In this episode transcript of the Used Car Dealer Podcast, Zach Klempf interviews Bill Zadeits of Cherokee Media Group.
Zach Klempf: Hello, Zach here and we have a great guest on the podcast today, Bill's Zadeits, the president of Cherokee Media Group, which includes Auto Remarketing and the Used Car Week Conference, which I'm sure most of our audience has heard before. Bill, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Bill Zadeits: Yeah, Zack, so honored to be invited. Appreciate that and love what you guys have done with this podcast and really a real honor for me that you would have me on. So thank you.
Zach Klempf: So Bill, let's get started and for those of us listening, talk about how you got into the automotive publishing business?
Bill Zadeits: Man, you know, that's a great question. Originally when I came out of school, I wanted to be in radio and TV. So my first job was actually at a radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, just happened to be the the flagship for the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels and did a lot of sports and so forth there in radio and then eventually about a year later got into TV and I was the sports anchor at the NBC affiliate down in Wilmington, North Carolina and did radio and TV for a little while and learned the media business and also came to the realization I guess that all the ad sales guys are driving these sweet beamers and stuff and I was driving my little you know, Pontiac sunbird around as the sports anchor and I'm like, “What are you guys doing?” and they said, “Man, no, you need to get into advertising sales.” So that was my backdoor into media and it just so happened that I landed at this company that was publishing Auto marketing working in the automotive industry and so while I had a great media background I had to learn the automotive stuff and it's been a lot of fun that happened oh gosh, I guess I started here back in 96. So it's been a long ride and it's been great. It's been awesome to kind of learn and meet so many great people in the automotive industry and real really, really cool stuff that we've been able to do over that time frame.
Zach Klempf: Yeah, and I've noticed you have several different properties you have like a Buy Here Pay Here one you have a podcast that you guys do; what's been the evolution of the different properties in the automotive sphere of Cherokee?
Bill Zadeits: You know, when I first started it really was just a print magazine. It was a print magazine and the whole premise was that we're going to produce content and share content with franchise dealers, independent dealers, but specifically on the used car side and that wasn't as cool as it is now way back then and it started to really roll as you know, leasing became more and more prevalent and those cars were coming off lease and they were available in the used car market and and when franchise dealers really got ahold of that kind of product I think we really saw the the used car industry take off because it changed a little bit the dynamic between the independent dealer and the franchise dealer and like you said we we even produce content on the Buy Here Pay Here side as well so the entire spectrum really is what we focus on from a used car side of things and it evolved from the print magazine to a website and from the website to how do we drive people to that website it's like oh, we can produce email content and the emails started to started to come out. And then in 1999, we decided we were going to produce our first conference the National Remarketing Conference which is still a part of Used Car Week; kind of the cornerstones of Used Car Week as we grew so like a lot of companies I don't know that there was like any brilliant strategy to it but we started and worked hard and expanded over time we've got a great group of people, content providers, designers, ad sales, event people, and it's just like I said it's just been an awesome ride. I can't believe it's been 25 years but it has been so I guess all this gray hair on the side here. It wasn't there when I first started but it's been a great ride and over that time I had the opportunity to buy the company and from our founder Ron Smith who just a just a great entrepreneur, I know that's part of you know, kind of runs through the blood of what you guys do here as well and he started the company bootstrapped it and really, really just set things up for us very nicely for sure.
Zach Klempf: What a great story and the Auto Remarketing publication it's been covering the pandemic inventory shortage, all the m&a in auto software. What has the last year been like from your lens?
Bill Zadeits: You know what I give a credit to Joe Overby and Nick Zulovich, our senior editors. Those guys just do an amazing job. It's amazing to me how much content that they're able to push out to the industry. It's been crazy, right? I mean, I think that when we look at the m&a markets in particular, especially some of these big dealer deals that have kind of gone down over the last couple of months, it really is eye opening. And even even on a larger scale, if you follow the public companies, I mean, their stock is rising and continues to drift upward. And so it's really been a great time to be in the dealer, it’s not easy, I'm not gonna say it's been easy at all, I know, there's been some hard decisions to be made and some hard times, but all in all, there's some, there's been some resilience in the used car side of the market in particular. As you know, we've seen a lot of different things happen, that chip shortage and all these other things that are creating a lack of new cars coming into the system. And, and that has really impacted the used car market as well. But you know, we always say around here, you know,, the first step in manufacturing a used car is to sell a new car. And so that has to happen. And I think we're getting back to it. You know, I think there's certainly some supply chain things that are going on. But I'm an optimist, and I'm always telling our team around here, you know, hey, we're one day closer to this being over. And I think that that's, that's about the best prognostication I can have on that. I don't know when but hey, we're one day closer.
Zach Klempf: So what do you think has been the most surprising in terms of the auto industry in 2021?
Bill Zadeits: Yeah, you know, and I appreciate that question. And I don't know if it's surprising as much as it is, to me, just revealing about the used car industry. And I think it, it goes back to that word resilience, right? I think that the dealers and the OEMs, and, you know, the auto finance and the vendor community that comes around it, everyone has had to come out of 2020, which was absolutely nuts. And look at new ways of doing business, you know, look at new ways to serve the customer to serve the consumer at the highest level. And I think that, to me, has been encouraging. It's been great to see, you know, how people have rallied around each other helped each other, and how we've kind of kept the, you know, the the country going, I mean, you know, again, I'm not saying it's all been easy, and I'm not saying that it happened at the snap of a finger. But I think the industry to me, really has shown resilience and really shown creativity, and really shown itself to be a place again, entrepreneurial, right? I mean, just some great ideas. Not everything worked, okay, but a lot of those things that did work have really kept us moving and kept used car sales going.
Zach Klempf: So you've been running the Used Car Week conference for many years now. What has it been like over the last two years with the pandemic on the conference side of the business? And how has that helped or made adjustments to how you plan for Used Car Week 2021?
Bill Zadeits : Yeah, you know, I'll get into the weeds a little bit on conference, production and management and that type of thing, you know, obviously, 2020, we had to go digital. And so it forced us to engage with some new platforms that would enable, you know, the ability for dealers, and auto finance executives, and auctions and all these I mean, to come together in a virtual format and in a digital format. And we were able to do that successfully. And that was great. And one of the cool things that came out of that, for us on the conference side was an assumption that I made and I was completely wrong. I was of the assumption of saying, hey, if we have Zach on at 2pm, on a Monday, and we promote the heck out of that, everybody's going to show up at two o'clock on Monday because Zach's awesome. And we're doing a great job and boom, and that happened to a certain extent. But what I didn't realize was that I said, I would say to Zach, hey, Zach, in addition to your live segment, would you record a 15 or 20 minute kind of complimentary session as well for these dealers and, and and put your, you know, your expertise and your best practices out there. And the the recorded on demand stuff, kind of our own version of Netflix, took off like a rocket, everyone was consuming that content at their own pace, on their own schedule, 10 o'clock at night, whatever it may have been, I thought the live content was going to be great because it was going to be so engaging. And it did meet that to a certain extent. But what I had no idea about and what I had no clue was just how much the on demand content was going to be accepted. And not only accepted, but just like absolutely off the charts. And so what we've done with our live events now as we come back into live events and use car week in November is that on the Used Car Week website, we're gonna have on demand content in addition to the live as well, because there's still some people that may never go to a conference again. And that's cool, I get it, you know, there's just different, different thoughts out there and different approaches. But what that does that gives us a whole new audience. And it gives us an opportunity to include a lot of different speakers that may not have normally wouldn't have had room for them at a hotel or wherever conference center you'll have so many rooms that you can put people in for live sessions. But with on demand content, we can really expand that and that's one of the things that we're doing this year with Used Car Week. So I'm excited about that.
Zach Klempf : So what are some of the most exciting parts of Used Car Week this year?
Bill Zadeits : Yeah, um, you know, Used Car Week is really an umbrella for the various tracks that where we generate content across the used car space. So if you're looking at an umbrella of Used Car Week at the top, within one track, we have the retail segment of things, right, it's going to be everything surrounding the dealership, the selling of used cars, dealer training, all of that type of stuff, the OEMs, the CPO all of that type of thing would be in the retail track. And then on the other track we have on the auto finance group, hand in glove right with the dealers in terms of what that might be. And then the third track is the repossession and collections. And let's face it, I mean, those guys have had kind of a tough time just because hey, we can't repossess all these cars. And to a certain extent, the government was like, Hey, no repossessions, none of this types of stuff. But the repo and the collection space really does feed the used car industry, you know, it really does feed it with great inventory. So that's the third track. The fourth track is what I mentioned before, it's a national remarketing conference, it's really on wholesale acquisition. And in that market, and again, that's where we kind of cut our teeth. That's where we, for almost 30 years now have been publishing on remarketing. And so that's been great. And then, you know, new this year, and you and I've talked about this just a little bit, it's really exciting is what we're calling the navicon. And what that stands for is the National Auto Venture and Investors conference. We touched on it earlier, right? The m&a activity has just been so hot, not only on the dealership level, but as you said, within the software space within the all vendors community, it's just been red hot. And we knew that that could be a great conference to bring in some new people to the event, right. And so we have partnered with Steve Greenfield. He's with Automotive Ventures. Steve had a great career with Cox and Autotrader and Truecar I mean just a really smart guy. And and Steve is just really you know in with that m&a group he understands who the players are out of Automotive Ventures actually is a fun he's gonna have different funds where he's investing in technology companies within the space and and so we went to Steve and said, “Hey, we have decided for this event, would you be willing to kind of host it moderate these sessions and, and bring in some people that could really add value to to the attendee experience.” And he's done that. I mean, he's done that in spades. And it's been awesome. I mean, he's got speakers from Carmax coming in, of course, ACV is, is on the docket, all of this group, I mean, I could just keep going. So we're excited about that. So what we've done is try to create an entire user experience that you can pick and choose. Hey, I'm just gonna go for a couple of days and take in these things here. Or if I've got time, I may stay for the entire week, really, Monday through Thursday, Monday afternoon through Thursday and take all of this in so we're excited about that down through the years it's been a great kind of end of the year reunion for the industry to come together all the different segments and and we're looking forward to that again, November 15 when we kick it off at Red Rock Casino.
Zach Klempf: Yeah, now that's so exciting and I really liked the NAVICON addition and Steve Greenfields great with the venture, you know, oriented conferences. So let's talk about some futures. Now, what are your predictions in terms of the US car marketplace going into 2022?
Bill Zadeits: Yeah, and I think that, you know, that's one of the things that we have the benefit of our timeline with Used Car Week is like it's far enough at the end of the year that you can take a really significant look back with some storylines and really see how things have occurred. But it's also a great time to kind of take a look ahead, right. And in the experts, certainly, and I do not claim to be one at all. But I do read what our guys put out there and I think that we can see you know, inventories are going to continue to be tight, right? It's going to continue in the US car space in particular. We're gonna see inventories, you're going to have to be creative and how you're sourcing your inventory. Again, whether you're a buy here, pay here, dealer, strong, independent dealer, franchise dealer, whatever that may be, you're gonna have to stay creative with what that's going to be and then as the chip situation improves, I think we're gonna see some incentives on a lot of the some of the new cars that are sitting right now, to get them sold. And I think that will bring used car prices down a bit. And that's fine, because they're probably running a little hot or have run hot. A little while now. But I think what we're gonna see is that as we move through 2022, a little more normalization of what the market may be. It may not be what we saw, you know, years ago prior to COVID. But I think we're gonna go back, all things being equal without any other massive, you know, stops or whatever. But, but I think there's a, there's a good chance that we could find ourselves moving back towards a more more normalized used car market.
Zach Klempf: Yeah, definitely agree with that. Lastly, Bill, we have a special offer for listeners of the podcast for Used Car Week. Tell them about that?
Bill Zadeits: Yeah, you know, one of the things that we've been really fortunate with with Used Car Week is to have a great group of sponsors each year a great group of exhibitors, and, and we highlight them, and we celebrate them. They're great partners of ours, and they've been with us for years. And so it's been great, but with that support, we do offer dealers, or anyone that works in a dealership, a free pass a free ticket to come out and attend as little or as much of Used Car Week as they would like. Now, of course, this doesn't cover travel and hotel and food and anything like that. But it is a free ticket. And the conference registration for Used Car Week is you know, right around $1,000. So it's a pretty significant offer. And you know, we're really happy to be able to team with you and your audience and an offer that if you're a dealer, or if you work in a dealership and you'd like to attend Used Car Week, we have a free ticket for you.
Zach Klempf: That's great. I mean, dealers should definitely take advantage of that. And lastly, you know, Bill, anything else that I didn't mention you'd like to discuss?
Bill Zadeits: No, man, Zach, I just appreciate the time I want to give you credit for for launching the podcast here. I want to reciprocate by having you on the auto remarketing podcast sometime soon, too. I think you've done a great job. I think it's a great service and these kinds of conversations and what you've been doing in the past as well is viable for the industry. And I know it's your popular guy out there. I know the podcast continues to kind of rise in the rankings and so forth. So I congratulate you and again, I appreciate just the opportunity to spend a few minutes with you and with your audience.
Zach Klempf: Appreciate it, Bill and thanks so much for joining the used car dealer podcast today.
Bill Zadeits: Thanks Zach