July 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive
An Optimistic Outlook
When he was growing up, Matthew Haiken had no doubt about the career he wanted to pursue. “I wanted to be a car dealer from a very young age … I love the business, every aspect of it. I love the competitiveness, the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. In fact, he started attending 20 group meetings at the age of 16. “I loved being around car dealers; to me they were my heroes. I looked up to these guys as just unbelievable businesspeople.”
Today, Haiken is the general manager of Prestige Volvo in East Hanover, N.J., and his enthusiasm for automotive retailing has not lessened. He serves as chairman of the Volvo NADA 20 group, has attended NADA’s Dealer Academy and is presently participating in NADA’s Dealer Executive Education at Babson College. Haiken’s father, Leonard, founded Prestige Volvo in 1980 in East Hanover, N.J., a suburban area approximately 20 miles west of New York City. Before founding Prestige, Haiken’s father also sold Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar, MG and Land Rover. He started Prestige at the request of the manufacturer, who wanted an exclusive Volvo store established at a location they had chosen along Route 10.
“New Jersey is a great place to be a Volvo dealer,” commented Haiken, who referred to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut area as “Volvo country.” Prestige is among the top 10 Volvo dealers in the U.S.
Roughly 80 percent of their business is leasing, although more customers are opting to purchase their vehicles when their leases are up these days. While that might mean fewer new leases, it also means more profits in service. The decline in new car sales doesn’t seem to have affected their bottom line all that much, thanks in part to a large fixed ops department and a 40-percent growth in the pre-owned department over the last two years.
Said Haiken, “I’m very optimistic on the future of the business, on the future of our company, and we are working on what we can control to capture more customers, sell more cars, service more cars and sell more parts.” He believes a dealership’s online marketing strategy is the key to capturing more customers and has been working to steadily improve Prestige’s performance in that area.
Since most car buyers research online before ever setting foot inside a dealership, Haiken’s first priority was to make sure Prestige had the best Web site possible. Roughly four years ago, when the dealership’s contract with their Web site provider was about to expire, he shopped around with several providers to figure out which one could best help him accomplish his goals for Prestige. He decided on Dealer.com, citing their “customizable and easy-to-use” design approach and customer service.
Dealer.com’s platform was utilized to build Prestige’s site, but the dealership is still responsible for weekly updates and relevant content. Haiken clarified, that is his preference; he can choose to receive as much or as little assistance as he wants from Dealer.com. “We’re responsible for our Web site,” he said. “We do the content; we do the design. If I wanted them to hold my hand, they would, but we like to do stuff on our own at our dealership.” He said Dealer.com’s platform allows him to do anything he wants with the Web site, and they will customize their services according to the dealership’s needs.
One of Haiken’s ongoing projects for the Web site is adding custom-designed pages highlighting things like popular vehicle models and dealership services. A page dedicated to the Volvo XC60 containing extensive information on the model, its pricing and the packages available was recently added. With some help from Dealer.com, that page is optimized for search engines, so someone doing research for that model online will find Prestige’s XC60 page. “So many people are doing research on these cars before they come out [to the dealership]; a simple thing like adding customized pages like this really helps us,” said Haiken.
The site also includes pages for a C30 Custom Build and special Volvo pricing plans. Another new custom page in the works, but not yet live, is a page for New York City VIP deliveries. Customers living and/or working in the city often have difficulties getting their cars in for service due to location and traffic problems. The dealership provides pickup and delivery service within New York City and offers a loaner for the night or weekend. Haiken sees using the Web site to highlight this specific service as another way to market the dealership online and help differentiate Prestige from other stores.
Another online marketing tactic Haiken uses is a monthly newsletter e-mailed to 5,500 people in the dealership’s database. Emphasis is placed on making the newsletters seem less focused on sales and more focused on providing useful information for the customer. Examples of articles they’ve used in the past include an article comparing the XC60 against Mercedes, BMW and Audi models and an article about the incentive plans available from Volvo for employees of certain companies. The newsletter also contains articles about happenings around the dealership, as well as new vehicle specials and services specials.
Haiken is able to track things like how many people click on the different specials and which articles get the most hits. “In today’s market you need to track everything,” he stated. Leads generated with names, phones numbers and e-mail addresses of the customers who clicked on the specials allow the dealership to follow-up with customers regarding the particular special they were interested in. For example, they can follow up with every customer who clicked on an oil change special to schedule service appointments. “Nothing that we do is rocket science, but we do know that our customers are online,” said Haiken, “and if they’re online and we have an e-mail address for them, that’s how we’re going to try and communicate with them.”
All of this is managed by what Haiken refers to as a hybrid Internet department/BDC. He divides the functions of the department into three buckets: sales, marketing and BDC. He described it as a one-stop shop, with duties in all three areas being managed by two full-time staff members, along with a few part-time employees. The BDC functions include handling phone ups, following up with unsold prospects and handling phone campaigns for customer retention. Sales functions, of course, involve converting Internet leads and phone ups into sales. Residing under the marketing umbrella are direct e-mails, the monthly newsletter and all other Internet functions like updating site content and making sure it’s optimized for search keywords.
Haiken said the department has evolved over time, but has existed in its present form since September of 2008. He’s quite happy with the results they’ve been getting and estimated that about 60 percent of Prestige’s sales result from their online efforts. Sales consultants are now trained to use the dealership’s Web site as a selling tool, walking customers through their different online features and showing them how easily they can contact the dealership through the site to schedule service appointments, get answers to vehicle questions and find coupons for various specials.
The most recent online development, and one Haiken expressed a great deal of excitement about, is the use of video on Prestige’s Web site. Through Dealer.com, the dealership now has the ability to add videos for all site content. They are currently working on converting their customer testimonial page over to video. Dealer.com’s CarFlix product allows the dealership to include full videos on all vehicles listed on their inventory pages, both new and pre-owned. “It’s just another way to give our vehicles a competitive advantage,” said Haiken.
“The feedback [from customers] has been remarkable, especially on our used vehicles,” he said. “Today, used cars really aren’t a commodity; you can go onto any Web site and they’ll have cars just like yours, hundreds of them … but I think when a customer sees the video, it sticks out.”
He has also gotten great feedback from the sales consultants, who can use the videos as selling tools both in person and over the phone. In the case of the latter, the videos can really make an impact. Instead of simply telling a phone prospect that the dealership has the model they’re interested in, the sales consultant can direct that person to the Web site and show them a video of that vehicle. Haiken believes the videos have added a significant amount of value to their site. After about a month of having videos up on the site, there were a total of 479 CarFlix videos played and virtual test drives taken.
Tracking is a very important part of Haiken’s plan. “One of Dealer.com’s strengths is definitely the reporting,” he stated. “They break it down to stock numbers, all the models that people watch and whatnot, and this is stuff that we manage by.” He measures the Web site’s conversion rate weekly, looks at the average time a visitor spends on the site and tracks what gets the best feedback. “We track everything and we measure the results and if it’s not working, if it’s not adding value, we get rid of it,” he declared. This helps streamline the Web site and keeps things from becoming cluttered, he said; they’re not simply throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. He has precise numbers by which he can measure the success of the dealership’s online marketing tactics.
“I really believe if there’s any money to be spent, it’s got to be on your online marketing strategy because that’s where all the customers are,” said Haiken. “Customers will continue to go online … and I think you need to be prepared,” he continued. “We’re prepared and we can’t wait. We’ll embrace the change … and do what we have to do to succeed.”
Vol. 6, Issue 5