With more than 20 years in the dealership business, Joe Orr, of Dick Hannah Honda, is redefining the role of general manager in the 21st century. He’s a freak about the numbers and holds his vendors accountable. He knows where the traffic is coming from but he’s also a master at finding new ways to generate sales. Once a skeptic of online reviews, Orr changed his tune and is using reviews to create hundreds of sales. He’s also willing to share his secrets. We sat down with him recently to learn more about his success.
The Dick Hannah Group is one of the largest groups in the Northwest.
Orr: Dick Hannah has been around since 1949 and is now a third generation dealership. There was Bill Hannah, then Dick Hannah, and now Jason and Jennifer Hannah.
I’ve been here 20 years. I have always been at the Honda store, I managed most of the stores here at one time or another but have always had the Honda store.
Right now I am the general manager of the Honda store and two used car superstores. They’re called “Dick Says Yes Stores.” They were big into special finance but now we are trying to move away from that. We focused on it when special finance was high.
I was the first one who came up with that name and then it seemed like the whole country came out with something that says “Yes.” It was all over the place.
But now we are trying to repurpose the word “Yes,” to a campaign about transparency. We show the customers, “Yes” to over 500 used cars, “Yes” to not showing you only the price and miles of our car, but also the price and miles of every competitive car just like it within 100 miles. So we are trying to give the customers exactly what they are looking for. A one-stop shopping place so they can actually trust us. We got the vAuto cutout of every one of the cars so they can see, when they walk onto our lot, if they are looking at a 2008 Accord LX, they can see on the window there are nine within 100 miles, see the miles and the price of all of those vehicles. We want them to have all of that information, we are practicing transparency.
How much do you do with the Internet and social media with those two stores?
Orr: Well what’s interesting is that at the last Digital Dealer conference, I met Mike Fitzpatrick with Dealer Trend. They build microsites, they do WordPress, they can send a specific piece of inventory through a WordPress news blog so it actually becomes SEO relevant.
We have been working with him since the show and have created seven microsites: three for the Honda store and two for the Vancouver Used Car Superstore and two for our Albany Used Car Superstore.
The goal, the sole focus is to get these microsites on the first page of the most trafficked automotive searches in Oregon and Washington. And I think we are one of the first dealerships in the country to actually use this technology. I really got excited about it at Digital Dealer.
How does that work? Every piece of inventory has its own WordPress blog?
Orr: Yes. If I enter a piece of inventory in today, like a 2007 Chevy S10 pickup, it goes through his technology and becomes a WordPress new release, but actually is just a detailed inventory page. And it ties back into my microsite for that store and should show up if anyone is searching for it. People do now search for a “Chevy S10 Oregon.” We just released that just a few days ago and are looking forward to the analytics.
Are you doing any social media for your used cars?
Orr: We are creating a blog that we have not done yet. It is called “Living in the couve” and is about living in Vancouver. It will be automotive focused — spy photos, automotive press releases — we will be releasing that shortly, but right now we have our hands full.
How time consuming is it?
Orr: The microsites are a lot of work. It is not simply pushing buttons anymore to get what you want, but is it worth it?
I have factual data that proves while I’ve cut a lot of my expenses – and I do see all of the other dealerships financials in my area — I am spending less and making more. We have also moved up the ranks from fourth to second in our district.
With new we are number one, so we must be doing something right. Is it worth it? It is hard when my team creates the data from our built daily processes. It is much easier when I can hire someone else to do the data, and I have done a lot of that too. That’s why I would like to see web-based 20 groups with the top Internet dealers in the country.
Aren’t you worried about the competition seeing your secrets?
Orr: We have so much to share, so many secrets and that’s what I am really going to start talking about, why do we have secrets. Why do we let others (mostly third parties) tell us what does and doesn’t work, when we know, we have the real data, and we have the real life results?
Within our stores we have had big successes and failures. Let’s share both with each other. There are a lot of things we can do. I can share the results of the study we’ve done with you. Here is my process, and this is from my perspective of how it works and here is my analytics, ROI and store benefits, and I want to take from them their perspective of how we could make it even better and then also be on the receiving end of all their ideas that have real results tied to them.
Imagine, if we had one top digital mind from every 250-mile radius, you would have a lot of dealers who can share. We have our hands full as dealers, and if we build relationships with each other and share successes and failures, it would be a huge step forward digitally for us all.
How did you get into the business?
Orr: My grandfather sold cars and owned some dealerships. At 17 I started selling cars – I lied about my age. When I finished high school, I worked at the Volkswagen dealer from 1 pm to 8 pm five nights a week to sell. They found out how young I was and I only had two months until I turned 18, so they let me stay on.
My first paycheck I made $3,500 — my dad never made over $2,500, 36 years on the job. I cashed it and stuck it in my pocket. The next day I was buying everything for everybody in school. I felt like I was Tom Cruise. Those were fun days.
Did you go to college?
Orr: I went into the military. But after seven months, I got kicked out for getting into a fight with the same officer twice. Then they caught me with a fake ID —I was just a hellion back then. And they kicked me out. I went right back into car sales.
As the general manager of the Honda store, what kind of things do you do on the fixed operations side using the Internet?
Orr: I do the same as any general manager. I have an advantage here, I have Gary Schuler. He is the corporate fixed operations manager. He was actually a top notch fixed operations consultant prior to his employment at the Hannah’s. So he has taken on a lot of responsibilities for a lot of our general managers here. Probably the most talented fixed operations trainer in the country. We have learned a lot from him.
My main concern as a general manager is the overall performance for all my stores. I focus on new technologies. True statement: every general manager in our corporation, except one, worked here at the Honda store with myself and Marty Green (corporate GM). The Honda store is kind of the incubator. It’s the mothership.
From what I’ve read, your numbers are astounding.
Orr: The amount of traffic we get now is phenomenal from the Internet.
I started doing search engine optimization in 1999, before it was cool. I was impressed with Google. I actually ended up getting a hold of the VP of Exteres Auto and told him my store could be a test store for him if he could do for me what no other SEO company had been able to.
We focused on getting first place page placements on all search words/phrases for “service” “parts” and “sales.” They created an algorithm to help us track it.
In 2006 we averaged 321 Internet generated calls per month for sales, service and parts. That year, we were spending $5,500 per month on PPC (pay-per-click) alone. In 2007, I began getting on the first page of search results. In January 2008, we reduced our $6,000 to $500 and my calls went from 321 per month to (I am a freak about accountability and on every page of my web site I have a separate tracker for sales, service and parts. These are factual numbers) 565 per month in 2007, and then to 663 the next year, and over 800 in 2009.
These are just Internet-generated calls from the web site. That has nothing to do with my other initiatives. Every year we reduce our ad spend on radio, TV and newspapers – on which we do close to nothing anymore. Once in a while I will do a TV campaign, where I let the customers talk about their experiences and the online reviews about our pricing model and how we differentiate ourselves from other car dealers.
So, you stop paying the $5,500 a month in PPC, and got it down to $550 a month and your calls skyrocket?
Orr: Correct. We realize people are at a point where they trust organic search results more than the paid.
The SEO results are an accomplishment and we can prove it with the data. When we started no one got the results we did. We demanded the information and results from my SEO company and were not negotiable on our demands, and they never said anything was impossible (I liked that). Once we achieved our goals and reporting needs, they could offer the SEO product to other dealerships outside of my area – but we are exclusive in our area.
What about dealership online reviews? You seem to have had a lot success with them.
Orr: I have to give props to my old Internet manager (Merla Turner). She was beating me up about review sites. In January 2008, we had five reviews and a two star average. She said we have to change it.
After five to six months we spent hundreds of hours getting on all of the directories and review sites and creating processes that actually got us results. Most of the directories have now adopted the review sites. If you cannot beat them…join them!
A lot of the information out there on the directories is wrong or is sloppy. We spent hours putting our right information and trackable 800 numbers, pictures, hours and service guarantees on these sites. Then we began tracking the analytics and developed a process for managing it.
Over time, the call volume start going up. We put different trackable 800 numbers on each review site, including Google and city search. We wanted to be on all of them.
In 2009, we had over 1,000 calls produced from the review sites alone. Once we figured out the management heavy successful process and mapped it, Exteres automated it for us.
As we get more and more reviews, we get more calls from consumers. For the spring Digital Dealer conference, I am putting together a compilation of actual data that we gathered over the entire year of 2009 proving beyond a shadow of doubt the power of online reviews and the fact that consumers trust each other way more than the dealer. I am also going to hand out a step by step playbook on how to get these results and watch the very culture of your store change for the positive.
This really drives home how dealerships can and should market in the 21st century.
Orr: Yes. In August 2009 we received unique 188 calls from the review sites. To track ROI, let’s say I spend $55 advertising dollars per call so run the numbers — 188 X $55 equals: $10,340.
The bottom line is, I pay nothing for this. I get 188 unique calls from Internet consumers who see we have 1000 reviews. We have a 4.9 ranking (five being the best). They let the current customers tell them how great we are. Some of them have driven 300 miles to buy cars from us. There is no better advertising than word of mouth — and this is the cheapest, most effective word of mouth advertising available.
Concerning our web site visitors, we are addicted to understanding where they come from. Between Google analytics, your individual trackable 800 numbers and your web provider, it is just sitting down and doing the math. It was eye-opening for me — 48% of our traffic comes from organic SEO.
On 82% of what has been deemed the top service, parts and sales searches for my brand (Honda) I am on the first page. That represents over 1,000 searches when you add 10 unique cities to all those top searches. My nearest competitor is at 13%. I am just crushing them. I also see my competitors SEO reports every month, I know where they are; they don’t even know.
You seem willing to share what you’ve learned.
Orr: I’ve made it my personal mission to learn from the top digital dealers that really understand how this industry is changing and get them into an Internet 20 group of sort and really help each other transform our dealerships and prepare for the digital revolution. I am watching my dealer friends facing having to close their doors. I think it is time we joined efforts as a professional family and help each other out.