Connected Podcast Episode 139: Bringing the Human Element to Automotive

Greg Uland: Hi, I'm Greg Uland with Reynolds and Reynolds, and this is Connected. Today, I'm very excited, I get two in-studio guests for the first time, Paul J. Daly and Kyle Mountsier, both from ASOTU. I can't wait to have this conversation. Guys, I appreciate you joining me.

Kyle Mountsier: Always. Love it.

Paul J Daly: So good to be here, what a  great studio.

GU: No, I appreciate it. The team that put it together like — I still, you know, every time I come in here, I'm just in awe of how well they put it together. So, appreciate the compliment.

PJD: It makes me think, like we need to up our game.

KM: Yeah. We're like "I'm seeing - okay, here we go."

PJD: The mics are great... yeah it's good to be here.

GU: No I appreciate it. No it should be — it should be a good conversation. But one of the things I wanted to get into with you guys, I mean, you're all over the place. We can go into a million different things, which maybe we will. But I wanted to start with this concept. We were talking a little bit ago about, really just this idea of of mega — how did you phrase it? Mega - branding, right?

PJD: Macro. Yeah. Like macro-branding. We were talking about what the value is and how people try to find value in building  a macro-brand or an umbrella brand because it's — it's real easy to slip into what gets me like, with like, cause and response kind of things. And just in general, I think in life and business, like, you know, I want to start working out and see a result immediately. I want to, you know, put something for sale and sell it immediately. And —I've always think of — I just kind of wired to think of like, what's the what's the meaning behind it? Why do we do it? Why do people feel a certain way about a person or a product or a service and...

KM: An industry?

PJD: An industry, yeah. An industry. And, and how do we — how do we not only do a good job by telling the whole story, long tale at a high level. But how do we get other people to kind of step behind and say, yeah, I believe that too. And just like how that is one of the main sources of building a macro-brand is — it's telling the story well. Having enough people get behind and say, "I believe that too." And then, you know, kind of starts to snowball from there.

GU: Yeah. And we were talking about it in the context of, you know, More than Cars, right? But maybe before we get into that, can you give another example of, you know, maybe an industry or something that you've seen executed really well in this kind of macro-brand perspective?

KM: Yeah. I mean, you know, you've got — Let's take the two most recent ones. How many people in our country own a duck call now, that didn't before the Robinsons became a thing. Right? And they — yes, it was a docu-series about a family that does a thing, right?

PJD: I wouldn't call it a docu-series.

KM: Yeah, maybe not a docu-series. Right, it was a — it was a...

PJD: It's a reality show.

KM: Reality show-ish, yeah. But that also did something for the brand of the persona of who they are.

GU: Sure.

KM: Right? It kind of made it cool to be that persona or if not cool, attractive or — yeah, yeah, to be a redneck, right? It was like, hey, you know, I, I might not have grown up that way, but like, I'm going to get a duck call. I'm wearing flannel now, you know, all that type of stuff. So that's, that's one version of it. The other version is like, for instance, what Netflix has done with like, tennis or F1.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Right. They've they've built a show around — Why is this an incredible industry? Right? The tennis industry as a show with what they — with what Netflix built with that. The, the racing industry because it's interesting when Drive to Survive became successful, not just F1 got the benefit of that. Now Netflix and F1 came together to build that, but if you look at the numbers on the re-attraction to NASCAR, the re-attraction to IndyCar — racing as an industry saw the benefit of a macro-brand play that was done by Netflix and F1. And so when you think about these like, you know, we were talking about "Got Milk".

GU: Yeah.

KM: Right? That was a whole bunch of cow farmers that got together and said, "you know what? We as an industry we need to sell some milk, right? Because that's how we make money." And, and it gave themselves kind of like this new thesis on the health and the viability of why milk is important to us. And so there's a  — there's a few examples right there where, where you're playing more than with just like, you know, Team Mercedes.

GU: Yeah. So, so what is it about — because the two examples, the first two examples you gave are obviously centered around individuals, right? People. Personification of an industry or a lifestyle or whatever it is. What is it about people that really makes it stick, I guess, right? Because in both those examples, you know, obviously it's a big television network, there's a big audience and people liked it. So they kept going back and the audience grows. But at the end of the day, it's — it's I mean, the people are why everybody watched it, right? So what is it about the individual —and 'Got Milk' is a great example. And that was, I mean, that's going back a ways. But that one wasn't so much about people but these these last two — and a lot of the trends that you see now — are centered around the stories of people. So what is it?

PJD: Well, I'm going to push back on that because I'm thinking of the 'Got Milk' campaigns, and I just remember celebrities with milk mustaches through the back of magazines.

KM: Yes.

PJD: And at that thing — that's where it it becomes a human, a human thing. With the F1, with Duck Dynasty, it — one of my favorite marketers, Seth Godin, says it this way. He says "People like us do things like this." And when we connect with a belief, right, for Duck Dynasty, if I were to think about like, what's the belief? It's like family is important. Right? Doing things together is important. And all the other kind of antics that kind of stem from that, but also serious issues. Also issues of faith. Also issues of business and entrepreneurship stem off of that. F1, I never watched that, like I watched half an episode of Drive to Survive.

GU: Oh really?

PJD: Yeah, I know, I know, you have to get kicked out of here any minute.

KM: He goes, "oh, really? oh really".

GU: So, yeah — Go ahead.

PJD: And so I think it's, it's a human sentiment and a human reason that always ties someone to a macro-brand. For some reason, people like us do things like this. It triggers a core belief in you that says, either I am like that too, or I aspire to be that way. And I think that it's the same. Like, why do we wear a certain type of clothing? Right? For a lot of people, it's like because it says something about me, it says, I value this, right? You can look at what somebody is wearing, like they value sports, they value fashion, right? They value a good deal, right? And so it's always a belief, it's always a human element. And I think you can map back any brand and say it says something — the kind of music you listen to, the kind of car you drive say something about you. And sometimes that that thing is the brand says I'm responsible.

GU: Sure.

PJD: In one way or another. So no matter what it is, I think we could probably put anyone on the table and we can map that back. Apple's an easy one. In the beginning it was like, "Think different." Just like, oh, people like me approach things in a different way, a more creative way, in a way that says, like, "I'm not satisfied with this. It should be this way, it should be esthetically pleasing, it should be highly functional, it should be a little bit irreverent to what the establishment is." And so it's always ties back to a human. And we could go down the line and I think the three of us together could —

KM: Well I mean that — the, the, the Drive to Survive was uniquely human. Its Guenther and Team Haas. It's Ricardo and his, his, his antics. And it's, it's all the people that that are part of these teams in this broader thing. It's not about who won one race. Actually, they rarely show the points or the scores. It's all about what happened with —

PJD: Would you wear — would you wear like an F1 Drive to Survive t-shirt?

KM: All day.

PJD: And what do you think —.

KM: Because, because —

PJD: What would you say about yourself by doing that. Like, what would you be communicating to everyone else? I'm willing to wear the shirt because I believe in this. It says this about something I believe.

KM: Yeah, that's a — I think that one is maybe more I'm attracted to the people of this thing. Right?  And maybe it's because they...

PJD: So like an element of community?

KM: They — yeah, there's a community that's like, hey, have you seen Drive to Survive? You immediately have like 30 minutes of conversation with that person. There's like, a like, Greg and I could go on and on, right?

PJD: You know, knowing you, it's like — because you're a soccer fan. Are you a soccer fan?

GU: I'm not a soccer — I mean, I'm not a I don't dislike soccer, but I'm not...

PJD: You don't have anything against it.

GU: I'm not a soccer fan.

PJD: Me neither, but — yeah but Kyle has actually taught me how to love the game of soccer a little bit. I haven't been to a game. I have a feeling when we go to a game together, you know it's going to convert me. But there's a level of fanaticism and like, we went in lose together and we were passionate about this and it could go either way. Right? There's like a little bit of, like risk taking and like, fanaticism to it. It kind of reminds me what you're explaining of the soccer people that I know.

KM: Absolutely yes.

GU: My first experience with soccer fans was in Toronto. Have you ever been to a game up in Toronto?

KM: No, but they're great too.

GU: Yeah, yeah. So like we're on this, bus — my wife and I are on this bus and we had just literally the day before ran the Toronto Marathon. So we're a little a little weak in the legs, right? And we're on this bus and it keeps getting more and more packed because we're heading heading downtown, and that's where the stadium is. And it keeps getting more and more packed. And by the time we get there, we can't move.

KM: Oh absolutely not.

GU: Like we're standing and everybody's screaming. I'm just like, what's going on? And that was really my first interaction with these.

PJD: These crazy people.

GU: These professional soccer fans. I'm like, wow, that is awesome. Like I want I want to be a soccer fan.

KM: I love that — professional soccer fan. That's exactly right.

GU: I mean, that's it, right? Like — but it made me want to enjoy that excitement. Right? And I think it —you could, you could do a docu-series or a reality show on soccer fans. There is one, I don't know.

KM: Oh there's a bunch of them. Yes, absolutely. And, and I think what is — I, I agree with the fact that it all — it's connection to people. So it's either like how do I connect with the person of that environment or with the other people that are attracted to that same thing. Right? And I was telling someone the other day, I was like, everyone loves a good story, right? What do we do at Christmas time and Thanksgiving around the, around the table with our families? What what are we doing right now? We're telling good stories. They have arcs. They have they have characterization and and a, and a problem and, a resolution always. And the, the reality is, is that good stories are what connects us all. And so I think that each one of those has a, has a unique story to tell that draws us in. It goes what's going to happen next? Why is that good for me or them or what was hard about that? I have this, this, this thesis that as we grow deeper in joy and sorrow, the other one deepens just as great, right? And stories attract us to that. They attract us to how much joy is found in the story, and how much sorrow is found in the story. And as humans, the the deeper each of those grow and the wider the gap on like how deep your — and your sorrow and your joy can go. The more we experience things deeply and so stories draw us into that and...

PJD: And they say...

KM: They attract us to things, right?. And they say attract us to.

PJD: ...when you're crafting a story and you're writing a script or you're like saying like, "I like that movie. I don't like that movie." They say that you can only connect with a story to the depth of the main characters or one of the character — characters' deepest moment, like saddest moment.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Isn't that wild.

PJD: And it's the truth. If you think about like, why did that movie kind of fall flat? Right? Let me give you an example. The Martian with Matt Damon, right?

KM: Oh man.

PJD: Actor — I really like him. He makes me laugh. I think he's a good actor. The Martian was one of the worst movies I ever saw. You know why? Because at the end of the movie, when you're like, oh, he's not going to make it back. Why should we feel bad about that? Because his mom's going to miss him, basically, was the premise of it.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Yeah.

PJD: Right? And for me, I was like, that's it? I'd be like, everyone's got a mom that's going to miss him, right? Like and so like, so that's I didn't like the movie. I didn't connect with the character. I was like, oh, I mean, single guy goes to Mars, right? Like you knew what you're signing up for. Of course your mom's going to miss you. All right, well this is... but yeah.

GU: So how did how do you tie all this? So I'm trying to think of this and and you know, you gave some examples earlier — Apple. And there's plenty of brands out there that do a great job with marketing. Right? But how do you how do you elevate your marketing to this macro level, this categorical level, right? You mentioned "Got Milk," right — a bunch of dairy farmers get together, say we got sell more dairy. Or you mentioned F1 and how it didn't — it was, it was targeted to increase awareness of F1, but ultimately it increased awareness of all racing, right? All professional racing. So as a marketer, right, so if I'm fill-in-the-blank dealership group, right, and and I'm interested obviously and promoting me. Right? How do I go above that? Right? Because ultimately, what I think I'm hearing you say — and if if I'm off, then, then tell me — but what I think I'm hearing you say is better awareness is, is good for everybody, right? Awareness of the industry is good for everybody. It could be automotive, it could be any industry. But just awareness of the industry is good. You know, rising tide comes, it brings all the ships up. Right. So how do you almost get out of your own way? Right. And focus less on the 30 days that are in front of me and, and more on how do we lift our industry up so that that people see us collectively in a different light?

PJD: I think the very first step, non-negotiable, is that you have to be willing — and I know this sounds like, this may sound like maybe overly practical or, like an obvious one — you have to have patience. You have to know that — because when we think marketing in automotive, oftentimes we think of a 30 day cycle. We think of specials and offers and like, you know — especially the larger your group gets, especially once you, you like, take a step into the publics — there's very little patience. And if you're a public, you you don't — you're not afforded patience because the market is impatient.

GU: Right.

PJD: So if you're going to implement something, it better show an uptick or a J curve within one earnings report.

GU: Yeah.

PJD: Or you're going to get shut down. Private groups have more flexibility here. Smaller groups and smaller stores I think even have more flexibility. But patience because how do you do it? The first thing is that you understand you are you're planting and cultivating a garden, right? You're not buying head of lettuce, right? So you're going to have to till the ground. You have to plant the seed. You have to water it. You're gonna have to care for it when it grows a little bit. You can't just leave it alone. You're gonna have to wait till it gets strong enough, and then eventually, it gets big enough that you can swing on it, right? And it grows fruit, and you give it to, you know, all the things sit under the shade. So patience is the first practical thing. And I think a lot of people can get, caught up in the allure of, like, I want a great brand. I want people to think of me this way. I want people —and it just doesn't work that way. Life doesn't work that way because building a brand with your community is literally like cultivating a relationship. And that will never happen fast. You can tell every — first interviews, first dates, right? You can look like a hero to anybody, right? And most people are like, we'll see, we'll see. Especially if you're a business especially especially if you're a car dealership.

GU: Yeah.

PJD: And so patience and then you have to think a level above the product you sell. You literally have to start thinking outside of the product you sell.

GU: Well, and I would add I think you have to expand your — who you view as your audience, right? You think about our industry especially. You mentioned community and you guys use that word a lot. Right? And you're building a community. I think that's awesome. But that community isn't just car dealers, right? That community isn't just consumers, right?

PJD: So market buyers.

GU: Yeah, right. If I'm a car dealer, that's my my audience, generally speaking. But who else is my audience, right. My, my the rest of my audience could be legislators, right? It could be those people that are creating laws that have a big impact on us. And it could be our manufacturers, right? It could be, manufacturers that haven't even come to the U.S. yet. It could be manufacturers that haven't started yet. So I think the audience also needs to broaden a lot. When you think about sort of that macro level, that, that category level, because it's not just the people that are going to buy a car within the next three months.

PJD: Right. And I think there's a lot of local like, it might be easier for someone to start like in the center, right. And you're in the center, and then you have the people that work immediately around you, and then the consumers you interact with on a regular basis. And then geographically, you have your your other small businesses. You have the spouses of the people who work for you is a major one.

GU: That's true.

PJD: It often gets overlooked, because we all know that if your spouse or significant other likes the place that your work, you are much more likely to stay there and be fulfilled there.

KM: Absolutely.

PJD: It goes — essential services, you know, police, firefighters, you know the things that make a community. School teachers, right? You start thinking of, even if they're never going to buy a car from you. Right? I think I think it's a little easier to think small, right? And just start to look out. But, interesting. You brought up manufacturers that may not exist yet.

GU: Sure.

PJD: Because when you think of like companies like Fisker, VinFast coming into the market looking for the best partnership. Right? And who are we going to award these new points to, right? Obviously some risk involved with that, but who do you think they're going to. Everyone's going to say like go here, but a dealer that has a great brand and a great brand reputation, those new manufacturers are going to say like, I want to like hitch my wagon there, right? And just try to catch that tailwind.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Yeah, I would, I would say like, like here's a clear example, right? Is if everybody believed in a dealer's community that they were selling cars, that is an extremely fleeting value proposition to a community, right? It, it might be important for someone in a moment.

PJD: Also a commodity.

KM: And it's a commodity, right? It's the reason why, I mean, you were talking earlier like, "hey, our SAR is going to maybe max out at 17.5 to 18 million. vehicles."

PJD: Yeah. That's how many we're going to sell.

KM: Because that's how many people are going to be in the market at a given time to turn out, you know, like it's just. And until we have population explosion for some weird reason, right.

PJD: No sooner than 20 years from now, exactly.

KM: No sooner than 20 years from now, it's going to get bigger. Right? And so, you know —  so I think, like if that was to be transferred to "that dealership sells freedom" or "that dealership sells hope", right? Like, if you could transfer as a dealership the same emotion that Kia transferred during their Super Bowl commercial to millions and millions of people, but to your local community on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, your community would feel a loss if you weren't there.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Right? Not like, "I guess I'll go somewhere else." There would be like, "Dang it, who let them leave?" Right? And and if and if you can start to transfer that — what the sale is. Right. What, what people are buying of, of you. It's a, it's a totally different value prop to the culture.

GU: Yeah.

KM: When I think about More than Cars in particular. Well, first of all, more than X. Love people more than X is like it's a universal that can go cross vertical. It doesn't love people more than the software you sell. You love people more than the cars, love people more than the service that you have, right? It's universal. So that's a first, like it's a universal story that people love.

GU: Yeah.

KM: But I think, more importantly, like if if that's a reality for our industry, then our industry is no longer selling car or servicing cars. It's, it's providing care, right? It's providing hope. It's providing connection. It's providing culture and community and all of the things that are way deeper in our psyche, in our emotive core, as a as people, as human — humanity. Then just like the next time that you sign a piece of paper to say, I'll take that one in my driveway, right?

GU: Yeah, so you obviously work with a lot of dealers across the country. You've heard a lot of stories. You've documented a lot of the stories. So maybe give a couple, if you don't mind, or if you have any top of mind, a couple of examples of dealers that have done this successfully, right? The way you were speaking about it, I got I sense some passion and probably some experience with, with dealers or entrepreneurs of some kind that have done this, have accomplished this. So do you have any tangible kind of takeaway examples of, you know —  because it goes beyond, you know, being the being the supplier for the police cars in the town, right? I mean, there's a lot more to it than that.

PJD: That's important.

GU: It is important, but — 

PJD: However, right, somebody is going to be the supplier for the police cars. Right. They need police cars and it will be supplied. And it's doesn't mean that you've done anything special. Right? I'll give you an example for a dealer was actually, he was acquired by a public at one point. He was one of my very first agency clients, automotive agency clients. And his name's Todd Caputo. He's still in the industry's kicking around living that consultant life — banks and, you know, he's, he's loving his position right now. But second generation car dealer and, has become a very close friend. But for 40 years, he was known as Todd Caputo, the Used Car King. Right? So, I mean, you can kind of picture the gimmick. There was no crown involved, but maybe. But not on his head. And so it's like, you know, let's give you cars with price and payment and, you know, like I bought 120 Impalas. Remember those 120 Impalas and they're all 399 and they're this and this and this. And it was always like a transactional based thing. He wanted to change that. Now the truth is he had a great reputation in the in the community. He gave a ton back. His father who started the dealership, was actually a cop. And so they did, you know, supply all the police cars. However, he he wanted to transition and build brand level content. Right, because Todd the Used Car King, without Todd what is the brand? Right? It's nothing. Right? Todd has gone therefore the brand is —  it rests on his shoulders. And the name of the group was the Sun Auto Group. And we actually built a brand that was around these three words that were S.U.N. — simple, upfront and nice. And he moved to a single, single point of contact, one price model. And he was this major transition was always negotiation. It was always like a traditional model. And so what he wanted to do was, was, say, like the community's important, right? We understand that people want things to be easy and empathetic. And the very first piece of content we released was a Facebook post that had a picture of him, and it said, "dealers have been jerking people around for years", right? and I remember we slid this across the desk like — and he was like.

GU: So you're in a meeting with them and you're you're pitching this basically?

PJD: Right here's the —  here's the big idea, right? We're going to put a picture of you — and he says, he's like, "Well what if they think it's me," right? Because his his whole premise was like people, you know, like, hey, there's some people that do these things and I don't do these things. I was like, "people already think it's you." Like there's like a level of awareness, right? Like you don't get to pick and choose what people think about you. You only get to influence it. And so the copy under that post was dealers. Some dealers have been jerking people around for years. That's why I've decided to sell cars this way. Because I believe this, this, this, this, this. The post went completely viral. He got people to VDPs from a Facebook post that had his picture with that statement on it. And then the next piece of content were people talking about situations of dealerships that went wrong for them and what they actually want, right? And what he started to do from that moment is say like, just I understand you and —  granted when you do that, when you do that and put a flare up, the comments section goes crazy, right? And so like there was a lot of —  look, a lot of that is earned. Right? And he acknowledged like, yeah, we probably did jerk some people around right. At 40 years. Right. Old school, new school. Right. This whole thing. But being willing to be honest about that. And then things like when it was their 40th year anniversary, instead of saying, look at us, look out, look how great we are. Stop talking about yourself like people do want to hear about you. They want to hear about them. And so instead it became, oh, well, we're going to turn our 40th anniversary into celebrating 40 years of great community and hold an event called 40 across 40, where we honor regular people, unsung heroes across the community — teachers, first responders, fitness trainers. Right, a foster care workers because it takes a great community for any business to last for 40 years. And so that brand become became known as a very empathetic, community-centric, transparent place to do business. So that that's one that that like, yeah, it's not it doesn't exist anymore because it was acquired by a public. And then, you know, that's that gets absorbed. But still the reputation in the community and what was built still has so much to do with how people felt. And how people wanted to believe, like who they wanted to be affiliated with and saying like, yeah, people. People like us do things like that. People like us talk and think that way. So that's, that's the the one that that's really close to home. And I feel like I got to have a front row seat to that two year journey of going from pitch man to person, right? And instead of Todd Caputo the Used Car King to "Todd Caputo the Used Car King". Right? like you can hear it already. I only have the to to like a more empathetic like simple upfront nice, you know, accommodating, caring, compassionate —  like very human words in human terms.

GU: Yeah. So I want to geek out a little bit on marketing in general, because what you —  the launch pad that you described for that was very simply a problem, right. Like it's a problem, a very specific problem. The you articulate it extremely clearly to the audience. And they, they you said the problem and they nodded their head. And, and then they went beyond that. Right? Then they were like, then they got passionate about it. Cause it's a problem that really bothers them for whatever reason. Right? Whatever experience they had. But in I don't know, I didn't count the words with six words. Right. You articulated a problem very clearly. And by doing that, I think, you know, from a marketing perspective —  this is automotive, this is anywhere, right? But from a marketing perspective, if you can articulate that problem more clearly than anyone else and in a better — and in a better way, that's that gets to the heart of the problem. People will just say, you know what? Let me let me hop on your ship, right?

PJD: They assume you have the answer.

GU: Yes.

PJD: You may not have the answer, but if you can articulate the problem really well, people are like, you know how to fix this, don't you?

GU: Yeah.

KM: Yeah. We, I mean, I'll, I'll brag a little bit, but we, you know —  that, the dealer group that I was at last, the Nelson Group and they —  the ownership group there and the leadership group there was incredible and had the foresight to go in a similar direction. Back in, I think 2018, like, hey, we're going to go one price, single point of contact. And we said we — we like to clarify a lot because we tell stories of this because they're close to home, right? It doesn't have to be that way for everybody, but we see a really clear path to this type of, you know, level of branding from that right now in our current status as an industry. And we, we ran this commercial where basically it was like I had — I bought these boxing gloves. Right. And...

GU: I can see it already.

KM: Okay. Yeah. So I basically bought these boxing gloves.

PJD: I've never heard this story, actually.

KM: And I, and I, and I just said, hey, you know, sometimes going to a dealership feels like a fight, right? And so I just held these boxing gloves up, and I was like, and it doesn't have to be that way. And I threw the boxing gloves at the, at the camera. And then just like went, went after like what the resolution was. And I think that everybody can feel that like whenever you go into, any sort of negotiation, it just feels like a fight. Right. And so we were able to to overcome that. I'll give that the other example, which is a little bit more on like the the community-branded side is, you know, one of our incredible friends is Patrick Abad. Some of you know him, Beaver Toyota and Mister Beaver and Linda Beaver — very incredible people.

PJD: Out of Cumming, Georgia.

KM: But out of Cumming, Georgia and, you know, they, two years ago, — he decided, like, hey, I am going to take basically all of his traditional media spend and move it, move it all into "how do we impact that community?" Where, where, where does the community need us most? And, I was like, you got to tell more people about that. You got — and like, it's story after story of like person came in. We just took care of it for him. We, we we went into this. We, we, we bought a car. We bought a car for, this person, we we took care of their service, but I, I can't even describe all the things. But the thing that I think was the — probably the biggest impacts from that is not all of the stories of the community people or the golf tournaments that we've been a part of, of all the, you know, the community. But then there was — I get a little bit emotional talking about it. So hang with me if we get there.

GU: Okay.

KM: But, I said, — sometimes when I say that I don't get emotional because I've prepped myself, right? But there was, a lady on their team that had, some craziness with her husband and then also, with her life. That the car either was broken down or totaled and, essentially the, he was like, hey, like, she's been with them forever. She's like, I'm going to take care of the car. And he kind of had a budget set aside and started doing some research on some cars and wholesale. And he's like sitting in his office one day and kind of some of the team got wind that that might be happening. And the entire team in the store came to him with a check, I think, like multiple thousand more —  that the team had raised without his awareness to purchase that vehicle for that person. And like when you transfer that level of ownership of care into your employees, imagine what it's doing in your community, right? If your employees are willing to do that for someone in turn, like that type of transformational nature within a store or culture or community — that like that puts an imprint on that thing that can't go away, you know so.

GU: Well and each of those, each of those people are proud of that. Right? And they  — they tell that story in that stories then related, you know, not that you want that direct correlation necessary  — necessarily, but that story is related to the dealership then, right. Every one of those people becomes an advocate for what you've built and the culture. And they're, they're representative of and they're proud of it and they're excited to be there, certainly, but also to share it.

KM: Yeah.

GU: Which is, I think  important. Another thing that I find interesting, when you're talking about community and being involved in the community, is sort of these opportunities for, I'll call them adjacent opportunities. Right? So you're car dealer, you can sell cars, you can service cars, you can help people out with cars. What else can you do? Right. Is there can you can you build a garage for the high school? Right. Could you supply all the tools for the trade school that's nearby? Could you what can you build, beyond just the direct...

KM: There's so much ancillary in  —like it's, it's mobility, right. Like, how are we supporting  — Liza Burgess, at Carter Meyers, she's always like, "How do we support the mobility needs of our community?" Whatever they are.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Like, if the community needs bikes.  — that's mobility. Right? If the community needs  — whatever it is.

PJD: I think, it's like  — so like a lot of we know a lot of people that go there, start building things, start giving large amounts of money or tools or supplies to a, you know, a tech program. Sometimes that's very  — like a far reach, right? That takes now levels of budget approval, levels of planning, levels of outreach. And sometimes I think a lot of the overlooked things are the most basic. And again, I'm going to mention Patrick Abad again, who says "We have this really nice big facility. And we have these local organizations that need somewhere to meet  — you know have an event. Let's clear out the showroom and cater their annual meeting. Let's let this unused conference room or training room that we have. Let's bring in the regional, you know, police department meeting and let's feed them well and let's serve them. Let's bring in the teachers.".

GU: Yeah.

PJD: Right? Let's, let's teach  — let's let the teachers have it's just space, right? Because like a lot of, you know, a lot of dealers have these big beautiful facilities. And most times and what, what they don't understand is that, well a lot of people don't come into a dealership on a regular basis, right? It's normal for us. When you walk in a big facility and it's got cars...

GU: It's  — yeah.

KM: It's daunting.

PJD: It's daunting when you have to buy a car. But I think like, when you set it up, it's kind of neat.

GU: Yeah.

KM: Right. Right, right.

PJD: It's, it almost feels like a little bit of a museum.

KM: Yeah. You're right.

GU: Well and how good looking are cars? They're so much fun, they're works of art just sitting there. It really is  —

PJD: And also, like every  — most people in those situations would be car owners. And being able to, like, open a car and  — it's almost like a little car show. Like when, when you know, you're not in, like, "I'm going to be sold to" mode. And so I think that's a real low hanging fruit that most people don't think about. But some good food goes a long way. And if you bring in a group of like 50, you know, law enforcement officers, 50 teachers that are having this meeting, right? And you give them a great meal and think, have a hospitality mindset and serve them. That, you know, several thousand dollars is going to have far more impact than things that would cost you ten times that amount, like to put a banner up at a local concert venue or something like that. So I think there are things that are available that it's easy to overlook because it's part of a dealer's regular life, and one is space.

GU: Yeah.

PJD: And the ability to cater and everyone like, right. Dealers know all the caterers in the area. They know the restaurants. They know. You know, you know they know.

GU: They definitely know those things.

PJD: They know the steakhouses. They know all the steakhouses. So.

GU: No, that's a good idea. That's a good idea. That's great. That's great. All right, I want to shift gears a little bit because, you guys have ASOTU CON coming up. So I'm shocked that you were able to make time to, to come and hang out for a little bit.

PJD: So are we.

GU: Well, we really don't, but  —No, so you moved it this year, right? You had been doing it in the fall, the first two years. Moved it to, late spring, early summer, May, mid-May. So let's let's talk about it a little bit. I want to know a lot about it, but, you know, you can start wherever you want, but maybe start with why the shift right from fall to late spring?

PJD: The shift was actually very practical. September is a very busy, busy month to try to squeeze an event into, and there's just more and more events in the auto space now. And we know that people are busy if 20 groups and make meetings and, you know, small events and all these things. So we just  — May seemed like a great spot where  —

KM: I think there's seven make meetings in September.

PJD: And we found out about all of them after we booked the date last year. "Oh, I can't go. There's a Honda meeting. Oh, I can't go there's a whatever." So, May just made, you know, good, good sense from a — that, like, "hey, let's do this." But there was another element, like, we came off so much momentum off of the one we had in September, which was our second. I like  — the prospect of waiting another year, like we're still a startup. And so swinging that momentum into, like, you know, not a full year later, but like cut that in half plus a little bit. It just made real practical sense. And it's at the same venue. So a lot of our stuff, like we just had a great experience at the live casino hotel, just south of Baltimore. And like the the main room is amazing. And the tech in the building is amazing. And so we knew we could get it for May. That was a consideration too — September was booked.

KM: Yeah. They were booked for like three — where they gave us like three weeks.

PJD: Because like in automotive we have this little tiny window. It's like, well, I can't be the beginning of the month. Can't be the end of the month.  Can't be at the end of the week or really too far in the beginning of the week. Okay. So it's the 15th and 16th and like we can't get more in the middle of nobody has an excuse.

KM: Yes. Yeah. And the like, like Paul just said, there's a lot of events out there and between 20 groups and NADA and and the beginning of the month and the end of the month and like, what are we going to send our people to and what am I going to go to that's practical and then allows us to learn. You know, we  — I think people maybe see our videos and they see the content that we do, or they see the the flat brims and the Nike's and the Pumas and whatever. And it's like, these guys are just a, you know, they're a bunch of fun, right? Which we love to have fun. But, you know, I, I know of multiple product iterations or product innovations that came out of sessions at ASOTU CON in September that are already live with vendors around our country because the dealers heard something, or interacted some way with them, or with the content to drive a net new change. Right? Or connections that are like, people are like, if I didn't have that over the last seven months, I wouldn't have resolved to do X in our dealership because I would have never met them in the 20 group or my make meeting because it's too localized, right?

GU: Right, right.

KM: I got to see outside of what it is and we, Paul and I, our team hates us and loves us for it all at the same time because we we take a lot of pride and ownership in actually curating literally every single panel. Because we want to see these unique perspectives from across the industry, put together in a way that serves the people that are listening to the conversation. Right? Because, you know, you got 25 podcasts that serve the retail industry. We have six of them. You know, you've got webinars for days, whether it be broad scope webinars or product specific webinars, you can listen to content all the time. So why, why engage? What's a unique engagement with a group of people that look at that and look at the ASOTU  first, as we call it, as like people like me do things like this. And so you get in the room, it's like we already  —there's a heart, there's a mindset that's aligned. All right. Also, not just that, but we're providing content and building content in a way that's structured for innovation and and progression instead of just historical looking like "This is what I did, look," you know, it's like, "What are we going to do next?"

GU: Yeah. So go a little deeper on the format for me. So, you know, somebody wants to come. I assume you're still selling tickets?

PJD: Yeah.

KM: Yes.

GU: Yeah. Okay. So somebody wants to come. What do they expect? Because we've all been to big shows, right? We've been to 20 groups. We've been to, you know, smaller shows to regional shows. We've we've been to vendor shows. We've been  — there's there's all these different types. Right? So, you know, obviously you started this for a reason. I assume the reason is you saw a void in something that you could fill. So what's the format like? Because I assume it's at least slightly different than  — or it's, it's framed up to be slightly different than anything that's out there.

PJD: Yeah. Yeah, similarly  —there's a lot of similarities. It's a place that you go and you stay overnight and you wake up and you gather together and you, you know, you hear from people who are speaking from stage and you have some conversations. When we approach it, we looked at a bunch of events because we like to go to other events to show events like South by Southwest, VCon. Right. And we're like, what are the things about those communities when they gather that seems to have everyone walking away  — I'm going to say changed, right? But it's not a Tony Robbins conference, right? We might have some drips of that in there, but. But walk away changed meaning there was something that they heard that moved their perspective. They met other people that could help guide them there. And now they have this relationship coming out of the event that we're on phone calls, text messages. Right. Like so there's an  — it's a buzzword and I hate using it because it's become a buzzword like community. Is like a lot of people say that. And the best compliment I ever, I ever got was when we were day one of ASOTU CON last year, and somebody I didn't know came in, found out about it through like the Washington Area Auto Dealers Association or something, he said, "You know what," he goes "a lot of people say they have community." He goes, "I've been here for two hours and you actually have one." And so the format is, is a similar  — it's a familiar format, okay. There's a main stage, there's some breakout studios where like we have different topics. We have a live podcast stage. There is a a trade show floor light, right where it's a place where you can kind of like have a home base if you're an industry partner. Right. And a booth and a table. We also have other things like, like a swag shop where we hand print shirts and people actually wear the shirts. And like we always say, it's a big deal when people are willing to spend money for, for your swag. Because it says something about them. And there's obviously all the impromptu like dinner meetings and people hanging out. I mean, we, I woke up the second day and I came downstairs and I realized there were people that were hanging out in the same place that they were when I went to sleep. Talking.

KM: It was nuts, right?

PJD: Not gambling. Not drinking. Talking.

KM: Yep.

PJD: And this is  — and, and it was like they found the value to do that at the event. So format similar format. Obviously we do like to have fun. Yeah. Right. So we're gonna have that fun thing.

KM: We like to put on a production. Like we light every single room we video every single —

PJD: That's a difference too.

KM: There's a, there's a element of "I've never walked into a breakout session that looks and feels like this."

PJD: Yeah, there's an experience.

KM: I can, I can guarantee that. There's not a single other breakout session at any other automotive conference that feels like a breakout session that we have.

PJD: We're going to do a pitch  — we're having, two pitch stages this year. So we had a clubhouse room for a while, Kyle founded it, called 'Pitch Tank', where you could go on and do a three minute pitch for your product, and then there'd be some questions and then, you know, like, you hear  — and we think, we believe that every dealer wants to be pitched. They don't want to get stuck in a 20 minute conversation that they don't want to be in. Right? So we're providing a space for our industry partners to say, "This is what I do." And I think there is often a lot of confusion around what products do, because you see logos, you see trade show booths at NADA. You don't really know what a company does. But if I can sit in a room for 45 minutes and hear 10 or 12 at once and have people I trust ask intelligent questions about it, that's a good use of my time.

GU: Yeah, yeah. And it's good idea.

PJD: And so we're doing two pitch stages because we want to speed up the level of communication. And that could be between dealers and industry partners. There's so many ways to do it. Everyone's not a good fit for everybody. We understand that. So we want to have the people find each other fast or understand we're not a good fit fast. So then you can spend your time with the people who are a good fit, which is kind of alludes back to  — Kyle, like us, legitimately seeing major platforms change things and add solutions because of a conversation that started at ASOTU CON. So I think I feel like that's the best kept secret. We didn't even know about it.

KM: Yeah, we had three people tell us, I was like, "You did what? With who? And they already did it live? And it came out of that?"

PJD: And "They're about to roll it out to everybody across the country?"

KM: Yes.

GU: No. That's great. That's great. So I mean, you guys obviously have a lot of runway in front of you. But just listening to the way that you're talking about the community, the people that come and the conversations that are had, do you, do you get the sense that there's a specific type of individual or, you know, a specific person that gets the most out of out of coming? You know, I assume it's not for every single  — It's not for the all million people that are in the automotive industry. Right? Like, what is that kind of, or what's your sense if you have one of kind of — that core, I'll call it audience.

KM: Yeah. Yeah. I think well, one like we, we know that building, anything that is built on the basis of good and not ego or sensationalism is very, very hard, right? It does whittle down to like a very, very small set of people that — that really, really get it at that level. I mean, we are having this conversation last night literally. And so I think that it  — like one when you get there, you would probably look around at the dealers and start to see some similarities in the retailer service process. Because it's probably of the more progressive.It probably...

PJD: And their employment process.

KM: Has a much more progressive employment and onboarding process. And, and you would see, you know, in their HR documents review protocols and things like that. You probably have a slightly younger leaning operating crew. I'm not talking like 20s, maybe. Right. But but typically, maybe it's a second gen dealer or something like that. Because there really is this pursuit of a very, very forward thinking technology, very forward thinking HR policies and  — and and also I would say dealers and dealer groups that are not caught up in themselves. They're caught up in others. That like, like all of them might actually be able to put in their core values "We love people more than we love cars." There's probably some dealers in the country that can look at that and go, "eh, you know  — cars pay the bills." You know? And if that's the truth, they're probably not close enough to the 'love people more than you love cars' to make it. And that's okay right now. We want to see that change and that's why we're doing this. But right now that's the reality.

PJD: It's about finding the other. It's definitely the common thread I see is  — or some of the common threads. People on the hunt for the next thing, right? Like, what's the next iteration of my business or this trajectory?

KM: Yep.

PJD: I can, I can find, you know, and that that could be someone of any age. Right, like  —cause we have, we have some old dogs.

KM: We have some old dogs. No doubt.

PJD: And they are on the hunt and they're like, oh, I love being around this energy because they're just  — innovation is in their DNA. And they've been innovating for the last 50 years and they're like, what's the next one? And like you said, a lot of the second gen people who are willing to try something new, people who are really willing to like, deploy outside automotive retail tactics, inside automotive. I think that that is a high concentration, which is why we bring in the guests and the keynotes that we do. This year is a guy named Will Guidara. New York Times bestselling author of Unreasonable Hospitality.

GU: Super hot right now.

KM: Yeah. I mean, it's it's nuts. It's like every third post on LinkedIn.

PJD: I'm so excited about that.

KM: It's wild.

GU: Like so, so when you booked him like was this just pre just him taking off? I mean...

PJD: So yeah here's here's the backstory on that. So Simon Sinek — do you know Simon Sinek is?

GU: Yes.

PJD: Right a lot of people do. This is the first book on Simon Sinek's publishing label. And I had some interaction with Simon — Simon's business being a brand instructor for them during Covid. And we got pre releases of the book and they said, "Hey, we're going to do this publishing — here's this book. It's from my friend Will Guidara." And Simon's like "This is why it's cool." That was two years ago. And I read the book and I was like, this looks amazing, flipped it to Kyle. Kyle's like, this book is amazing. And so we were going to have him at ASOTU CON last year, and so — but he had like a speaking engagement in like the Cayman Islands the next day. Yeah I don't know but he was flying private and I'm sure they were paying him more money than we were.

KM: Without a doubt.

PJD: So it was like, "I know Baltimore's you know, it's September — sounds awesome and all." But, so actually we had him, so then when we knew May like we got right on it and said, let's try to lock him down. And just I think it's the serendipity of the moment is that unlike a lot of New York Times bestselling books where they pop and then they fizzle. His is the opposite, because it's so substantively connected to how humans think is that we're seeing this trajectory. And now, like we saw the Waller group bring him in, we saw Madza bringing him in and so...

KM: He was on Fallon.

PJD: He was on Jimmy Fallon for Valentine's Day. And so like, we're just excited. We're going to be in New York City with him on the March 26th. I don't know when this is airing, but March 26th, we're going we're gonna do some podcasting with him. And again, back to that, that original premise of bringing hospitality mindset into the industry, understanding we have these opportunities, and they don't have to be expensive things. They just have to be intentional things.

KM: Yes.

PJD: We're hoping that, you know, everybody knows how they feel when when hospitality is right, whether at a hotel or at a restaurant. And and so again, people who are crave bringing that level of thinking into their business, whether it's on the employment side or the consumer side, those kind of people migrate toward ASOTU CON and, you know, do our best to deliver.

KM: Absolutely. Yeah.

GU: No, it's great. And, you know, it's great to see it continuing to grow. And, you know, this is year three and you're probably already halfway home on planning for, for year four, I'm guessing.

PJD: N— You're so generous.

KM: Yeah we're not  — we're not. I think we're gonna have more ideas.

PJD: Yes. Yeah. That's it. We floated one city because, like, what likely will outgrow our spot this year, 600 is kind of our max at this one. So we were floating some, some cities. But that's as far as it's got. I mean, we're still a startup, so it's like, I don't know, it's all the way over there. We'll worry about that when we get over this hill.

GU: Oh that's great. Oh no, that's great. That's great. What haven't we talked about, guys? It's been a good, good, fun conversation. Anything we haven't touched on that you want to before we jump out of here?

PJD: I would love to just talk about More than Cars the docu series. I know we talked about in the beginning. What it actually is, for those of you who may not have heard, is a docu series that talks about the inspiring stories in real car dealerships. It is our effort to—  like we talked a lot about brand connection, what builds a macro brand. It's our effort to build the —  build and improve and elevate the macro brand of car dealers. Everyone. Here's the bad stuff, and fast. And frequently.

GU: Well, or they just assume it, right? It's not even like — sometimes it's not even stories that you hear. Sometimes it's just assumptions.

PJD: No, right. It is literally now a cultural assumption that car dealers are "eh I don't know..."

KM: And if it's not bad, it's at least a recoil.

PJD: Yeah. It's like "I'd rather not." And our experience — and I know the experience of so many people in this industry is that some of the most generous, inspirational, caring, empathetic people that we know in life are car dealers. And people that work in dealerships. And if my kids were ever lost in a city and they were scared, they would see a car dealership and go there before they would go to a hospital, or because they would think there are good people in there that will help me. And that's the reality and the truth. And so we were like, it's just tragic that that's it. And we believe in this industry or 100% bought into this industry. And we're like. I feel like we've always wanted as an entry, some way to do this. And, you know, like NADA has had PR campaigns. But the tough part about that is there's such a vested interest, right, that it feels like a PR campaign. Right? Like paid for by our sponsors. Right. And so we kind of just took what we see in culture, in the media and the types of shows that people navigate toward. Right? Like Duck Dynasty, like, like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, like Dude Perfect, and, you know, like, who are the things that people pay attention to? And how do we introduce — reintroduce society to this amazing group of people that are car dealers and so make a docu series? Kyle and I go to dealerships all over the country. We tell the human stories. The setting is a dealership, and there may be a trick shot or two in there.

KM: Yeah. And I think, you know, we we we see the series as being, both a beacon internally to say "Here is the best. Like, this is the best of the best that we can find," and for, for internally for the industry to be a beacon to say, "This is, this is what we can be all called to. This can be a North Star." But we also see it as a megaphone, that allows consumers, at some point, you know, we're already in, in the works of bringing this to, working on both AppleTV and Amazon Prime. And so we see it as a megaphone for the industry, similar to how F1 saw it for the racing industry with Netflix or that — maybe I don't know who started the conversation. Right? But we see it as a megaphone to say, "Look, no, there are beautiful stories inside this thing. Stories of of life change of pain and of joy." We've seen that in the four episodes we shot. A fun, right? We've moved some lot cars. We've done some trick shots. Right?

PJD: I've yet to win one of the competitions.

KM: Yep. No, not not a single competition.

PJD: I have yet to win one. I was so close.

KM: Yeah. So it's it's a lot of fun, and...

GU: We'll you gotta quit..

PJD: Let me just say I'm building, I'm building my —  like I have this...

KM: I think. I think he's just hustling me.

PJD: I'm hustling them all because it's like, everyone loves the underdog more. So I was like, "No, I don't want Kyle to win. We love Paul, and Kyle always wins." Just working that so when I win, it's going to be so sweet. Whatever that one is.

GU: If — you just got to pick the thing you're better than him at. And..

PJD: You know, I thought I did and it didn't work. Maybe we need —  maybe we did do like a soccer one or a tennis one where it like people would think, you obviously win.

KM: Flip it?

PJD: And then and then for some reason you just choke because I get in your head. And so we've released two episodes so far. Episode three's coming out this month, episode four will be released next month, and then season two is kind of in planning phase. We're working on funding and all the things it takes to like, shoot this. And you know, we have our video crew from Nashville that that travels around and we just go in the dealership like, it's so much fun. You —  it's free to watch, right now, is where it lives. But, you know, hopefully pretty soon it'll be on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

GU: No that's great I appreciate what you guys are doing. I think everybody else does too. Even if they haven't seen it. They should. You know, it's just it's a fun way to to share the great stories.

PJD: So fun to make.

GU: That's great. Good deal. Anything else.

KM: I mean. So — there's so much.

GU: I could talk to you guys for hours. I really could — it, you know, there's there's so much to unpack and you guys are great. So I appreciate you taking time. But it's been fun, and we'll have to do it again, because I'm telling you, we probably got another another 20 hours of...

PJD: Easy conversation.

KM: Thanks for the hospitality having us. It's been fun to to be around, this this amazing space.

PJD: Yeah, the Reynolds HQ.

KM: But the whole Reynolds HQ, like it's an operation.

PJD: And I don't know if you've never been here. There's, like, a very Disney World-like experience.

KM: There is!

PJD: I won't spoil it in case you come in here. But like, I was, I was — I was truly, like, surprised and delighted to.

KM: Truly taken aback.

PJD: Yeah, a delightful moment. You have to come here to see it.

KM: Whether you're a client or not. You should you should take them up on the opportunity to come out here for sure.

GU: Yeah, I appreciate it, guys. And again, thanks for your time. And, we'll catch up again soon.

KM: Absolutely.

PJD: It's our pleasure.

GU: Wow, that was a fun one. I could talk to those two guys for hours, probably days, if we had enough water and coffee. But, you know, really appreciate Paul and Kyle joining me. Hope you got as much out of that conversation as I did. Before we hop off, don't forget, you can watch or listen to all episodes of Connected on YouTube, Apple, or Spotify podcasts and make sure to hit subscribe so you're notified every other week when new episodes are released. Thanks so much, and we'll see you in two weeks.