Interview with NIADA CEO, Jeff Martin on NIADA 2024 & Used Car Market

June 5, 2024| Zach Klempf

In this transcribed episode of the UCDP, Zach is joined by Jeff Martin, CEO of NIADA since February 2023 and former executive director at TXIADA. They discuss the upcoming NIADA Convention 2024, regulatory compliance, the used car marketplace, and the latest initiatives from NIADA!


Zach: All right, Zach here, and today I'm joined by Jeff Martin, the CEO of NIADA since February 2023 and the former executive director of the Texas Independent Auto Dealer Association. Jeff, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today, man.

Jeff: Thank you, Zach. Thanks for having me. I certainly look forward to visiting with you a little bit here today. I think it was probably about a year ago this month or maybe last month that we last sat down to visit.

Zach: Absolutely. And now you've been CEO of NIADA for over a year. What have been your observations and most noteworthy achievements for the organization in the last year?

Jeff: Most noteworthy achievements, you know, I'd probably point to three or four things. When I first came to the association, we had just taken on the dealer performance groups. Transitioning these into the NIADA 20 groups while focusing on the needs of our members, primarily the 20 group members at that time, took some doing. We brought some new moderators in, and there were a lot of moving parts to that. But we feel very good about the direction of that program and are excited about continuing to serve the 20 group members.

Last year, around this time, we were discussing the convention, and we ended up having 100 more dealers in 2023 than in 2022. We are on pace to have even more members this year, with a goal of having around 800 dealer attendees at our convention.

A big part of our focus this past year was managing our members' dollars responsibly. When I first came to the association, we had 35 employees, and now we're down to around 20 employees, ensuring that we're meeting members' needs while being responsible with their dues. It's not the sexiest topic, but building that base for the association is crucial for future growth.

Finally, we focused on our responsiveness to members' needs. In January, we had 12,915 members, and we're currently just under 13,500 members. Credit goes to the state associations and their teams for recruiting members. We even budgeted for no membership growth in 2024, just trying to be responsible with the budgeting. Seeing that number climb again is very exciting and something we're proud of.

Zach: That's extremely impressive, definitely a banner year for the organization with that sort of growth. I wanted to ask you a state-level NIADA question. Previously, you ran the Texas Independent Auto Dealer Association, one of the largest NIADAs in the country. How is that different on the state level from running the NIADA, the national organization, since this transition is fresh on your mind?

Jeff: I don't know that I've ever had that question before. So, I'll say this. This is the third association I've been a part of. I was part of a teacher's association when I first started my career, then had the opportunity to run TIADA, and now here at NIADA. At a high level, there's not much difference. Every 501(c)(6) is a member-owned, member-governed association, with primary responsibilities in lobbying and meeting members' needs.

The biggest difference at NIADA is in how the budget is set up. At TIADA and the Teachers Association, over 50% of the overall budget came from member dues. At NIADA, about 10% of the overall budget comes from membership dues, with a lot of the budget generated through non-dues revenue. Focusing on building programs and platforms to generate non-dues revenue is crucial to meet members' needs.

Another unique aspect of NIADA is the state associations' affiliation, providing a rich resource that we didn't fully leverage in the past. Ensuring state associations understand that NIADA is an integral part of supporting them is a key focus.

Zach: I love state associations. They've been a big part of growing my company. For some of the listeners who might not be familiar, what exactly is a 501(c)(6)?

Jeff: A 501(c)(6) is a nonprofit status given by the IRS. Most people are familiar with either a 501(c)(6) or a 501(c)(3). The difference is that a 501(c)(3) is a charitable organization, often involving scholarships or saving a cause. A 501(c)(6) allows for lobbying, which is the primary difference.

Zach: Moving on, I'm really excited about NIADA this year, especially since it's being held at my favorite hotel in Las Vegas, the Wynn. What are some of the new changes at the show this year? What should dealers be excited about?

Jeff: We've always had education, but we've made some tweaks this year. About 50% of our education is either dealer-led or dealer panels, as we've found that dealers learning from dealers is very effective. We also organized our education into five different tracks: compliance, management, advertising, retail, and buy here, pay here. This helps attendees navigate and get the most out of the sessions.
The Expo, with new vendors, products, and services, remains a key part of the event. We've also introduced a Finance Fair luncheon on Tuesday to address the industry's funding challenges, giving attendees a chance to network and explore financing options without missing educational sessions.

Zach: Who from the dealership should attend NIADA? What roles and decision-makers should be there?

Jeff: I would say the owners, general managers, finance managers, service managers, compliance managers, and collections managers should attend. If you have a rising star at your dealership, bring them along too. They often return with valuable insights and ideas. The education is geared towards all these roles, and having multiple attendees can help cover the concurrent sessions.

Zach: For dealers attending the convention, what will help them create a near-immediate positive impact at their dealership?

Jeff: Immediate impact can come from education, especially with the FTC, IRS, and CFPB providing updates on compliance issues. The Expo can also have an immediate impact by introducing new products and services. Networking is another key element, allowing attendees to build relationships and learn from others in the industry. Independent dealers are great at sharing information, and the connections made at events like this can lead to valuable insights and solutions.

Zach: What have you done in the past year with NIADA in terms of building awareness of new compliance updates in the industry?

Jeff: Dashboard is the weekly email that we send out, we send out every Wednesday we send out an email and there's always at least one article in there that we feel like is the most pressing compliance article or the most pressing regulatory article. And so, and, and most of the time, you know, we'll have kind of our own comment on that and, and using that as a platform or as an opportunity to help keep dealers abreast of what's going on. And to keep them educated. And then obviously, we have our magazine that goes out once a month. So, you know, I'd say those are, those are some of the things that we're trying to do. And we also collectively as a state as a national association, we attended 15 different state dealer events. Again, just discussing legislative and regulatory issues. We also implemented a program this year where we're monitoring. There are a handful of states out there where we feel like legislators sometimes are a little bit more aggressive with their legislation. And so we've started monitoring a handful of those states that there are about 12 to be real frank with you where we look at every piece of legislation that is filed and then we have some opportunities in Illinois is is one where we were able to, to lean in and kind of help stop a piece of legislation that we felt like was going to negatively impact the industry. Most of our state associations out there handle all of this on their own. And we're basically here to, to support them if they need help. But we do have some state associations that need more support than others. And then the last thing I'll mention is our policy conference in Washington DC, you know, giving our members an opportunity to go out and visit with their congressmen or visit with their senator and talk about the issues that are affecting them at their dealership. That is by far the most effective thing that we can do as an association is to put that dealer in front of their legislator.

Zach: So what do you see as the biggest challenges we've been talking about a little bit about compliance. What do you see as the biggest challenges for used car dealers today?

Jeff: Yeah. I'd mentioned earlier being able to go out and visit with the, you know, the, the various states when they're having their convention or they're having an event for their dealers. And I get a, it's a unique opportunity for me to get to hear from dealers. And the challenges that I've heard over and over are, inventory capital and, and compliance. You know, how do we stay, you know, inventory stories are kind of unique. We have to wait for the product to fall to us. You know, and capital as interest rates have, have increased. We've seen some, some of our dealers really, really struggle, depending on how they're leveraged. because some of the banks and some of the lenders unfortunately are really tightening up. And so when that happens, it makes it very difficult for our dealers. And then we've talked a lot about compliance already, but, you know, in light of the recent Supreme Court hearing, you know, supporting the funding of the CFPB or the way the CFPB is funded. I think that the CFPB is gonna feel a little bit emboldened and and we are, we are already seeing a lot of new rules coming out from the FTC and we need to make sure that we're doing two things, one that we're at the table having conversations with those agencies so that they understand how this impacts our industry. But when there is a new regulatory environment or there's a new rule, we need to make sure that we're educating our dealers to help them stay compliant. So I would say those are the three things, Zach, I mean, you know, inventory capital and compliance are the three things we continue to hear.

Zach: Definitely agree with those and kind of shifting gears. What excites you about the outlook for the used car marketplace this year?

Jeff: Well, the thing that excites me, today is the same, same thing that has excited me for the last 17 years. It is an ever changing landscape and I just enjoy being a part of that. I always say I kind of live vicariously through a number of our or all of our members because a lot of times I wish I had the guts to do what they do. But the thing that I think is really exciting is that in 2023 used car dealers sold more used cars than franchise dealers. That's the first time that's happened in 13 years. So what that tells me is we know the customers are out there, right. We've got to do everything that we can to help them, be able to find the inventory and the capital that we talked about earlier to be able to put those dealers in those, those vehicles. So if there's something that if I were a member out there, I was a used car dealer and I was looking to be excited about something that's a pretty telling number that we had more used car dealers, sell vehicles, more used vehicles anyway, than franchise dealers in, in the last 13 years. So we've got some real opportunities in front of us. We have to help our members find ways to capitalize on that.

Zach: And what are some of the other events in 2024 that NIADA is gonna put on.

Jeff: Yeah, so I mentioned the policy conference earlier. So coming out of the convention, the policy conference will be in September in Washington DC. Registration for that I believe opens next week. And then we also have a buy here Pay Here Dealer Forum, which is going to be in New Orleans this year. The buy here Pay here Dealer Forum is kind of exciting for us because it's a really unique way to, for dealers to, to, to, to find education. We what, what we've done in the past and what we plan to do this year is we'll put dealers of similar size and similar scope and business strategy in a room together. They'll have a dealer moderator, they'll walk through an agenda in the morning and talk about specific issues that are affecting their dealership. It's a unique training model. We did this in Texas a few years ago and it was very, very successful. So it's not so much of the sit and get training that you're, you're, you're kind of used to seeing at traditional conventions. It really is much more of a hands-on learning opportunity. And so that's gonna take place in November in New Orleans. We're also relaunching the Certified Master Dealer program. So we're gonna discuss that a little bit at the convention. And we're looking at Q one of 2025 to offer our first certified master dealer program. We're planning to have two different programs. One for buy here, pay here dealers and one for retail dealers. As we've built this program out, we just continue to identify there are enough differences in those two business models that if we're gonna have a certified Master dealer program, we need to have two different models out there. So obviously I'm very excited about that. And then state education, we're working with a number of the states who are asking us to come out and put education on. I'm just gonna call them boot camps. And we anticipate that we're going to have around four of those boot camps in different places around the country. But again, we're gonna do all that working through the States to launch those.

Zach: And if a dealer is listening, they're not a member of NIADA yet. Why should they join?

Jeff: Yeah, some of the things we mentioned earlier, Zach, you know, staying, you know, educated, staying abreast of what's going on in the industry. Certainly one of our responsibilities is to continue to create value for membership. You know, the way that you do that is if you're a member of your state association, then attending the convention is significantly less expensive. In fact, it's $300 difference between being a member and a non-member. So, you know, creating value for membership is, is, is part of the reason, part of what we, we have a responsibility to do and it should be one of the reasons that people want to join the association. And then the States do a phenomenal job putting programs together to create value for the members in the States. But, but the real reason is, you know, to basically make sure your voice is being heard, you know, whether it's at your State Capitol or it's in Washington DC. When, when we put, when we put programs together and we're getting input from our dealers eventually that leads into our legislative agenda. And if you're not a part of the association, basically someone else is carrying the water for you. And I, I think at the minimum, you should be a part of your state association so that you're supporting the voice of that association. It's the only industry out there. It's the only association out there that's representing your industry. Obviously, I would like to see our members become more involved, but at the bare minimum, they should be members of the State Association.

Zach: And I bet you've sold some dealers listening to this episode. Hey, let me sign up for NIADA 2024. Now, how do they get their passes and get signed up for the show?

Jeff: Yeah, the easiest way is to go to the website and you can click on events and click on the convention and you can register. If that doesn't suit you, you can always call our office number that's 817-640-3838. And we'll help you get registered. That's the easiest way to register. And as I had mentioned earlier, you know, if you're a member of your state association, it's only $745 to join the association. If you're not a member, it's $1,045. So if you're not sure whether you're a member or not, you can give us a call and we can certainly help sign you up with your state association and make sure that you get that member discount.

Zach: That's awesome. And Jeff, as always, really enjoyed having you on the podcast today.

Jeff: Thanks so much, Zach. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for what you guys do in the industry for helping us have a voice out there and I appreciate you having us.

Tags: used car dealers automotive industry auto industry NIADA jeff martin auto industry trends used car market independent dealership

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