Article

Gentilini Motors Focuses on Internet Sales

August 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Gentilini Motors Focuses on Internet Sales


Almost a decade ago, the owners of Gentilini Motors in Woodbine, N.J., began to notice traditional advertising trailing off and the Internet catching on. “The Internet was becoming more of a craze. It was becoming more prevalent in everybody’s household,” said Paul Gentilini, co-owner. In 2000, Gentilini Motors’ focus shifted to building an online presence.

When creating a new Web site, Gentilini Motors focused on keeping it “really clean, simple and clear,” said David Pritchard, director of marketing and public relations and fundamental to the dealership’s online success. Co-Owner Paul Gentilini said, “[Pritchard has] been instrumental … He’s been on top of everything. He’s constantly reading the magazines, articles, literature, talking to people in the industry, trying to find ways to keep us one step ahead of our competition or maybe even three or four steps in some cases.”

Since 2000, when Pritchard joined the Gentilini staff, the dealership has changed Web site providers three times, and in 2004 finally settled on a Dealerskins Web site. If you look at either of Gentilini’s two home pages (GentiliniFord.com and GentiliniChevrolet.com), they indeed have a very simple, clean design. They both include the dealership’s logos in the top left corner, contact information in the top right corner, rotating images in the center of the page that match the manufacturer’s marketing messages, and a line of images under the rotating images displaying the words/options:

1. Inventory

2. Specials

3. Service

4. Credit Approval

5. Parts and Accessories

6.  Research

However, the Web site goes much deeper than six pages. When hovering over one of the six images, site visitors are presented with a list of options so they can easily drill down to get the information they’re looking for. Pritchard said, “We’ve definitely tried to keep it simple because I really think in today’s fast-paced society, [the Internet is] really about getting … the information you need and moving on.”

The latest addition to Gentilini’s sites is the splash page, www.GentiliniMotors.com, which is very search-engine friendly, and it links to “The Gentilini Story,” both dealership sites, sponsors and causes, testimonials, events, contests, and several videos (some manufacturer videos and some Gentilini). Pritchard said, “Our new Web 2.0 splash page has really taken off. At one point, [traffic was] up 1,400 percent.” He said after the initial spike in traffic, the amount of traffic has leveled out some but is still a 400 percent increase over what they had before the splash page. “I think that is great for a splash page we don’t really promote. Additionally, search rankings for that page are really great.”

Of the trio of sites, Gentilini said, “[They’re] very informative sites for someone who … wants to find out who we are … what we’ve done for the community, what we do on an annual basis to help out. It’s just a lot more information. It used to just be all about selling cars, service or parts. Now it’s got a lot more information about the dealership itself.”

However, the sites are lead machines too. In 2008, GentiliniFord.com averaged 10,000 unique visitors per month. With the stores conversion rate of six to eight percent, that’s anywhere from 600 to 800 leads per month generated from the site, most of which are submitted through the inventory pages. With a closing rate of 15 to 18 percent, the store sells between 90 and 144 units a month from GentiliniFord.com leads.

While some dealerships have an Internet department or BDC to handle Internet leads, the entire Gentilini team operates like an Internet department. Pritchard said, “All of our salespeople are involved in the Internet. As the leads come in, we assign them to each of the salespeople who take ups on the lot. We all work [leads]. They go into our CRM tool, and we distribute them from there.” Although the Gentilini dealerships don’t have Internet departments or BDCs, per say, they have an average response time that rivals some of the best BDCs and Internet departments in the country—10 to 13 minutes. “We are constantly working to get that down.”

Pritchard added, “You can’t hold a position in our dealership and not be involved with the Internet or integrated with our systems.” For example, the detail department is in charge of taking photos of vehicles for online inventory.

As for purchased leads, Gentilini Motors doesn’t buy them. “We don’t use any third-party lead providers. It might not be politically correct, but we really feel like we’re the brand in South Jersey, they would be simply be selling us our own customers … We do use AutoTrader.com through the Ford Direct and GM Certified programs, but we don’t have premier sites,” said Pritchard.

Instead, the stores focus on marketing their sites online via search engine optimization, pay-per-click and behavioral targeted display banners. He said they’re very focused on SEO, and the behavioral targeted marketing is relatively new to their online marketing mix. “Not a lot of dealerships have been using [behavioral targeted marketing] yet. Other companies are saying it converts 22 percent more of your pay-per-click, so we’re hoping to see a big bang out of it.” Gentilini Motors banners potentially show up on thousands of sites; whether they show up on these sites is dictated by the content each individual site viewer is looking at or searching for. 

Over the years, the dealership’s online efforts have paid off so well, the dealership reallocated its advertising and marketing budget. Save for the occasional TV commercial, newspaper spot and (even rarer) radio spot, Gentilini focuses on Internet advertising and marketing.

Since the Internet is constantly evolving, Pritchard institutes regular training and is in constant contact with everyone in the dealership in search of feedback and new ideas to make certain he and the Gentilini sales teams stay up to date. Gentilini said, “We’re constantly talking with each other. [Pritchard is] always in communication with all our managers finding out what’s working, what’s not working, going over ideas or thoughts he might have to see how he might put it into play for our Web site.”

Pritchard is so focused on the Internet because he sees every customer as an Internet customer. “We don’t feel like there’s any differentiation now between the Internet customer and a customer that might walk on your lot. We think they’re one and the same.” He elaborated, “[Internet customers are] not just the guys in their 20-somethings that login online to check things out. We have 95-year-old customers who come in with their CarFax, a printout from our Web site, a printout from Kelley Blue Book. They are armed with information. The demographics of [Internet customers] have totally changed in the last year and a half.”

Ford noticed Pritchard has really been staying ahead of the online curve, and the manufacturer recently asked him to help put together a Best Practices Ford Social Media Dealer Training Guide. He said, “The goal is to provide a guide for dealers to utilize social media platforms (such as blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Ning networks) to promote their business, attract new customers, and communicate with existing ones.”

In the training guide, Gentilini Motors was recognized for its use of social media to drive traffic, particularly the use of YouTube, a splash page and online marketing. Through YouTube, the dealerships promote TV commercials online and post videos they shoot on the lot with a $100 digital camcorder. The training guide also highlights Gentilini’s sales team’s use of the camcorder to create introduction videos to include in e-mails to customers.

Considering Gentilini Motors – a three-generation dealership – focuses on customer service, it’s no surprise that the sales team uses the camcorder in such a customer-centric way. It’s also no surprise that Ford looked to Gentilini as an example in its social media training guide. Gentilini Ford has won the President’s Award every year since 1991, according to Paul Gentilini. Pritchard added, “I think the President’s Award represents our consistent focus on customer service … Our dealership has been awarded the President’s Award, or its earlier equivalent, ‘The Chairman’s Award,’ every year but one since its inception.”

Gentilini’s success is even more amazing when you consider the market in which the dealerships are located. Woodbine, N.J., has a population of less than 3,000 people. “The city of Woodbine is extremely small, and yet we are in the top 500 volume dealers for Ford … You actually have to pass Ford and Chevy dealerships in any direction to get to our store,” said Pritchard.

As the Gentilini commercials on the splash page state, “There’s a lot of reasons to take the short ride to Woodbine,” and, “We’ll make it worth your short drive.”

Gentilini Chevrolet, which the Gentilinis purchased in March of 2008, is now getting recognized alongside the Ford store. Before they took over, the store wasn’t even close to meeting its potential. After the first full year as a Gentilini store, the Chevrolet dealership was named a top dealer for customer satisfaction in sales and service in its region, and Pritchard said the store now sells two to three times as many units in one month than it used to in an entire year.

Although times are tough, the managers at Gentilini stay positive, and they believe it is their online efforts that are pulling them through. Pritchard said, “It’s been a challenging couple of months for us, just like it’s been for everybody else, but we’re still trending very well in our region and very well in comparison to the nation .” He’s looking forward to some of Ford’s upcoming products (the ‘10 Taurus and ‘10 Hybrid Fusion) and said Chevrolet is “on target” with the new Camaro and Volt. “I can say that unfortunately other dealerships have probably had it much tougher. We are confident that we are going to come through this even stronger than before.”

Pritchard surmised, “We continue to focus on superior customer service and telling our story. We will continue to be early adopters of technology, embracing strategies like social media [and] replacing traditional media sources with online technologies (SEM, PPC, and Behavioral Targeted Marketing) … Hopefully, in the near future, [we will be] pioneering some mobile apps.”

Vol. 6 Issue 6
 




 

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