Article

Germain Motor Company Uses The Internet As Tool For Success

September 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Terran Lamp - Also by this author

Established in 1947 by Warren F. Germain, Germain Motor Company began in Columbus, OH as a Mercury dealership. Today, Germain Motor Company has multiple franchises in Columbus, OH, Naples and Sarasota, FL. Bob Germain Sr. is the current Chairman of the Board, Steve Germain is President, Rick Germain oversees the Lexus stores in Columbus and Bob Jr. is Vice-President and Director of Operations for the Florida dealerships.

Germain Motor Company’s Florida Division, overseen by Bob Germain Jr, vice-president and director of operations, includes seven new car franchises (Acura, BMW, Honda, Lexus, Lincoln Mercury and two Toyota) in Naples and Sarasota along with three pre-owned franchises. This division sells over 16,000 vehicles per year. The company’s internet operations, overseen by Jennifer Picheco, director of e-commerce, play an integral part in the company’s success. The e-Commerce department at Germain sells over 200 cars per month and is responsible for generating over 15 percent of total sales monthly. The company uses sites such as AutoTrader.com, AutoUSA, Dealix, Cars.com, eBay and NADA as sources for Internet leads.

Germaincars.com is also a primary leads source. When a customer makes an inquiry about a car from Germain Motor Company through their Internet portals, they are sent a “Quick Quote” price response usually within 15 minutes. Quotes are priced very competitively and are closely related to the invoice or MSRP. Most of Germain’s Internet customers are inquiring on price, payment, vehicle selection or credit approval. After seeing available inventory online the majority of new vehicle Internet shoppers send further inquiries by e-mail, while the next step for used vehicle Internet shoppers is to either call or come in. Once a customer has contacted the dealership, someone is in place to respond with either pricing information or specific answers to their buying needs. The communication process then goes back and forth until hopefully an appointment is made. Once in the showroom, every customer is offered a test drive and a complete product demonstration. After this, the process becomes similar to the traditional sales process.

Because there are several different stores within Germain Motor Company, it is important to recognize that each franchise operates its’ respective Internet Department according to store size, lead volume, staff and management goals. In some of the top producing stores internet sales account for up to 30 percent of monthly sales. Staffing is set up differently for each store; some stores have an Internet manager with a dedicated Internet sales staff while others have one or two individuals dedicated to handle Internet customers. To have a successful Internet department, which is the main objective, you must have the commitment of the management staff. The management staff and those hired for this department must be focused on the follow-up.

There are follow-up processes in place to set clear guidelines on how to manage Internet business. Beyond this, there are OEM sponsored training classes that allow the company to learn Internet best practices and boost efforts moving forward. “I always refer to these classes and sessions as battery recharge opportunities,” says Picheco. Germain Motor Company spends approximately 12 percent of the total advertising budget to reach the Internet customer. The ultimate goal for advertising is to make three times as much as they spend through Internet sales.

As for the future of e-Commerce and Germain Motor Company, Picheco believes the Internet sector of the automotive industry will a more prevalent force in the purchase process. The Internet buyer has the option to research, ask questions and negotiate without even setting foot on the showroom floor. “It is important for dealers to realize that they can use this to their benefit and to encourage customers to educate themselves,” says Picheco. The fact that the customer has access to massive amounts of information virtually at their fingertips and they have the luxury of gathering it at their leisure makes them feel as though the dealership is no longer in charge of their personal investment. “Dealerships that are not willing to open their doors to online customers need to understand that it is the same as shutting the brick and mortar doors to the showroom in a customers face.”

Germain Motor Company recognizes that many other dealerships are doing a great job of incorporating the Internet into their sales process, therefore making sure they stay on top of the technology and best practices is a top priority.

Ingredients to Start an Internet Department- Jen’s Top Ten

#10 Evaluate time and energy spent on this department. If you can quantify the time and energy spent directly to growth and income, management will stay fully committed to Internet efforts.

#9 Devise an effective measuring system for tracking leads, sales, expenses and gross. Make use of reports to evaluate performance. Comparing performance standards to a separate budget for online advertising will allow you to monitor advertising cost per sale. Compare Internet sales to total sales and your total budget.

#8 Supplement your Web site leads with at least one third party lead provider. Not every customer will go directly to your dealership site. Third party leads are the best tool to supplement your own Web site leads.

#7 Create a Web site that represents the dealership well, creates leads and provides multiple methods for the customer to contact you. The Web site should represent your brick and mortar store. It should be easy to find, simple to navigate, list your inventory and provide contact information.

#6 Always have a process in place for immediate follow up. Have the systems in place to ensure that every inquiry is handled in a systematic manner. Continual follow-up allows you to convert more leads to appointments.

#5 Use hardware and software technology to leverage manpower in follow-up and lead management. Internet Lead Management System or CRM software tools make it possible to follow up on large quantities of leads in an efficient, automated manner.

#4 Hire a dedicated person to handle Internet functions. Ideally this person’s primary responsibility is to handle leads and follow up with Internet customers.

#3 Management commitment. Support from top management is imperative. If management does not see the importance of being involved in the online automotive business, it will be impossible to be successful.

#2 Have a vision for the department. Set goals and create an outline as to what it takes to get reach those goals. Without clear strategies and goals the department will flounder.

#1 Grasp the Internet shopping concept. Customers shop online to avoid the “traditional” automotive buying experience. If you set your dealership strategies and goals with this concept in mind, you will be more successful.

Vol 2, Issue 12

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