Making A Great Internet Department

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Seth Ridgeway - Also by this author

What’s makes the difference between a good Internet department and a great internet department? A commitment to the special finance customer, that’s what! What leads me to make this bold statement to the entire automotive industry, especially those of you that shy away from the special finance customer? I’m glad you asked. This is the story of a dealership that made the commitment and utilizes it to produce plenty of sales and outstanding profits.

In 1997, Max Fairchild took a chance and opened an independent dealership in Del City, Okla. I’m sure most of you know exactly where Del City is, but for the few of you that don’t, it’s located approximately five miles southeast of downtown Oklahoma City.

Starting with 50 vehicles and big dreams, Fairchild opened the doors and started putting customers behind the wheel. Being a man of vision and understanding the advantages of owning a franchise, he received his first one, Hyundai, in 2000. The dealership now carries 400 vehicles, 150 of those pre-owned. They move about 130 units a month; 50 percent of those are special finance deals.

Tony Reynolds came on board as general manager the year Hyundai was acquired, and he’s been there ever since. Reynolds said: “Customer service is my number-one priority. I feel that we are extremely effective counting the return business and referrals we receive every day. I have a great staff that makes it all happen. From Ben Patnode, my used cars manager, to Steve Griffith, the business development and Internet manager, to Vinnie Vicedomini, the finance manager; this is a great team. I count on them everyday to make positive things happen and they never let me down.”

As with every dealership the question was, “How can we get more customers on the lot?” If you’ve been in as many managers’ meetings as I have, this is always a prime topic. It was decided that they would pursue an untapped resource and start an Internet department. They knew this was the wave of the future and would complement other advertising programs in-place, while allowing them to capture customers that normally wouldn’t venture to Del City.

Vicedomini and Patnode were selected to put the new department together and make it work. Some huge questions were how to set the department up, how much to spend on advertising and what to spend it on. Armed with a budget of $1,500, the hunt was on for the best Internet avenue to get car buying customers on the lot. After looking into Internet lead providers, they decided to go with CustomerFunding Inc. Vicedomini said, “The first month we received 100 applications from them. When the dust cleared after close-out, we had sold 30 cars to these customers with a total gross profit of $60,000. We could hardly believe that our little upstart department made that much profit on such a small investment. CustomerFunding got us off to a great start and opened the owner’s pocketbook for additional advertising money.”

“We figured the Internet department would help us sell a couple of more cars a month,” Griffith said, “We were pleasantly surprised that in a very short time Internet sales became a major part of our sales and profit for the dealership. We gross over $100,000 a month like clockwork now on a $10,000 budget. I don’t care what business you’re in that’s a great return on your investment.”

When Griffith was asked what other lead providers they use he said that CustomerFunding was the first and is still the flagship of their providers, but he didn’t care to share other sources with me. He said they were not willing to give up all their trade secrets. TV and radio plays a part in their advertising network, but Internet lead sources are really were the money is. He said, “These customers are motivated buyers and we have all the right sources to help them."

What seems to be the secret to Automax Hyundai’s success? “Cooperation between all departments involved during the selling process,” Griffith states, “Without this total team effort, we wouldn’t be half as profitable as we are. When we step into the dealership, we check our egos at the door and put our efforts toward placing every visitor in one of our vehicles. We treat every customer with respect. They feel comfortable here. We erase the anxieties that customers have when shopping for new transportation. For most people this may be the biggest purchase in their lifetime, second only to their mortgage. Our team makes them feel good about their decision to shop with us.

My advice to those that want to increase sales for your Internet and special finance departments is embrace cooperation, check your egos at the door and make the customer your number-one priority; then watch the numbers grow.

Vol 2, Issue 3

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