Don T. is a second generation import dealer who regularly sends me e-mail updates on success milestones at his family’s dealership. “We’re ahead of last year for the past 3 months,” says Don, “and we’re looking for the best August ever!” Don and his team are kicking butt and taking names at a time when two dealerships in his market have shuttered and regional new vehicle sales for two of his franchises are off by double digits.
Don reminded me of an advertising talk I gave to his 20 group in 1993. He was just out of college and had joined the family business. (Let’s see…he was 23 seventeen years ago so that makes him about 40 today, and that makes me about….oh never mind!) Don says he remembers many of the things we discussed at that meeting, and that he still uses many of those ideas to this day. I asked him to share a few thoughts on what is driving his dealership’s extraordinary success.
Don’s take on ‘Kick Butt & Take Names’ Marketing:
Consistency. We are the most consistent advertiser in our marketplace, not just in automotive, but in every retail category. We’ve used the same ‘tag-line’ for the past 15 years, we’re somewhere in the marketplace almost every week of the year, either for new, used, parts-service and special events.
Campaigns. We have two major annual goal-oriented themes that are promoted for at least 10 weeks. There are several sub-themes under the umbrella of the campaign within that time period.
Honesty. Our advertised vehicles are clearly marked and easy to find. We try to have at least three similar vehicles on ad leaders so we don’t disappoint shoppers.
Even though the doc/admin fees are required by law in this state to be included in the advertised price, some of our competitors play games. We don’t. What you see is what you get.
Employee referrals. We sell more vehicles thru employee referrals than most dealers sell in total. For a number of years we produced an employee newsletter but that is now done electronically with an exclusive website just for employees, along with e-mail and text messaging alerts. Why should we try to sell cars with just 20 salespeople when we have over 250 people on our payroll who all know at least 100 friends and family members who buy cars?
Vendor-supplier sales. Everyone that sells something to us or does business with us deserves to be in our ‘ambassador’ program. We send special sale notices out with every single check we pay and several people in our executive office make calls to those we do business with to inquire about their vehicle needs.
Aggressive results-oriented media negotiation. I remember your talk on the importance of customer research when I first heard you speak. We survey every single customer and sometimes follow-up with in-depth research to determine the best value relationship with every medium we use. When I joined the dealership our advertising agency was paying the ‘rate card’ for the ‘top 3’ Arbitron rated radio stations in the market. After we did our research we found out that two of those stations were rarely noted by our core shopper in surveys. We subsequently negotiated ‘value rates’ with other stations and evaluate those relationships on a regular basis with post-analysis of buyer research. Presently we are not advertising in the newspaper and most of our television buys are on non-traditional cable channels.
Promote used vehicles with electronic media. In the past five years, and more so in the past two years, we have found excellent results advertising pre-owned vehicles on electronic media and on our website.
Keep it fresh and clean. Our main location is on a fairly heavy traffic route. We change our display every single week. We alternate colors and models. We also alternate between messages on vehicles, monthly payments, down, discount, price. We keep our lot free of clutter and keep the cars super clean. I remember your story on the difference between an upscale department store and the store window with the dust balls and faded signs. Both my wife and I scrutinize our lots and showroom for customer appeal on a daily basis.
Send the ‘I can’ts’ home. I still share the story about your dealer client who asked the room full of salespeople who was going to sell a car today. And those who didn’t raise their hand were sent home. That’s how we operate. There is no room for ‘I can’ts’ in our operation. When someone says “I can’t,” then we find someone else who says “I can.” We don’t do a lot of T-O’s in our place. We have good people with the ability to say yes without a lot of back and forth, but by the same token, no one better let a customer walk without talking to manager or they might as well get in that shopper’s car and go with them.
Pay attention to business. At many retail businesses you visit today, including some car dealerships, it’s hard to get waited on promptly. It’s almost as if the salespeople really can’t believe someone would actually want to buy anything in an economy like this. I remember the story you told about your dealer client in West Texas who had a salesperson that moved so slow the dealer told him he was going out to greet the customer and make some small talk until the salesperson could get there. We train our people on the art of a prompt and professional response. When a person honors us by calling, e-mailing, texting, writing or visiting our dealership, we do whatever it takes to show that person how important and appreciated they are. I’ve brought in a number of extraordinary salespeople from other retail and business organizations to talk with our salespeople about a proper greeting. I believe this training has really paid off for us.
Take names. We do an exceptional job of follow-up and close more people in follow-ups than most of our competitors sell in total. When follow-up is done properly, it is one more way of letting the customer know their business really is truly important and appreciated. Often a customer will leave actually hoping that you’ll follow-up. They perceive that situation as gaining leverage and control. We don’t have a problem with the customer gaining more leverage and control as long we can gain a sale. If the salesperson does not have any luck with the first follow-up, we have a seasoned professional who makes a courtesy call on behalf of the owner to make sure everything was handled properly. ‘Kick-Butt’ marketing sometimes requires a little ‘Kissing-Up.’
Believe in our business. We are in the greatest business in the world. We are helping customers with one of their most important needs: Transportation. No matter how much talk there is of high-speed rails, buses, mass transportation, just about everyone we know needs a vehicle on a regular cycle. And it will be that way for a long time to come. We have vehicles in every price range for every need and purpose. No one will work harder to give our customers a great deal. No one will work harder to keep our customers happy. That’s the mindset of every person on our team. Of course business is great!