who are not only your fellow dealers but also the volunteers that are committed to serving the interests of the 1,100 dealers in the province.