Article

Running With The Big Dogs: Elkin Chrysler Jeep Dodge Leave The Porch

November 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Daymond Decker - Also by this author

There is a saying: If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch! History has shown that in the “dog-eat-dog” world of automotive retailing, small dealers have been on a short leash when it comes to marketing, sales and dealership growth. Rural hometown dealerships are limited with scarce resources and challenged by the fierce competition of super-store mega-marketing and branding, but the evolution of the Internet has changed the way that today’s tech-savvy consumers are buying their vehicles. No one knows this better than Larry Staples, the co-owner and general manager of Elkin Chrysler Jeep Dodge. After having spent 21 years of his automotive career with the then-struggling Elkin dealership established in the rural community in 1923, Staples made the bold decision to buy the ailing dealership in 2004 with partner and friend, Paul Burns.
Elkin Chrysler Jeep Dodge (CJD), a hometown dealer located in the rural community of Elkin, North Carolina, is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Boasting a population 3,000 residents with the nearest metropolitan 40 miles away, Staples was adamant that his small dealership would not only survive, but thrive. Staples and Burns turned to the Internet to provide the necessary innovation and technology needed to breathe new life into and grow their newly acquired franchise. The duo slowly began to build the Internet department, and made the decision to hire an ambitious former Applebee’s waitress, Nikki Clay. Burns had previously worked with Clay and quickly realized her talent and potential. Being fresh out of high school and after having worked for Elkin CJD for a little less than two years, Clay is purchasing her first home and looking forward to a promising career as the Internet manager/BDC director.

The Challenge
So, what happens when you mix old-fashioned, small-town car sales with newfangled technology? The answer is a dealership with increased exposure that translates into more sales and higher profits. As expected, however, implementing new technological solutions at a small dealership is easier said than done. The transition can be overwhelming for dealers that may not have the budget of a mega dealer to hire a staff of specialists.

In small dealerships, resources must be closely managed in order to deliver maximum results, so the Internet department at Elkins CJD was slowly built, one person at a time, and has grown to a staff of five dedicated employees. Shortly after entering the arena of digital marketing, the Internet department was generating results, but the management team realized that the department under the direction of Nikki Clay had the potential to do better.

The management team at Elkin Chrysler Jeep Dodge shopped the market for a consultant to train their staff. Alongside consulting/training specialists from BZ Results, Elkin CJD recently embarked in a strategic boot-camp to review the dealership’s history of benchmarks and to conduct a “needs” assessment to help devise a strategy to centralize a BDC and design a customized blueprint for success complete with new goals and objectives.

Included in the new marketing solution is a high-end media-enriched Web site. The new virtual dealership, ElkinCJD.com, is loaded with features to engage and capture the attention of visitors. “The old Web site was outdated and had no WOW factor,” explained Clay,

 “It was a very difficult system for the average sales person to work with. There are a lot of things that we like [about the new site], but the one that impresses me most about the system is the ability to incorporate all of our different lead providers into one lead management system that gives reports on exactly what’s working, and what’s not,” added Clay.

The current Web site contains more options to engage customers like pop-up coupons and options to order parts, send e-mails, view brochures, watch tutorials and apply for loans.
Clay noted that having customers apply for credit online makes people feel better about the process because the virtual dealership Fresh Start Financing links use words that are less harsh and more soothing for those who are credit-challenged. The dealership also utilizes several lenders that are great with helping people achieve their loans.

The Results
Since implementing their new digital marketing strategy, complete with a newly-designed Web site and a detailed marketing strategy that includea search engine optimization and advanced search marketing initiatives, Clay and her new BDC are generating impressive results. In just a few short months, with the help of advanced search engine technology, traffic to their virtual dealership has increased 30 to 40 percent. The number of visitors to ElkinsCJD.com that are converted into leads has increased a stout 55 percent from 450 to 700 leads per month. ElkinsCJD.com has done more than just increase traffic leads, and sales; it has added value to the people, products and the dealership, resulting in higher front end gross and lower cost per unit sold.

Burns explained that the power and potential of the Internet has allowed Elkin CJD to surpass the local level, evolving from a 15 to 20 car dealership into the 70 to 80 car dealership that serves customers across the nation. “We have customers fly in from all over the country, and we’ll put them up in a hotel so they can drive their new car home,” added Burns.

The Road Ahead
For Elkins Chrysler Jeep Dodge, a hometown dealer serving the Yadkin Valley and abroad, the Internet is the dealership’s most important marketing tool. Its virtual dealership, www.ElkinsCJD.com, is the driving force behind the success of this rural dealership. The Internet currently accounts for approximately 45 percent of total sales of the dealership, and the BDC staff at Elkins CJD is striving to generate 55 percent in the months to come. After being in business for only two years, Clay commented that even with the greatest technology in the world, the success would not have been possible without the people at the dealership. “Everyone is one big, happy family working together as a team to make the sale,” she concluded.

Vol 5, Issue 9

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