The Dealer Playbook
The Dealer Playbook

Episode 519 · 4 months ago

Dan Collingridge: Inventory Is The Nucleus


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Dan Collingridge is the chief technology officer at FlexDealer, and has been keen on technology from day one. But he had no clue that passion would lead him into a tech-driven career in the auto industry. In this episode, Dan talks about how he met Michael and the story of how they teamed up to work together after years of their childhood friendship taking many different paths.

What we discuss in this episode:

Managing inventory involves much more than simply tracking things. This crucial area of business cannot be ignored or compromised, and, for good reason, auto dealer inventory management demands the newest, most cutting-edge technology and creative solutions.

In this episode, we go into detail about the value of inventory for auto dealers, how to make it even better, how Michael and Dan developed their inventory tools at FlexDealer, and where their latest inventory project is headed.

Dan Collingridge shares his insights about the importance of a healthy workplace based on his experiences helping manage various teams at FlexDealer for over two decades.

Dan and Micheal talk about how and why culture is hugely important to the success and overall health of your company, your people, and your customers, and why it's helpful to spend time considering why your company's culture is the way it is and why it must stay that way (or change).

While culture is so influential, it's challenging to maintain the more extensive a business gets. Side-conversations form, resentment can grow, and you can lose control of the culture you've worked hard to build.

Owning a business with a friend can be very challenging because doing so involves setting expectations and creating accountability that does not typically exist in a friendship alone. Michael and Dan reflect on how they made it possible to collaborate successfully despite (or because of!) being friends with a range of common and differing interests, goals, and priorities.

Learn how FlexDealer transitioned from the dying magazine print model to a digital model that involved creating a website portal and inventory capabilities from the ground up, plus hosting all of their inventory and digital services in the newly created model.

Listen to the full episode for insights and context from Dan Collingridge!

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Thanks, Dan Collingridge!

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More Dealers Are Choosing To Partner with FlexDealer

Looking for a reliable, high-performance dealership marketing partner? Visit to discover why more and more dealers are choosing them over big-box providers.

The car business is rapidly changing and modern car dealers are meeting the demand. I'm Michael Cirillo and together we're going to explore what it takes to create a thriving dealership and life in the retail automotive industry. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with subject matter experts that are designed to help you grow. This is the dealer playbook. Alright, gang, I'm sitting down now back to the second time, my pal of over thirty years, Dan Collingridge, chief technology officer at FLEX DEALER DOT com. I get to see his face every single day, but I realize you guys don't. So, Dan, thanks so much for joining me on the dealer playbook podcast. Oh, it's so good to be here. Um, I love it. Um, working with you every day and then getting to spend this extra time together is just such a treat. Um. Well, it's funny you say that, because sometime, and I'm glad to hear you say it, because sometimes I'm like Dan. Dan could probably use less of some days. You know, it's it's such a good sign that you if we've known each other so long and we can still talk to each other. Yes, and that you actually messaged me. I think this is a perfect place to start. And then I want to backtrack. I think we have proven well that actually friends can be business partners. Amazing, Huh. Yeah, and and I think I mean we that could be a podcast in and of itself, but I don't know if that's where we want to go on this one. But but it got me thinking. You messaged me maybe two or three weeks ago, something to the effect of like, wow, we've really like figured out this CEO CT o thing, realizing that, despite playing in a band together, which I'm sure we'll dig into, playing in a punk rock band in high school and realizing how bad I suck at Nintendo Games and chugging our root beer as teenagers and driving by our you know, girl crushes houses, Um, like, which we realized now is like cancel culture, stocker, Mick Stockerson, but like we were teenagers. Um, going from that to like still having very distinct personality types and working together all these years and having that kind of boiled perfectly into the statement of like. I think we've figured out this like thing, like you have inherent personality traits, I do, and how we both realize we need both of them for this like almost perfect storm to happen. Yeah, and you know, by saying that we've known each other so long and are still working together and still get along, doesn't mean that we're just the same person, right. I mean it's just like anything in life. I mean, if you have a will and you're someone who you who can work well with others, you know you can make it work right. And we've had we've had bumpy times along the way, you know, in friendship but also in business, and to whether those you know you come through stronger and closer and and that's important in this kind of work. Yeah, Um, and just like dude, you're one of the funniest people I know, and I don't think a lot of people realize that because, like usually, I think developers get a bad rap for just seeing ones and Zeros like you're very dry kind of humor. I don't think a lot of people would call me funny, but I appreciate that about you, that you think I am so hey, I've never laughed there. I can't think of how many there there. It's a very short list of people that get like belly from the most, like a laugh from the most nether regions of my belly. You know, Um, like to the point where we're dying. But you, just...

...before we hopped on here, you sent a link and I had totally forgotten about this and and I wanted to spend some time with you because I really think, seriously, dude, I think like the industry could probably use a little less of me, even but they see me. I'm all over the place. I'm the one that going to those shows and the conferences and I do the podcast and all these sorts of things. But I really feel like, as far as the auto industry is concerned, more people need, need, need, I use that word intentionally, need to know you because you, you, in my opinion, are such a sleeper. You have so much wisdom about this industry, about inventory and technology, and you've guided our tech roadmap since our inception. Like more people need to know you. And so you sent me this link and it was something that Um, our beloved hometown of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, posted on their website. It's still there to this day and I'm like, Holy Crap, I totally forgot that. They did a write up on like how we got started, Um and so I thought, Hey, could we what we both thought, Hey, can we kind of cool to just get that story out and let more people know about our journey and like how friends have been able to do it and how we've let you know the industry and our customers guide what we've built here and then, of course, letting people know exactly what we've built. So I want to turn it over to you. Um, I would love. I would love our founding story through your Lens. Wow, okay, so I think to start I need to talk about you a little bit, which is which is strange. You know, you asked about me, but I'll turn it on you. Those of you that have been listening to the show and that have that no Michael over all these years just just need to know how much entrepreneurship and how much the automotive industry really is in his blood. Um, we the Michael I know, drove around as a young teenager in a car. I don't even know if it was a rapid. I don't even know if wraps existed then, but it was. This car was decked out end to end painted. It was like called deals on wheels or something, and Michael and I went on this date. We took these these two girls out on a date and the only car we had to drive was this painted deals on wheels car. And no joke, the backseat of this car had a thousand car magazines, just like strewn all over the ways. I don't even we didn't even think to clean it out. So we're just kind of crammed in this back seat with thousands of magazines. This was Michael's childhood, driving from dealership to dealership as a teenager with a brand new license, delivering these these automotive magazines, and so, I mean that's just the life that Michael grew up in. Now, my path was slightly different. Rent Um, I didn't grow up in the auto industry, but I was I was interested in technology from day one, and so there was a period of time in our lives when when, actually, even though we've been friends for thirty years, there were a few years there where we we kind of went separate ways, which is was fascinating to me because we were so close growing up as teenagers. I went off to school, I started studying computer science and technology and, you know, got a degree in computer science and got a job at a multibillion dollar software company in the United States and that was kind of my life and I you know, I met my wife, we started having kids in our lives were heading different directions. Um, but I remember one day sitting there thinking I'm going to get a call from Joe Cirillo today, who, if you don't know him as as Michael's Dad, who who's the start of the business. Originally, out of the blue it crossed my mind I'M gonna get a call from Joe Sirillo today, and I was walking into work and sure enough, later that day the phone rings and...'s Joe and he says, you know what we're this was early two thousand's, I think we're at. He said, you know, things are shifting in the industry. We've been doing this print magazine for so many years and we're starting to see the dealers are wanting their inventory online. And so Michael and I were talking and we needed a guy. We had to find somebody that new technology that could help us make this happen, and he asked if if I would come on as a partner to make this happen and of course I was like yeah, let's do this. This sounds exciting because I was looking for an opportunity to work with you again. So that's as I look at our beginnings, those are the two things that stood out to me most as our childhood morphing into this period of time not really talking much, and then to being in business full time together since then. Yeah, Um, you've even brought up experiences that I forgot about, locked out of your memory. I don't know if I yeah intentionally or not, but you're cracking me up because I'm like, we were such grubs, like why didn't we think to clear out the vehicle? Why did anyone want to go on a date with us? I don't know. Oh yeah, that's probably the better question. Like what did we have to do to to encourage like what what must their thoughts have been? Looking in the back seat, seeing not not to mention the front end of the because it was a Kia Rio. I don't know if anybody remembers those. It was a Kia Kio Rio, and you're right, it wasn't wrapped. But what we did was we um for for dealers who did, I want to say, like a six month advertising contract. We would actually put their logo on the vehicle. So by the end of it, yeah, it was like a nascar like this thing was just decked out with local dealers logos and we were we were the driving billboard, Um, and that. Yeah, you're right. So, so we took them on a date in this driving billboard filled with magazines. Um, but I had totally forgot about that. That is hilarious. Um, I want I want to now remember who we brought on the dates so we can get them on the show and ask them what their perception of that date was. I'm sure we can ut pictures. We've got a lot of old photos city and we do have a lot of old photos. It's funny, though. You know, and I'm sure those listening have had experiences like this to here point about. Like you, you had this feeling something was at work in the universe, in the ether, and you got this sense. Joe Is gonna call me, by the by the way, for those wondering, uh, we call him Papa Joe. That's the nickname that our team here at flex has, uh has affectionately given my father as he's enjoying his his travels somewhere at this juncture, Um, Papa Joe. And and on that side of things. Yeah, there was a lot of conversations about print. Print. We're seeing the writing on the wall. What do we do? How do we migrate to a digital world? Do you know anybody testing out different companies, I mean some companies that are long gone in the history books, who we were like maybe they can help us with tech and testing that out. There was a lot of R and D that went into this decision of like how do we migrate out? And I also think about my dad, you know, because to your point about how we've had our moments as friends where they were like ups and downs and we figured it out and and uh now, now I'm just quoting the Robin Hood Song of most sometimes up, so I don't number the downs Um and it certainly was that way working in a family business with my dad and and admittedly, for years I shied away from admitting that we were a family business, perhaps in my adolescence, not understanding how deeply rooted our beloved auto industry is in family business, like so many our family businesses, so many, and it is actually so cool at this point to see that second and third and fourth generation rising up. And...

...what what better thing can we do for our families? And even though you know you, and I say we're friends, I mean you're a brother. Man, you were there, you were the literally, the brother I never had. I mean figuratively, but also, I feel like literally, you know, having four sisters, no brothers, and then here you are, you know, a mentor to me, uh, someone to look up to, a great example, you know, growing up, and we were so tight, and we are, you know, we're tight now, Um, and and so still to this day, really feeling like, man, this is a family business. Um, what we've built here is incredibly special. So we build this technology and would you say it was in those early days? It was probably out of just complete ignorance, like we were like, because we were out there, we were trying to figure out how do we how do we get people to go from magazine print, the thing that they think is dying, to digital medium, and our thought was, why don't we build a portal, why don't we build a website that we can host all their inventory? And this there in lies the the fundamental difference between a CEO and a CTO. CEO has brilliant idea. Your first remark was how were we going to put their inventory? Like it was just so rooted in common sense and logically okay, but then where do we put their inventory? How does it live? And we're like, I don't I don't know. Yeah, I mean I like the word you use, ignorance, because isn't there always some level of ignorance involved with starting a business? I mean we like to think we act on, you know, market data and all these things, but there's always this degree of ignorance involved. But when you place that together with common sense, which is another great word, Um, along with inspiration, I feel like we were inspired. Um, taking, you know, your industry experience and then my technology background, we were able to put together something that was really inspiring. I remember the very first thing I did is I sat down and said, okay, we're going to need a database to store all this stuff, right, and I sat down and I created this database. I can tell you that the core of that database so many years, decades ago, still exists today. Now we obviously we've improved it, we've enhanced it, we've we've incremented on it, but the core of it is still there, and so there was a lot of inspiration involved and that's how we knew it was we were onto something, that things started to click together, not to mention, I mean the fact that when our clients, client partners, would come to us with requests, they were always blown away that, Ay, we listened and be most of the time, we built the things that they needed. And and I'm sure those those listening and watching are like, well, what did you build? So you you built some sort of a portal. Like what is it that you do today, all these years later? Um, so, in your best attempt to explain, you know what what it is that we're so excited about and what we see the industry needs? What? What exactly is it? For those that are curious? Yeah, so it started, I mean, once this database was created, we quickly saw that we're going to need to start to talk with other companies, and so the feed system really was born out of that, where it was like, we need what good is an empty database? Right, we need to start getting this inventory from other systems into ours, and so there were a lot of integration work that went into place, and again, this is stuff that still happens today. And so we started just pulling inventory from lots of different sources and working with other companies to get that inventory data and then obviously publishing it online on a website, right. And so we we've our model has been basically two full the inventory and the... pieces for all of these years. Now, over time we've developed also some agency services, some some ads and things like that, but the core of it really has been inventory and still is today. Dare you say, dare you quote from our beloved you can't probably see it because it's blurry, but there's a picture of Nacho Libre on my wall. Inventory. We we see inventory as the nucleus, nucleus, it's the nucleus of of everything. Um, it's the driver of of a lot of the conversations even that have happened in the last two years. The last two years in particular, I feel like, and I love your take on this, has really emphasized the importance of speed to market, which is something that we think really deeply about, how quickly we can like take data from whatever source, normalize it and then give that control back to the dealer to not have to wait for us or anybody else to then spit their own data back out and use it any which way that they want. But but I mean from your vantage point, where maybe feeds sound unsexy you're realizing, wow, there's actually a real there's a real, big need for this on a day to day basis. Yeah, things are so much more complicated now than they ever were, right. I mean gone are the days where you can just sit down and you've got a spreadsheet and maybe a drive on your computer with some photos. Right today, your inventory is spread not only spread out everywhere, but it's coming from all kinds of different systems. Like some dealers have one system just to manage photos, another system just for pricing, another system to pull from the D M s to move things around. Um, it's complicated and our system is we've designed it so that we can read data from any source that's out there, pull it in cleanly into one nice, super clean, beautiful package and then get it in that package format to wherever it needs to go, and again, just quickly. Right. You don't want to have to wait twenty four hours for a feed to run to get your information where it needs to go. Right. We want to get things to be real time, as as close as possible. It remains reminds me of like back when I was doing so part of that all encompassing family business delivering magazines, but knowing full well that to bring a technology play to market there was gonna be a lot of like boots on the groundwork. And I just think about going to college full time and then doing inventory management for large dealer groups in Vancouver Canada, Um, and how slow and painstaking just the lot capture process was and all these years later, realizing that by and large, it is still slow and painstaking and mean for guys like you and I, where I feel like we're constantly pushing ourselves to some sort of ideal, whether that's good or bad. Um, we kind of glossed over the fact that what we have now, this inventory marketing system that we've built, truly puts speed and time back in the dealer's hands to be able to capture a piece of inventory, get all of its data in and get that sucker out and marketed as quickly as possible, realizing that every day that it's not being marketed it is costing that dealership a tremendous amount of money. Yeah, and I'm a firm believer in using technology to enhance our lives, and so we are blessed today we have a whole lot more technology than we ever did before. Um, but I feel like sometimes we drown in it and that we've we've got systems that are so full of features that they kind of lose sight of the core of what we really need to do, which is exactly what you said right. It so...

...getting things done quickly efficiently, and that's something that that our our dealer partners have said to us often, as we just love the system just because it just works right. It just it just does what we needed to do when we needed to do it, and, you know, it takes us back to that relationship piece. You know, we always want to work so closely with those that that we've partnered with to make sure that things are working the way that they'd like to see them work, to get ideas from them, to work together with them as partners. I love that it. I want to go back to this article that we referenced earlier, just as we continue to get to know and get to know you in the industry. Um, I don't perhaps like the the articulation of this because it makes me feel weird, Um, but I think this is funny because it was written so many years ago. Um, so many years ago, like I can't at least eight, nine years ago, at least. Yeah, Um, and it says I'M gonna skip out the part that makes me uncomfortable, Um, because I don't like reading about myself, but it just says one of the things Michael, and really I could say both of us, emphasizes is creating a positive corporate culture. Um. It's funny how you know a lot of what you're saying about listening to customer, paying attention to the market, but also, you know, Um, making something that just common sense makes sense to a customer is largely powered by culture. And we're hearing a lot in the industry these days about culture. And you know, there there's kind of two sides of the coin. There's those that just immediately understand the importance of a healthy workplace culture and then there's those that are struggling to quantify how it actually makes sense. So I'd love your your take from where you sit, your vantage point overseeing and having stewardship for team, how do you find culture impacts the work that you're doing day to day? You know, one of the things I'll say first is that while culture is so important, it's very difficult to maintain the larger business gets right, and we've you know we're not a huge business, but we have that culture and so we've really worked hard at finding the right people, as opposed to just a bunch of people. Right. We want people that are that are good fits, that we can work well with and that share that same vision and that same positive culture that we've we've established. And so really, I mean I've seen this. We're having come from a large, large company with thousands and thousands of employees. You can lose that culture very quickly and that's that's a danger. Like it. Some people might look to here that and be like, well, that's not a huge deal, right, we're we've still got the business that's still running, but in our mind culture is is super important. And so yeah, I mean I love working with people that love what they're doing and that love working at the company that they work at. Um I think everyone's experience going to work and just being like Oh, dragon, like, Oh, here's another day, I've got to go through another day, right, another week and I got to go on my vacation, that kind of stuff. But it's very different when you you're excited about what you do and it's possible with the right culture, with the right people. I love it. Man. Well, Um, you know how much I love you and look up to you, and I'm so glad that we get to continue our journey together. For those that are curious about this inventory, speed to market, what we're building over here and how they can learn more about it and perhaps implement it into their UH business process. I love how you said it earlier, like using looking at technology as a way to enhance our abilities. where, where would you direct people and how can they get in touch with you? Well, definitely, I think you mentioned earlier. Flex dealer dot com is where... can find us on the web. Um. But as for me personally, Um, I love talking to you guys, and so if you want to reach out to me personally, Dan a flex Yar dot com, I've got my email thanks to these phones we've got, and it's always in front of me. So I'll get three email as soon as I can and we've up to set up a conversation to talk more. Well, the buddy. Thanks for joining me on the dealer playbook podcast. I'm Michael Cirillo and you've been listening to the dealer playbook podcast. If you haven't yet, please click the subscribe button wherever you're listening right now, leave a rating or review and share it with a colleague. Thanks for listening.

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