NADA 20 Groups bring dealers and department managers together to exchange ideas and learn best dealership practices. From a pilot program of two small test groups that began in 1968, the peer-to-peer effort has grown to include 187 groups.
As the name suggests, the groups are limited to 20 participants. They represent similar brands in noncompeting markets. An NADA-appointed consultant and a chairman selected by group members lead the discussion.
Joe Phillips, NADA's senior director of multimedia communications, says the association launched 20 Groups -- initially called performance analysis groups -- with a focus on improving dealership profitability. They largely replaced field conferences that NADA had held around the country.
The number of 20 Groups grew from 44 in 1972, to 60 in 1976, to 152 in 2000 to 187 today, Phillips says.
Participants say 20 Groups are valuable because they examine dealerships' weaknesses as well as strengths. Leaders of dealerships that succeed in particular areas can offer their peers suggestions for improvement.
Craig Fisher, a Honda and Kia dealer in Boulder, Colo., says his 20 Group of Honda dealers has met as many as four times a year since 2009. The group's 2½-day sessions start as early as 7 a.m. and include "tons and tons of numbers," he says.
Fisher has enrolled his service director and controller in 20 Groups that specialize in their business areas. His parts, body shop and used-vehicle managers also have taken part in 20 Groups. The activity "really accelerates their learning of operations," Fisher says.
Peter Blackstock, a multifranchise dealer in Seaside, Calif., has taken part in a 20 Group for more than 30 of his 48 years in auto retailing. He says his group schedules an annual meeting in Las Vegas to train key staffers and emphasizes mentoring of younger dealership employees.
Blackstock adds that members of 20 Groups expect a good return on their investment of time and money.
"That has put pressure on NADA to stay on top," he says. "The teaching is better now. I believe in the 20 Group concept. It also is a way to show the automakers what we are doing."
Allen Phibbs, senior director of NADA's 20 Groups and Dealer Academy, says the association typically organizes 20 Groups and assigns participants to them by franchise and business volume as well as specialties.
Paul West, a veteran 20 Group consultant, says initial group meetings of dealers often resembled "an old boys' club" that featured golf outings and fine wine. That atmosphere changed, he says, when the groups expanded to include general managers and other dealership sales, service and Internet executives.
Yet West says plenty of important business still takes place outside formal 20 Group meetings.
"A newcomer to a 20 Group told me recently he was hesitant to join," West says, "but found he learned more on the golf course than he would have imagined."
Another 20 Group consultant, Mark Rogers, emphasizes that group meetings are not designed as seminars.
"Members are not part of an audience," he says. "Everyone has come to learn, and the price of taking information from fellow members is to give something back."
Wayne Phillips, a 20 Group consultant for more than two decades, says common discussion issues often include staffing, the concerns of younger dealers and prospects for dealers thinking of selling their stores.
"We always include suggestions from our group members, like, "Hey, when we get [to the next meeting], can we talk about ... ?' That kind of a request becomes a priority, and we will cover it even if we don't get to everything else on the agenda."