Article

Putting The Sizzle In Online Sales

September 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by John Carroll - Also by this author

Doug Ramirez knows how to put the sizzle in online car sales.

His DC Motors in Orange County, Calif. originally staked a position on the Web back in the dot-com boom days of 1997. At the time, he was going through a major transition, taking on BMW and Mercedes lease returns. "It worked fine," he said, "but it's very competitive."

About three years ago, though, Ramirez began to move up-market again, ratcheting up his sales of Ferraris and other top-of-the-line luxury vehicles. Why not start picturing these silk-stocking cars with well-endowed, bikini-clad models in a special online site, obviously marketing to American males who could be drawn to the ultimate in performance machines?

Thus was born hottiesonhoods.com. Just point and click, and you'll see a series of images of girls and cars flash by in a tight sequence of metal and flesh curves. Another click and you can see his lineup of the hottest cars on the planet. One more click, and you're making a bid.

It's fast, easy and – given the kind of prices he's asking – amazingly effective.

In the last two years, Ramirez has gone from selling about 20 percent of his ultra-high-end inventory online to a whopping 50 percent, with his well-heeled clientele split between southern California and the rest of the world. And Ramirez is under no illusions that plenty of cleavage had a lot to do with his success on the Internet.

"It's like they say, sex sells," Ramirez said. "It was the best marketing idea I ever had."

The proof comes pouring in through the Internet every day. On the Internet, if you post two pictures of one car—same price, same color, same miles – but include a girl in one of them, the picture advertisement including the girl can attract upwards of 40,000 hits, versus 2,000 for the naked car, said Ramirez.

"The Ferraris are so rare, you can't just go down the street and find a different one,” Ramirez said. “Unique vehicles on the Internet seem to work. The stranger the car, the more success I've had. I've always done well with armored cars, out of the ordinary limousines. Every armored car I buy, I sell."

Armored cars?

"We're in LA," he explains with a laugh, "people are getting shot at everywhere."

But it's the girls that Ramirez likes to shoot.

Every week, two girls and six cars hit a nearby studio for a half-day photo shoot. Those images have also helped push traffic through eBay Motors, where he finds a steady line of customers waiting to view his virtual lot.

"eBay Motors is our number one source of sales. It's only gotten better," Ramirez said.

But there's more raw sex appeal on Ramirez's site than busty babes. He's taken his business into the rarefied world of the ultimate luxury vehicles: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-dollar vehicles. The bottom line for many successful online sales operations is the more unique and rare the car, the easier it is to find a buyer out hunting his dream car on the Internet.

Ramirez's special blend of makes and models has revved up online hits to astronomical levels. Helping sales is a new financing arrangement for customers who may have a hard time scraping together $165,000 from their bank account. A few months ago, Ramirez rolled out a brand new, 12-year financing deal and found he had opened up a whole new market for his cars. Limiting the program to consumers with perfect credit, buyers can now own one of his cars for $1,200 a month at 7 percent.

"Of course," he said, "everyone thinks they can afford a Ferrari now."

Ramirez still has a good lineup of customers willing to pay full price. That's especially true in Europe, where the surging Euro is taking a lot of the shock out of U.S. sticker prices.

"We've shipped 10 cars in the last 30 days to Italy," Ramirez said. "Hummers and the Porsche Carrera are hot over there right now."

From 0 to $5 million

Ramirez originally got into the used car business back in 1994 when he sold a sideline business, took off his uniform as an LA County Deputy Sheriff and bought a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of Honda Accords. A couple of years later he moved his operation to Anaheim and today, after staking his reputation as a mover and shaker in the world of late model luxury, he has about $5 million in inventory, 10 employees and moves about two big-ticket vehicles a day.

From the first day he started selling online, he's always been struck by a singular fact: "How willing people are to give you money without even seeing the cars."

It's not all about buying on faith, though. Really connecting with customers requires taking the hesitation out of buying online. Ramirez has increased his odds with four live cameras that give the world a real-time look at the world of DC Motors on the World Wide Web.

"The thing that made online selling a lot better was having live cameras broadcasting," Ramirez said. "People can click and see the live camera, and I think that’s where we've seen the biggest sales tool. I think people feel comfortable when they can see me."

But there's another aspect of the online sales business that makes his life easier. He has a solid track record in the business. He never buys a wrecked car that's been fixed up and rolled out. He not only doesn't drive junk, he doesn't sell it. And he's never had a car come back from an unhappy client.

Doing well and staying in business both add to his reputation as a legitimate player.

And the more successful he is at selling the cars, the more successful he is at buying them.

"I sit on my butt and my cell phone rings. Everyone knows I buy cars and everyone knows my checks are good," Ramirez said. This way, he said, wholesalers can work a deal with him on the phone, and if the vehicles come onto the lot the way they were described, it's added to inventory. After 11 years of playing it straight and never burning someone, the calls keep coming. That helps him buy two new cars a day to replace the ones that are headed to a new home.

The better his inventory, the broader his reputation.

"Some people have a red Ferrari on their mind, always wanted a red Ferrari. Well, I have nine." At 22 Ferarris, Ramirez said there are currently the most Ferarris he’s ever had on the lot at the same time.

Doing his homework

Ramirez makes it sound easy, but he's also careful to avoid getting ripped off. Carfax has helped by filling in a vehicle's history. So has the National Insurance Crime Bureau (nicb.org) database that keeps track of every insurance claim.

"I call the local auction and run an NICB on a car before I write a check. It will tell you if any insurance claim paid on that car and will give you details that are not available on Carfax."

He's also well prepared for cautious buyers, ready to roll his cars to a third-party reviewer to kick the tires for them and check out what they're buying.

It also hasn't hurt that Ramirez has had the help of a smart Web manager.

"We've come up with a strategy over time—the ease of use of the site," Aaron Rosenthal, president of Highline Technologies said. "It's a simple, no-search philosophy to let people browse."

Go to any page of his sites and you can search any make or model with one click. That's easier for Ramirez to do than Autotrader, because he has a more limited inventory.

And it's paid off, with users spending an average of five and a half minutes during each unique visit.

The very first day they turned on hottiesonhoods, Rosenthal said, they got 3,000 hits. Traffic runs steadily at 30,000 hits a day now, and when a local morning radio disc jockey finds out about the site and decides to tell all of his listeners about it, traffic soars.

"He's getting tons of recognition and he does sell a lot of high-dollar cars through that exposure to take him to the top of that needle in a haystack," Rosenthal said.

By spending about $100 to advertise a car on eBay Motors, Rosenthal said, they can take that traffic to 50,000 unique hits a day. It's a perfect strategy to reach a big group of his core target audience: men who are ages 25 to 50.

"Girls just drive that more direct exposure," he said. And Ramirez has his other site (www.dontdrivejunk.com) for families, women customers and anyone else who might not be compelled to surf the models.

Ramirez has been beta testing a new feature from Rosenthal's Instant Dealer (instantdealer.com) that's designed to put some additive in online sales. Every time someone goes on a site of his, a floating phone is on the site. Someone who sees a car they like can click on it, submit his name and number and have an almost instantaneous return call.

"What's really cool is that customers haven’t had time to search other sites," says Rosenthal. "They're still looking at your site as soon as you get the call." By catching them right at their peak interest time, he adds, you're more likely to close a sale than you would if you were communicating by e-mail.

What doesn't work on the Web, he says, is the 180-degree opposite of what is on Ramirez's site.

"When someone is online, they do have a choice," says Rosenthal, so forget bad cars with high miles and ugly colors. And remember, he said, Internet customers love options.

That kind of future looks bright for Ramirez. He keeps edging up market. His latest catch is a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a $600,000 car he bought in July. "I think that put me on the map for the big boys. I'm just staying with high-end sports car and the luxury market. The Bentley market has been phenomenal for me."

Ramirez also says he can do a lot of business in Hummers. "H1s only, the real ones." They're harder to find than H2s, but in Ramirez's business, that only translates into more interested customers turning to him for vehicles.

Vol 2, Issue 4

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