Meet the New Boss Who’s Always Been In Charge with Melanie Wilson

January 19, 2023
She’s the new interim CEO of National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
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Melanie Wilson didn’t choose automotive, but she’s here! We caught up with her to talk about why she now loves the industry, what NIADA offers to its members and the world at large, and how car dealers are super resilient.

What we talk about in this episode:

0:00 Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

4:16 Melanie begins by talking about how she didn’t pick automotive. Automotive picked her. She shares about her first conversation with Steve Jordan, how they are both characters and how he convinced her to join him full-time.

9:12 It takes resiliency to be in the car business. Melanie loves that in the midst of people thinking about getting out of the industry, the real car dealers are the ones who are out there believing they’re going to crush it.

12:53 NIADA has a huge variety in its over 14,000 member dealers. Everywhere from 4-5 cars per month all the way up to Carmax.

21:29 Melanie is working to communicate NIADA to the masses, helping consumers to understand what the NIADA brand is and what it offers to them.

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Paul Daly: 0:00Hey, it feels good to be backUnknown: 0:07

this is Auto Collabs

Paul Daly: 0:09

I feel like it's been a while since we've done this. So for all of you listen to Auto Collabs We're glad you're with us still because we only really do these so we can get a get together and joke around for about 20 minutes, randomly and it's good to see you like we

Kyle Mountsier: 0:24

haven't made fun of Cirillo is dumb recently. So

Michael Cirillo: 0:27

let's wait a minute. Hey, wait a minute. Oh, once

Paul Daly: 0:32

again. There we go. Through a hat on here. It's my turn make fun of I don't.

Michael Cirillo: 0:37

I can't It's too beautiful.

Paul Daly: 0:41

What do you use to moisturize? Moisturize? Oh, well, I

Michael Cirillo: 0:47

learned a beard trend. Let's see if we can start a bald trend everybody's gonna catch on. I

Kyle Mountsier: 0:54

struggle with that. Yes, I guarantee what's under this nobody needs to know,

Paul Daly: 0:58

could shave that. And within three minutes is exactly that long again. Exactly. Kyle is a Viking straight up making.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:06

The person that we have on today actually doesn't have to deal with and doesn't

Paul Daly: 1:09

have a beard or bald head.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:13

We're really excited to hang out with Melanie. She is the new interim CEO, right of NIADA, the National Independent audit of the Automobile Dealers Association. If you're not familiar with that, and a lot of our listeners really lean in on the franchise side of the business, I would pay attention because you know, independent dealers are not just like your mom and pop shop on the side of the road. There are some large independent dealers, even a lot of industry partners have come out of independent dealers. And they're there's a lot of learning that that franchise can take them independent. I'm sure we'll get into that. So we really hope that you enjoyed this conversation.

Paul Daly: 1:57

So here we are. Melanie, thank you so much for taking the time to join us your lighting looks amazing. You did whatever you needed to do to make it happen. So thanks for being here with us today.

Melanie Wilson: 2:06

You know, interior decoration in the hotel room. Yeah, right. All around, right? You

Paul Daly: 2:11

put it back when you're done? Or do you just say like, you know what, they'll know where it goes.

Melanie Wilson: 2:15

I mean, I try to like make people's life easier. But sometimes I'm like, that was really heavy to move on. You

Paul Daly: 2:25

know, I'm sweating when I had to go on the call and all that thing. I love it already. Because it's obvious. You know, you're stepping into be the interim CEO of the NIADA. It must be an organization that values a little candor, a little humor and a little like, we're going to make this work. How your first how many weeks has it been?

Melanie Wilson: 2:44

I think like

Paul Daly: 2:45

four have the first four weeks been?

Melanie Wilson: 2:48

They've been great. I mean, my executive team and I, we've worked together for a while now. And so we're all real close anyway. And it is everyone that they're kind of like my big brothers. And so I just pick on them constantly. And so when we get like in front of people and panels and stuff, I'm like, be serious. Be serious, be serious. But

Paul Daly: 3:09

this is sounding so familiar. It's rarely we hear all the time.

Michael Cirillo: 3:13

Yeah. And we're normal check. Yeah.

Paul Daly: 3:19

I don't think I need anything else from this podcast. I've just been

Melanie Wilson: 3:22

here to do my job. Gotta get out.

Paul Daly: 3:24

Or you are the only female on the executive team. Yeah. So did you get that moment? You're like, now, I'm in charge.

Melanie Wilson: 3:32

Let's tell the truth. I've been in charge bossing him around for quite some time. Now it's just official, and they have to listen, I guess. Yeah. And

Unknown: 3:41

because you've been a part of the NIADA is at least a fractional CFO for quite some time. Six years. Is that right?

Melanie Wilson: 3:47

Yeah, I've been full time and fractional. Yeah, I've I cannot leave. I'm just

Kyle Mountsier: 3:56

now go back to that because you weren't in the auto industry before you were mainly in the nonprofit organization sector. What was the initial kind of move into automotive like and maybe like, take us back? What did it feel like initially getting into the auto especially the independent auto side of the business and kind of how you approach that?

Melanie Wilson: 4:16

Yeah, so I didn't pick it.

Paul Daly: 4:19

Common story. Yeah,

Melanie Wilson: 4:21

I had automotive picked me and now it won't let go. Which is fine, because I love it. But I I was a CPA. And I was a consultant that worked with small and nonprofits and small businesses was my niche focus. And I kind of just had this point in my career where I was really tired of going into places and fixing, like, what was broken and if they had just done it right the first time was very expensive. So I started my own business to address that. And Steve Jordan had been talking to a colleague that I knew. And he was like, yeah, we've grown a lot. And I need some help. And I, but I don't know how to fix it. And they were like, oh, you should, you should talk to this girl. And so he didn't wait for the referral. He just started calling me and I'm like, I don't know what that is. Don't give me that bow. So I ignored him for like two weeks. And then the mutual connection said, Hey, there's this company you should talk to. His name is Steve. And I'm like, oh, oh, that yeah, he's been calling me

Paul Daly: 5:37

off. I had the restraining order ready. I was about the same.

Melanie Wilson: 5:41

I don't know what and I, what is NIADA? I don't even know what that is. So I, I called him and I'm like, hi, I think you've been trying to get a hold of me. And he's like, you're really hard to find. And I'm like, that's

Paul Daly: 5:53

because and that's when you said that's because I'm expensive. Yeah, right. set the tone. Let's set the tone right away.

Melanie Wilson: 6:00

I didn't know who you were. And, and so we scheduled a meeting. And it was just it was so much fun. Because if you know Steve at all, he's just a character. And I'm a low key character. And so you know, he'd say things like, Well, how do you get business? And I'm like referrals. Was that working for you? While I'm sitting here talking to you? So

Paul Daly: 6:22

like, my, my strategy is like, don't answer my phone. Yeah.

Melanie Wilson: 6:25

If I don't know you, the answer's no, I'm not going to help you. Wire. So we had had a very interesting conversation and, and then he slapped my hand because I didn't have a contract ready for him that day. And I was like, Look, bro. I like you a lot. And if you want my help, I'm here but you

Paul Daly: 6:50

also fine. Yeah, I feel like you have brothers.

Melanie Wilson: 6:53

I am the oldest I have a little brother.

Michael Cirillo: 6:59

Little Brother. This is this is all making sense.

Melanie Wilson: 7:04

I was the girl like, I was not playing with dolls. I was outside like, having sword fights with sticks with the boys and

Paul Daly: 7:11

running craps at the end of this at the end of the block. And on the

Melanie Wilson: 7:14

wall ball. That was like the big thing when I was little. I haven't played wall ball

Kyle Mountsier: 7:18

forever. That was even a thing. I'm so excited that that just got said That's amazing. Yeah.

Melanie Wilson: 7:24

You know, and if you miss it, then you stand up on the wall. Yeah.

Paul Daly: 7:27

You gotta get Yeah, you're. You're the target now. Yeah. Good. Yeah. We should probably talk about we should probably talk about the auto industry a little bit. Yeah. Well, not as much.

Melanie Wilson: 7:38

How I got into it. Yeah, exactly. I don't know how we got to ball ball. But

Paul Daly: 7:43

it always ends in wall ball with us.

Melanie Wilson: 7:47

Yeah, I've worked with Steve and we kind of set everything up. And he kept saying just you just want to come on? Do you just want to come on full time? No. And it took him a year. He said it took me longer than I thought it would. I said, Well, I'll take that as a win. Absolutely. What did

Michael Cirillo: 8:05

you learn? Go ahead, Michael. Sorry. I'm, we're also excited now. wall ball.

Melanie Wilson: 8:11

I know got everybody pumped up pumping.

Michael Cirillo: 8:13

We're seeing this trend where existing business owners in the auto industry are wondering, is this the time I should exit, there's some economic turbulence that we all kind of don't want to talk about. And they're wondering, Hey, is this the time to just kind of, you know, go do something else. But what I find fascinating is that there are more and more CPAs and money people getting into the auto industry. I'm wondering what vantage point you can offer there. What are you seeing as some of the biggest opportunities that our industry is maybe going to face over the next year or two, maybe three years?

Melanie Wilson: 8:50

Oh, man, it's so hard because right, like the whole world has been upside down and shakin for the last two or three years. And I mean, even in in our business, I feel like I'm like, I don't I don't even know what trends are anymore. Like, I can't even see them anymore. So I think we're all kind of shooting in the dark a little bit. But you know, the thing about car dealers that I've learned and it's like, literally one of the things I love the most about them is if you're thinking about getting out, you probably should because the real car dealers are like, we're gonna we're gonna crush this. It's just, it's just a mentality, right? Like, it's the car business and it's gonna go up and it's gonna go down. It's never gonna go away. But I feel like, you know, the best car dealers that I've met are the ones who are like, Bring on the challenge. I got it, we're gonna get through it. And we know that there's, you know, gold at the end of this rainbow. We're just, we just have to stay on the path long enough to get there. So it takes a certain amount of resiliency to be in the car business. And, like, I don't have to be a dealer to know that

Kyle Mountsier: 10:00

Yeah, yeah, that's good. So and I think, you know, one of the things a lot of our audience is on the franchise retail side, and you've had a deep interaction with the independent side. When you look at like, the way that the independent side of the industry is dealing with that, I think it'd be interesting for like both audiences to kind of know, because there's, you know, there's a different scale, there's a different volume, there's a different relationship to like, there isn't a relationship with a franchisor, or anything like that, that, that people are trying to figure out inventory. But there's a there's a massive challenge right now, when it comes to things like used car inventory, utter dependence on us cars, right that that independent dealers are dealing with it at a whole different level than the franchise store is that that is getting inventory coming back. When when those when when the dealers are saying Bring it on. It's just a different flavor than just like an inventory dynamic due to new cars. What are you seeing? And what are you hearing from the members of nada in the way that they're approaching? Some of that thought process?

Melanie Wilson: 11:05

Inventory issues? Yeah. And yeah,

Kyle Mountsier: 11:08

just like the challenges that they're dealing

Melanie Wilson: 11:10

yeah. It is different than, than the with us? Yeah, franchise side. And you kind of have to figure out some of this stuff on your own when you're on the independent side. But they're, they're just, they're being creative. A lot of them have changed, like, what they're looking for where I think when I first came on, you were seeing like, really specific criteria for dealerships on like, I sell this kind of car between this year and this year, and with this many miles, and you kind of seen everyone brought in those criteria of what my dealership actually sells, because now you're selling what you could get, essentially. And, and they're being smarter about the inventory that they bring in. So with costs up, obviously, now we're seeing, you know, inventory prices are still high, retail prices are starting to come down because consumers are like, not gonna pay that anymore. Do your closing margin gaps and stuff. So they're looking into things like certified pre owned programs, so NIADA just rolled out one for India, specifically for independent dealers that help raise the value of the car or help sell the car a little bit faster and covers a wide range of mileage on the vehicles. So they're finding things like that, that can really help them compete a little bit better with the inventory and and build those profit margins back.

Paul Daly: 12:36

What is Do you know what your average dealer size is? As far as inventory or sales?

Melanie Wilson: 12:41

Oh, man, that's such a good question. I don't know what the average is, actually. Now we're gonna write that down and go find out

Paul Daly: 12:47

make a great piece of content at some point. But right. I mean, like,

Melanie Wilson: 12:51

as we go from, I mean, like so small, you know, four or five cars a month. Right, all the way up to like car Max is in our, our group. So

Paul Daly: 13:02

yeah, that's it. That's all of it. Yeah. We

Michael Cirillo: 13:07

think about the sheer number versus franchise dealers. There's how many franchise dealers 17,000 16,000, something like that. Let's there's what 60,000 People that would, or 60,000, independents were between 40 and 60.

Melanie Wilson: 13:22

it's a massive number. I mean, we have we have Something? Yeah, 14 14 and a half 1000. Dealers as members. So and, and we're not penetrating the market, maybe even half, probably about 25%. So yeah.

Kyle Mountsier: 13:39

So what's the you know, because that I think that's an interesting point is that, you know, like what the independent auto dealers association is doing for those dealers and why, you know, more dealers that may you pay attention or understand that it's there, but aren't members, what's the value that the NIADA is bringing to those dealers on a day in day and day out basis on a you know, from whether it be education or CPO program or, or legalities that you're involved in? What would you say to those dealers that maybe understand the NIADA, NIADA exists but haven't engaged or haven't been a part of that organization?

Melanie Wilson: 14:17

Yeah, I love talking to those people. Because when you talk about you, we're talking about the franchise side, you kind of got something to lean on, right? You've got someone telling you the parameters that you're going to operate within and how we're going to solve these problems. On the independent side, you don't really have that support system unless you create it. And so in NIADA, is really focused on understanding what is what is the industry doing? What are the challenges specifically to our dealers, and then, and then pulling in people and providing educational content to help them navigate those areas specifically, we're also putting together things like the CPO program and other member benefits that give independent dealers access to discounts at Autozone or Advance and the CPO program which helps them compete against, you know, sorry, the franchise, use parsers. And, and also you know their neighbor

Paul Daly: 15:09

against each other too, right? It's yeah, that's the auto industry. It's like, Hey, we're friends right now. But once we step back on our lots like I will crush you.

Michael Cirillo: 15:17

Yeah. wall ball

Paul Daly: 15:23

I have a feeling there's gonna be a wall ball game at the next ASOTU event. All you need is a wall and a ball like we it's easy. You know, anybody got a wall? Yeah, actually, we're gonna we're gonna have an event in Arlington this year. So maybe maybe we'll call you up and we'll do a little every wall ball challenge.

Melanie Wilson: 15:39

That's where I am. It's been a while I will start working out. Yeah, so the education, the member benefit programs, we have the other programs that we're rolling out. And then we're in Washington, DC, we have two staff who live in Washington, DC, they're on the Hill every day, we're engaging with nada, and AFSA. And you know, all of the coalition's up there to really be in front of legislators and be on the front end of what's trying to come out and educating them on what it does not not just to the industry, but to the consumers. And hey, you know, when you talk about the CFPB, coming down on on all of this stuff, to be there face to face to say, we care about the consumer, we're not trying to hurt anyone, we understand what you're trying to do, but like, Where can we meet in the middle on this? Because you're creating burdens for problems that, you know, 90% of us aren't doing that. Yeah. And so the advocacy piece is is huge. We're really the ones that are there protecting you and your business kind of on a day to day basis, you can't possibly do that you're running a business. So that that would be I think, why we're we're partners, that's how I see us. If you have a problem, and we haven't produced education on it, give us a call, someone will call you back, who knows the answer and walk you through, like what to do and and, you know, if you're a New Dealer, we have 20 Group programs that that will put you with dealers who have done this before and can help you walk through, like, how do I scale? How do I open a service operation? What if I want to bring in a finance company, like, we have all those things available? Where you don't have to be alone? I think, you know, the world likes you to think that you're you're isolated, but you're not it's a community, it's a family, and we're going to help take care of you. I want

Michael Cirillo: 17:22

to go battings that has impressed me so much I keep it wasn't between this time was it me and Kyle? Yeah. One of the things that impressed me so much, I actually had a call with one of your team members yesterday, Troy Schreyer. And we were chatting about the upcoming event and and some of the initiatives that he's working on and something that impresses me, Melanie is that you can really get a sense of the heart at in NIADA, like this just real tender and real concern for the dealer body and trying to expand that positive influence throughout the industry. Like you said, I mean, 14 some odd 1000 As members, but so so many that, that maybe are not realizing the benefits. So that's impressed me. I'm curious, you know, kind of getting an inside look at the organization over the past few weeks, and gearing up towards your event, I think is it June coming up in Las Vegas, what are you seeing as maybe the core focus of that event being what's the message you really hope to be able to convey to the dealers that attend.

Melanie Wilson: 18:27

So our June show is really built for all dealer types. So you know, when you get into the independent space, you've got Buy Here Pay Here, at Lease Here Pay Here, retail dealers, some have service up, some have fine and some don't the June show is really meant to cater to all of them. And so what we're working towards is really defined education tracks so that you know, if you're a buy here, pay here, dealer, these are the courses that that would be the most beneficial to you, if you're retailed if this is where you should go. And so our our our focus is really a really strong education program at this show. Plus a little bit of fun, you know, on the side, so one of my goals. Maybe now,

Paul Daly: 19:16

you can play that inside to like, the options are just opening out, we can play that right in the show corner

Melanie Wilson: 19:21

off the expo hall, you know,

Michael Cirillo: 19:23

that's good. You can even pre select people, you don't like to be the target.

Melanie Wilson: 19:29

I know I'm getting on that one. So we've got one of the goals that I have, personally, is really want to do an excellent job of connecting our dealers to the resources that solve their problems, I think. I think we do a good job of that now, but I think we could do a better job and so we started these, we call them service bays in the Expo Hall and the It'll be like little 20 minute sessions that kind of run in the corners where different products will be demoed kind of right there. And so you can just pop in, you see a little 20 minute presentation, and then they have a booth in the expo hall. So if you're interested, you can go find them. And so we just want to do you know, the things that really kind of put the right people together at the table? And, and really connect our dealers with what what they need. It's awesome.

Paul Daly: 20:24

It's great. Kyle, you wanted to go back? Yeah,

Kyle Mountsier: 20:26

I wanted to go back. Because I'm really interested to hear you said, you know, hey, we're the advocates to the consumer. How do you see continuing to like, like, strengthen the bridge in that gap? Both like, the way dealers are strengthening that bridge, and then the way that organizations like yours NIADA, NADA NAMAD and things like that, are strengthening that bridge to go, Hey, we want to advocate for the dealer to the consumer and for the consumer to the dealer both ways, how do you strengthen that? You know, I

Melanie Wilson: 20:59

think, I think this is one area. And I don't know if we'll get to it, and 23 We have so many big plans. But this is one area, I really want to be on the vision board of NIADA because we know and we do a good job of communicating to the dealers like why they are great, and why they're excellent and why it's important to be a part of us and how and we know how much education they're getting from us. And we know what kind of resources we provide to them. And like we know all of that. But I mean, I was a consumer before I was here, I don't know that I could have seen the NIADA sticker and been like, oh, that's that's a good thing. Like, I know, that's a good thing. So I think that we could go a long way to, to really kind of focus on the consumer and helping educate them on, hey, when you see these logos, at dealerships, this is what that means. This is this is where they're going and and when you see these certifications like this is what they went through to be prepared for that. And really helping them understand like, if you if you are going to one of these dealerships, you're going to someone who has promised to do business ethically, who has promised to, you know, be transparent, and who has promised all of these things. And so I think educating them on that and then also being able to help them with Hey, what is what does it mean when the dealer is talking to you? And they say this is a CPO vehicle? Or what questions should you ask the dealer when they say that? What could you see what does that mean? You could be provided, you know what, what is the CarFax and just really kind of walking alongside them to help them understand. There's a difference between NIADA dealers and non NIADA dealers. And it comes in the form of resources and education that that they're utilizing.

Michael Cirillo: 22:47

Wow. Well, Melanie, it has been so much fun getting to sit down with you. i There has to be a wall ball tournament, maybe an exhibition match. I don't know, I'm fixated on this. And maybe it has to happen at the event in June. Congratulations again on your new role as interim CEO of NIADA. It's been fun learning about your vision there. How can those listening learn more about NIADA? Where would you point them towards,

Melanie Wilson: 23:13 is has links to all of our stuff. So you can find out about our 20 group programs, you can find out about the CPO program that just rolled out. Our events are up there education classes, pretty much all of it at a fingertip. But you can always call our office to and someone will will help you we got a really strong team that really cares about what they're doing. So they will hunt and answered. I've watched them spend hours like there's this one thing and no one has the answer. I'm going to find it and

Michael Cirillo: 23:46

that's amazing. Melanie, thanks so much for joining us on Auto Collabs. Thank

Melanie Wilson: 23:49

you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Paul Daly: 23:55

Okay, I didn't think we were gonna get into childhood games. But I think it's worth mentioning childhood games here. Michael Cirillo. What childhood games do they play like on the streets of Canada,

Michael Cirillo: 24:07

hockey cards. What are hockey? Wait. So what you do is you start with one hockey card, usually a goaltender somebody will have a goaltender like a sports card, a hockey card, baseball card, and they'll place it up against the wall. And they'll determine the the distance that you need to sit and you will take your player cards and chuck them out. Try and fling it down. And if you fling it down within say, four tries, or whatever they dictate. You get to keep the goaltender and you get all your cards back.

Paul Daly: 24:42

So it's a gambling game.

Michael Cirillo: 24:43

How do you see that I was addicted to gambling in the third grade.

Paul Daly: 24:48

That's a really clever way to gamble.

Michael Cirillo: 24:51

Somebody gave me a card. I didn't have any hockey cards. Somebody gave me a card. They said Yeah, we don't want to be left out. Here's a card try. I kept when you ended up with all of them. You It's no fluke, you know your flu King and you just don't know what your hand is doing. But it's working. And I came guys, I came home with 600 Plus hockey cards. And my dad, and I was excited about it. I'm like, Look at this, man. I got Patrick Wah, I got Mario. Buy does like where do you get all these? We don't buy these for you. And I'm like, so hear me out. There's this game. And he's like, totally. I was like,

Paul Daly: 25:28

Well, what do you say it like that? It sounds so sounds so different. How about you? What do they play in the streets of Ohio?

Kyle Mountsier: 25:35

Oh, well, I didn't actually grow up in Ohio. Florida. Yeah, Florida would be like the the where I actually played on the beaches of Florida. I don't know. I'm telling me wall ball was like while I was in Central Florida, and we just had a bunch of lakes. So we were either on a boat or playing wall ball. So I was I was right. Yeah, it was it was a thing. You know, I want to talk about, you know, one of the things that Melanie did talk about was this. This, how like that? Well, I wrote it down here that they are broadening the use criteria in order to in order to compete with franchise dealerships and having things like CPO program. So I know we had a lot of fun talking about games and everything. But that was really interesting to me. And I think that franchisees, like one of the things that I always want to think about is what can franchise and independent dealers learn from each other and learning that that independent dealers, all they do is focus on used cars are broadening the scope of what they actually have in their inventory, I think is important for anybody, anybody to like be looking at at this point? Going? Okay, maybe my maybe my sweet spot has been blank, and I need to expand my thinking to this, or I need to add value to uh, to attract consumers in a different market. That was something that like, as I'm talking to franchise dealers or independent dealers, I think it crosses the barriers there and it's probably a learning that independent dealers have had to struggle with quicker than franchise dealers had

Michael Cirillo: 27:05

that really did stand out to me to Kyle, the other thing that stood out to me was her confidence in declaring this industry is not going anywhere. I love just little like, Oh, like that for the naysayer to

Kyle Mountsier: 27:18

strong regardless at night out for real, right darkness.

Michael Cirillo: 27:21

The spirit is strong. I think it regardless of what happened. She's like there's a lot of unknowns. Let's focus on today. And what we need to do today and answers will come in the future. But this industry is not going anywhere. That was a tremendous interview interview. It's always fun to be able to sit down with people who have so many deep insights about the comings and goings of the auto industry and especially NIADA. So we hope you enjoyed this episode with Melanie Wilson. On behalf of Paul J. Daly, Kyle Mountsier, myself, Michael Cirillo, thanks so much for joining us on Auto Collabs.

Unknown: 27:55

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