The Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, one of the top 50 dealer groups, has been a mainstay in the Cincinnati area for several years. Straight talking Kevin Frye, a former naval pilot and the group’s e-commerce director, shares his perspective on today’s industry – its vendors and dealership practices. He also talks about how Jeff Wyler uses technology to improve its operating efficiency and creating more profit as a result.
How did you get started in this business Kevin?
Boy, that’s a good question. I kind of fell into it. I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I attended Baltimore University on a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship. From there I went to Navy flight school and flew for the Navy for eight years and was active in Desert Shield.
I had 200 combat hours in Desert Storm. I had to go back and participate in Operation Southern Watch. I got out in 1996 and at that time I got my MBA from the University of Cincinnati. The next several years I was actually a professional consultant for Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and for companies overseas.
I was also an entrepreneur. In the early 2000s I opened up a chain of eBay drop sites and in that process I was sort of selling cars on eBay for individual consumers which expanded into me opening another business in serving dealerships and helping them sell cars online. As I was doing that I kept being asked to do more and more with the dealerships that were out there and trying to get on board with what was happening in the online market. It was going on about five years here when Jeff Wyler actually hired me as their first ever e-commerce director and here I am.
What did you fly in the Navy?
I flew P-3s. We were basically up 24/7 over the gulf doing surveillance, identifying targets and bombing targets as ordered.
How many dealerships does Jeff Wyler own?
He has nine rooftops, 28 franchises. We are located across three states.
You manage the entire group?
Yes. We have a central office that we put together. But each one of our stores has an Internet team leader that actually leads the efforts through the rooftop. I’m a centralized guy that is working over all of the stores, but I have a point of contact at each store that makes it happen.
How much has the e-commerce department at Jeff Wyler grown?
Significantly, and not only in the amount of work and jobs we have. Today’s eCommerce director is the resident expert on not just Internet, but also on the CRM tools that are in place. CRM traditionally is the primary tool for the Internet people. When I first started it was pretty much it was just Internet sales. Now we are doing sales, service, parts and accessories, CRM, database management and the list goes on and on.
Wyler uses the Reynolds & Reynolds DMS. Who do you use for CRM?
We use VinSolutions. We did the full integration this year. We have one store that was on it last year. One of my goals from day one was try to consolidate everything to one tool. There are a lot of reasons for doing that obviously, but the cost savings and efficiency of having all our stores on one platform are huge.
What are some things that you would advise a dealership looking for a CRM solution?
You want me to give you straight talk?
I wouldn’t have it any other way, Kevin.
Well, I’ll give it to you, but I will probably upset some people. We are not the first large dealer group to recognize CRM tools should consolidate a lot of different things into one login and one place. By that, I mean not only traditional CRM tools, but ones that include Internet sales, your inventory management, a market pricing tool, database management and service marketing.
In my opinion, there are two players in the market. This is where I am going to tick some people off. The players are VinSolutions or iMagic. I like both. We are with VinSolutions, but I am not going to knock iMagic in anyway. I think they are both good performers. Probably the biggest drawback for them right now is the growth they are experiencing. It’s so significant, they probably are holding on for dear life to keep up.
Is it their integration allowing for different departments and databases to communicate with each other? Is that what makes them so good?
A huge thing in our future is our ability to mine our own database. The problem is the databases at most dealerships around the country are all spread out in segments. Most of them might have a fair amount of consolidation in their DMS, but typically there is a service database of only service customers. Then there is a sales database of sales customers. And there likely is a separate database for prospective customers. They are all different groups. A good CRM will have all of that data in one place and will allow the dealership to create its own leads from its own database.
Kevin, for 10 years I’ve been writing about databases and how CRM tools supposedly are able to accumulate all of the dealership data and merge it eliminating the problem you’re talking about. It sounds like the industry still has a ways to go.
In some ways, our industry is in the stone ages. When I was on the outside as a vendor working with dealerships, before joining Jeff Wyler, I sometimes would think, “You have to be kidding me. Are you guys this far behind?”
I mean I know I am preaching to the choir with you, but creating change in this industry is incredibly challenging. And any eCommerce director has to be the champion of change. The change in our industry is enormous.
What’s going to be the next big thing in the digital space?
I have a list of things, but the number one priority has got to be mobile. Just look around you and see how absorbed people are in their phones. We have been aggressively testing this for the last year and a half and we have not by any measure figured it out yet. I think we are still very early in the market and trying to figure out where we fit and what works well. The most important thing is to be willing to try and not be afraid to get a black eye or bloody nose from it.
One of the challenges is that what you tried three months ago that didn’t work, might actually work next year.
Especially with this. This is such a fast moving market and we have had some truly good homeruns that worked nine months out of the year, but with a simple Google algorithm change, it goes out the window.
You’ve got to have people, and I constantly preach it with my teams, that don’t worry about some of the failures. You just have to let it roll off your back. Some things are going to work and some don’t.
How have your moved the group forward the last five years?
We have done a lot of different things. Number one, we have consolidated our tools and our services to help us manage our Internet leads, and optimally marketing our inventory online. Some of the most important things we have done include measuring our performance in a standard format across the group and putting benchmarks in place.
I can give you one simple example. Recently we have increased our ROI eight times by cutting our expenses in half. And that is just by measuring the performance we have, third party leads, how we are doing with your own leads. We have been improving on that.
You are constantly measuring and you have the benchmarks in place, as we have gone through the downturn the last two years, you were probably very well positioned to make the necessary adjustments to staffing and cost structure so it wasn’t as painful when you had to do it.
Yea, we have done very well as a group. I am fortunate that Jeff Wyler is a progressive owner. He was willing to make some very aggressive and basic changes within our organization to cut our costs and become more efficient. Dealerships of the future — and this is just economics 101 – have to be leaner and meaner.
A common complaint today is that dealerships can’t pull in the grosses. If you are going to maintain your margin, and you’re going to remain profitable, you need to become more efficient. That is a lot of what I will be sharing at the 9th Digital Dealer Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas next month.
That is part of the theme at the upcoming Digital Dealer conference – finding new efficiencies that is going to help find better profits.
That is very important and you are dead on with that.
The industry still seems to have a short-term focus when it comes to sales. You obviously see that, and it sounds like you’ve tried to change that.
Everything in today’s modern dealership is about making that sale today, correct? The biggest thing I have had to do and where we have made the biggest improvements since I’ve been here is getting folks to look to the future and not give up on a lead after 24 hours or a week. When you have a longer focus, that’s when you start doubling your sales.
That is when you start picking up all of those people on the back-end. That’s when you start respecting the fact that the lead you get today, doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy today, they might be waiting for a pay raise in two months. They might be waiting for April 15th to get tax refund, and if you just bear with them and be patient with them you can pick them up.
I am going to give you another big picture, and this ties into efficiency. But it might be a little controversial as well. I think over time to become more efficient, dealerships are going to have to start outsourcing some of their key areas.
Live chat is an example. When a customer goes to your web site, it can be a crap shoot when they make a phone call or send an email on the experience they’re going to receive.
We train the daylights out of our people on how to handle phone calls and emails and we go back and look and say this is awful. When you do a manned live chat with a special staff, you can take that area and guarantee a positive and consistent well trained experience every time at the fraction of the cost because you are not doing benefits and all of the other stuff.
I think that is going to be part of a formula down the line for dealerships that want to be efficient, but also have consistently excellent processes in place. We man a couple stores that man their own chats. We’ve had cases where we’ve responded to, “Hey, do you still have that 2007 Camry?” with “Nope.” Our response should be, “Sure, let me look. Can I get your name? Are you looking at other cars like that? Let me email you a few.” There is a difference when you professionally train someone.
You talk about some of the good things you have done as a dealership. Let’s switch gears. What is something you tried and you look back on and think that was really dumb how did we come up with that.
Do I have to share those examples? First off, we are very proud of the fact that we trained our people to not be afraid to make mistakes.. You have got to be willing to take risks, as I mentioned before, we are fortunate to have leadership that encourages us to move forward to do this. If you are not willing to take risks, you are not going to be a leader, you will be a follower.
I can give you an example as short as a week ago. We did a major sponsorship at a large county fair for one of our rooftops. We put a lot of effort to push a text campaign for WylerChevy and WylerRam. We had signs made up. We were giving away shirts with the text code and had people waving fans that had the code.
At the end of the week everything worked fantastic except for the text campaign. We had a grand total of 28 hits, that’s it. At the end of the day, we were thinking we did all of this stuff that didn’t work, and did we really feel dumb? Not necessarily, because I think we have the right culture in place that we learned that perhaps maybe this is not the best way to do it. But in the bigger picture, we are just so early in the market, maybe this is something that might work 6-12 months down the line.
Everything, even if it doesn’t work out, it is a learning experience and you are able to build upon that.
It needs to be. Especially in car sales, people are so locked in. I find if they just go a little bit outside the box and it doesn’t work out, they are going to get screamed at and hollered at saying, “We are going to do it old school and don’t ever get away from that.”
Running our organization on fear like that, you’ll never be a leader.
You mentioned mobile, what is your take on social media right now?
I will tell you we were very early on in the social media market. We had a lot of failures in there, but we also found some successes. Our success has been promoting our excellence in online dealership ratings primarily in sharing online reviews. Every day we go on our Jeff Wyler Facebook page and wish our customers a “Happy Birthday.”
They love that. If you try to sell via social media you’ll turn people away. I draw the analogy that when you get a call from one of your friends that is eager to tell you about their new job with Amway, what’s your reaction? It’s the same way online.
I think it is getting pushed a little bit too hard. It seems to be the labor of the day and no offense, but even at the last Digital Dealer Conference, all the vendors seemed obligated serve up something on the social media menu and sell it to make some money while at the same time. Taking your inventory and Twittering out your entire inventory — who in their right mind is going to follow that list? Outside the SEO benefits, all you’re doing is spending the money that isn’t worth it to you.
Do you outsource your social media efforts?
We do it all internally, we’ve got our Twitter, Facebook and blogs. You know, looking back, our biggest advantage would be the search engine optimization. It is not a huge thing, but I like to keep things simple. Look at the social media example you have with your friends. Typically they are sharing with you what they like and don’t like. All we are doing is letting our customers say what they like and don’t like on our pages.
As a manager, what are some tools you use in for day-to-day management of your department?
I try to be disciplined with my own list of dailies. I think you should review your sites every day. Google alerts is a tool that can help you track all of the times your group is mentioned online.
What type of phone do you use?
Man, I gambled wrong. I have a Palm Pre. I should have gone with the iPhone or Droid.
Do you break car sales out by Internet department vs. non-Internet department?
We break out Internet sales two different ways. The first is the origin of the sale — the reason why people came in, whether they visited, they called, or emailed. If it was from an Internet source, then that is an Internet sale. That is incredibly important to accurately measure your return on investments.
Kevin, we appreciate your time and willingness to share.
It’s been fun. I only ask for one thing in return and one thing only. Being recognized like this is only a reflection of the people that work for me and help us do very well. I want to certainly share that I am only going to be on the cover of this magazine because of the outstanding team here at Jeff Wyler.
My Number One Asset – the Digital Dealer Conference
The lack of continuing education is a struggle for a lot of people in our industry. It is hard in a tough market, but I am fortunate that to work for Jeff Wyler, a dealer who understands the seriousness and necessity of continuing education. Even when times are bad, he pays for me to continue learning.
I like to check out the dealer blogs to find new information and see what’s out there.
I’ll tell you straight up, the Digital Dealer conference is my number one asset in doing that, outside the big NADA conference. Our market is moving so quick I do still believe we need two Digital Dealer conferences a year.
I’m speaking at the upcoming conference in Las Vegas. We’ll be looking inside the crystal ball, providing real life dealership examples of how we became leaner and meaner driving profit right to our bottom line.
We consolidated vendors and services and in doing so, we (Jeff Wyler Automotive) consolidated vendors by more than 50%, saving approximately $1 million in eight months.
In my presentation, I want to show how to identify trends in your market and use that information to sell more cars and service. We’ll also talk about ways to leverage new applications such as mobile web sites and text campaigns.
I am excited to come out too, and I am going to work to really provide some hard valuable items that people can take home and use as soon as they get back. It should be a lot of fun I have always enjoyed coming out.