NO UMBRELLA NEEDED
Warm sunshine in April makes Florida the happiest place on earth for Digital Dealer’s spring conference and expo. This year, the skies opened on day one and showered attendees with plentiful liquid sunshine. Umbrella or not, the automotive industry was not deterred by the rain. Digital Dealer stacked their card again with keynotes comprised of panels covering open dealer-to-dealer dialogue, preparing for the future, and a home run customer experience keynote delivered by Disney Institute. In addition, the three-day breakout session lineup included industry veterans, dealer favorites, and newcomers making it a little challenging to decide where to park your brain and learn when there were so many high-quality options.
LEARN FROM THE BEST
For three days, DD24 attendees consumed content covering all aspects of digital automotive retail. The first day was packed with more than 42 sessions covering a broad set of learning opportunities. From understanding Google’s Guidebook for maximizing their advertising services to human capital management and helping your service department increase revenue. You’ve probably heard of the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family. They’re one of the top 50 automotive groups in the country with Kevin Frye leading their digital endeavors. Recently, they rolled out a vehicle subscription service and graciously shared insights to help DD24 attendees understand how this model meets the desires of consumers. Disney Institute delivered a keynote on customer experience to conclude day one. As you might guess, it was packed with inspiration and practical information about their intentional approach to every detail of taking care of their guests.
The rain on opening day left later the same night and the sun returned for day two and three. It felt as though the sunshine energized dealers for more learning and networking. Whether it was the sun or coffee, dealers needed to be ready because day two and three were loaded with some of the best presenters in the industry. Greg Gifford took his audience on another entertaining journey into the depths of local SEO and it never ceases to amaze me how much time he puts into delivering educational content presented in such entertaining fashion.
The list of great speakers and presentations is long, but I must call out some of the Sean’s… Stapleton, Bradley, and Welsh. Holding nothing back, Sean Stapleton once again delivered solid knowledge and recommendations to help dealers understand and utilize search engines and social media more effectively in the new mass media era. Sean V. Bradley, on the other hand, led a two-part session explaining the importance of running an internet dealership versus an internet department. Step by step, Sean laid out the how-to plan for dealers to set up an internet dealership. The last Sean shout out is to Sean Welsh, who spoke on day three. Sean’s session on digital budgeting and marketing goals based on dealers existing data was a no-holds-barred tell the truth and decide if you care who’s crying later session. All of those mentioned here are passionate, smart and perhaps more importantly… experienced. I’ll say it again, the speakers for Digital Dealer 24 were an assembly of excellence both old and new.
WHAT ABOUT THE EXHIBITORS?
The Exhibit Hall was packed with companies who’ve been going strong for years and new ones showing up for the first time. I ran through a demo with NinjaCat who has an impressive reporting, monitoring and call tracking platform for agencies. They also gave me some cool socks which are becoming popular booth swag. Not long after visiting with this newcomer I went to see my old friends at Advanta-STAR Bob Handley and Michael Champagne. These are really great guys with a fantastic automotive information company. They’ve been at it since the beginning of the Digital Dealer Conference & Expo and I love catching up with them. Another newcomer was fusionZONE Automotive who invited dealers to spin their wheel to win cash on the spot. I heard that a couple dealers hit the $1,000 prize. I also enjoyed meeting the team from Broadly. They were friendly and inviting which is so important for exhibitors relative to who they bring to work the booth. Having worked many trade show booths, I appreciated their engagement and demo of their automated reviews platform. They reminded me how important it is no matter if you’re exhibiting for the first time or the 25th time to smile, listen, engage and to care.
I have a long list of friends who work for companies that consistently sponsor the Digital Dealer Conference and Expo. There’s simply too many to mention. I honestly appreciate their commitment and support because it means they see value in the opportunity to connect with new and existing clients, but it also shows their desire to support events that benefit the industry they serve.
THE WORTH OF NETWORKING
The networking opportunities were abundant. From cocktail receptions in the Expo Hall to the happy hours hosted by DealerOn and AutoLeadStar it was easy to find friends and make new ones. The Arnold, Joe and Shaun Karokethon took over O’Shucks on Tuesday night. This former underground event has blossomed into popularity over the years. It’s now a true mash-up of dealers, OEMs, and exhibitors having a lot of fun together. On Wednesday evening, the Digital Dealer party continued to offer attendee appreciation and a wonderful environment for building relationships and enjoying good company.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, STILL LOVE IT
I’ve attended so many Digital Dealer conferences and I honestly can’t remember which ones I’ve missed. That said, my appreciation for the event has only grown through the years. Last year’s spring show was the last time I spoke to a friend I’ve cherished for years. If you’re reading this recap, I bet you knew him too. AJ Maida is a “gone too soon” story and instead of leaving you full of sorrow I’d like to pay him tribute. The loss of AJ last year shortly after DD22 was unexpected, but it ignited my commitment to my friends in the car business. If you haven’t developed some real friendships because of events like Digital Dealer I’d be surprised. AJ was one of several people I always looked forward to seeing due to his smile, laugh, humor, karaoke skills, perspective, experience and great big heart. His life serves as a reminder for me to appreciate and invest my time in the right places with the right people. Digital Dealer 24 offered that and then some.
I hope to see you at Digital Dealer 25 Conference & Expo, which will be held this October 16-18th in Las Vegas, NV!
Author: Shaun Raines
Shaun Raines is an Internet car guy and the VP of Business Development at DealerOn. His 25 years of automotive experience includes helping the Reynolds teams that launched Microsoft’s CarPoint.com, CarsDirect Connect, Yahoo Autos, Automark Websites and Reynolds Web Solutions. Before joining the DealerOn family, Shaun was the Director of Automotive for ReachLocal and Executive Director of Dealer Relations at DrivingSales. His unique blend of humor and automotive experience has made him a sought-after speaker at industry events and 20 Groups.