NIADA President Looks Ahead

By Jeffery Bellant June 27, 2024
NIADA President Michael Darrow with Black Book’s Susan Moritz, who presented him with the NIADA President’s Ring.  NIADA President Michael Darrow with Black Book’s Susan Moritz, who presented him with the NIADA President’s Ring.

Michael Darrow, owner of The Auto Finders in Durham, N.C., took over as president of the NIADA on June 17 during the group’s annual convention in Las Vegas. This interview was conducted prior to the convention.

USED CAR NEWS: How did you get in the car business (and get where you are today in the business)?  

Michael Darrow:  I never planned on being in the auto industry I think I backed into the car business.  I've always have been a car enthusiast especially muscle cars.   After college I worked in the banking industry for 10 years and thought that would be my career.  I was offered to come onboard a Credit Union Auto Buying Service that was growing throughout the South as a VP of Business Development.  It was an intriguing offer and turns out to be the best decision I have ever made.  I can't imagine doing any other type of work.  I love the business; we love our customers; it has been a blessing to our family and allowed us to give back to our employees and community in meaningful ways.     

UCN: What prompted you to get involved in NIADA and into leadership?

Darrow: Getting involved with NIADA came from my involvement with CIADA.  Having served on committees and board seats in the strong Carolinas association it became habit to attend the National convention, and the Policy Conference.   I was asked to serve on a couple different committees, and it matriculated from there.  I really enjoy serving the industry and trying to make it better for dealers.

UCN: What do you think are the biggest challenges for independent dealers in today’s market?

Darrow: I believe the biggest challenges to the Independent Dealers right now is overburdensome regulations.  Our Industry is more regulated than any other in our country, period.  Every alphabet Government agency regulates us, and in addition many state agencies.  This can be a huge barrier to entrance for newcomers to our industry.  That’s not the American way.  The largest portion of our membership is made up of small dealers.  Less than 15 employees and many are family run.  These size Dealerships don't have resources or thousands of dollars that is required every time a new regulation needs to be implemented.  Without the State Associations that offer excellent education opportunities many of these dealers would never survive in trying to maintain their compliance.

UCN: With all the volatility in the EV/hybrid market, how do independents navigate this segment compared to franchise dealers?

Darrow: Thankfully being independent dealers, we don't have an OEM telling us how many we must take, what color they will be or what we must sell.  Independents now have so many sources to data it allows us to be informed on what is in demand and what is selling well.  This data allows dealers to stock high demand vehicles.  Right now, the pre-owned EV vehicles are not in high demand in our market mostly due to high cost.  We do see a good demand for the Hybrids, I think demand is being driven by the value and affordable cost.   

UCN: Increased regulation and actions from groups like FTC and CFPB pose extra challenges to independents. Can you tell our readers about NIADA and its state affiliates’ efforts to lobby against burdensome regulation?

Darrow: The increased regulations continue to put pressure on large and small stores alike.  Cost, Training, Compliance and Testing are a huge investment in time, staffing and resources.  This takes us away from managing of our day to day needs and the increased cost gets passed on to the consumer or further compresses our margins.  Thankfully the State Associations have been offering excellent education opportunities for Independents so dealers can educate themselves on new regulation and how to be prepared for implementation.  Lobbying at the State Houses and the Capitol in DC is imperative.  It wasn't that long ago NIADA instituted a Policy Conference in Washington DC each fall.  Hearing form the regulatory agencies in person that allows dealers to ask questions and get clarification, this is invaluable.  Meeting and discussing issues with our Senators and Congress men and women has really elevated our presence and our issues.  Our presence on the hill has grown as has our influence.  It's been very effective in seeing legislation the Association has pushed for become enacted and legislation that is harmful to our industry being thwarted.  

UCN: Can you talk about the current litigation involving the CARS Rule

Darrow: The CARS rule is from the FTC and much of it is redundant due to being included currently in state and other federal laws. Many of our state Associations have Pre-Licensing Education that teaches these guidelines as Best Practices and are standard operating procedures by most Independent dealers.

UCN: The NIADA has come out a few rough years, first with the pandemic, then with the short tenure of the previous CEO. Now that Jeff Martin has a year under his belt as CEO, how have things improved?

Darrow: Since bringing Jeff on board NIADA I think that communication and transparency with the State Associations has been the biggest gain.  We have streamlined staff and have brought the budget under control.  Instead of managing in a vacuum we have tried to bring all the parties under the tent and allow all voices to be heard.  

UCN: Tell us how high interest rates and inflation have affected your business both at the front end and the back end?

Darrow: High interest rates have had the largest effect on our customers.  Like in the housing market it is pushing monthly payments higher and out of the reach of some consumers. In our store the biggest change we have seen is the cost of our floor plan or line of credit.  One of the pluses is that we are seeing more new car buyers in our space due to the cost of new vehicle pricing.  When a consumer attempts to finance that higher cost new car with the higher rates.... a $40,000 purchase will cost $95 more a month than just a few years ago due to rates.  That's almost $800 more over the life of the loan.  Rates matter, especially when consumers are counting pennies.

UCN:  What are some of the goals you have for your term as NIADA President?

Darrow: Focus for this year for me will be on the two pillars of NIADA, Education and Advocacy.  I would like to see us continue to develop and offer a robust slate of education offerings.  Growth of the 20 groups, the revival of the prestigious Certified Master Dealer (CMD) program and partnering with the states to offer seminars on what their dealers are asking for.  In an effort to raise our advocacy posture it's time to again have a Lobbyist firm in Washington DC representing us.  We also need to be attentive to state houses for any legislation that could be harmful to our industry.  I would also like for us to make our National Policy Conference the biggest most inclusive event we have ever had.  I would encourage our dealers to mark their calendars now for September 24, 25.  Come swarm Capitol Hill with your fellow used car dealers.  Meeting and talking with your legislatures about your concerns from back home has an impact.  Even if you drive in for a day make your voice heard.

UCN: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Darrow: I'm grateful and blessed for the opportunity to serve the independent dealers from around our nation.  The vast majority of our dealers are leaders in their communities doing so much good and giving back.  I take great pride in telling folks what my occupation is when asked...I'm an independent used car dealer. 


Next Up: NIADA confirms Darrow As President

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Last modified on Thursday, 27 June 2024 17:36