- The nine-hole putting green for customers on the rooftop of the service center?
- The fact that JM Lexus is the largest volume Lexus dealer in the world, and has been since 1992?
- That its parent company, JM Family Enterprises, Inc., ranks 16th on FORTUNE magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America?
- That JM Lexus is within the top 25 dealerships nationwide in Internet sales, with 2,223 Internet sales units in 2010?
- Or, all of the above?
Bob and Dino described that unique experience and outlined what it takes to deliver it in a recent interview with Digital Dealer magazine. Bob Glasser, Internet manager, and Dino Flora, support services manager, say that’s all good, but what really distinguishes the dealership is the entire “JM Lexus experience” its customers enjoy.
First of all, Bob and Dino, how did each of you get into the car business?
Bob: I had been a leader with a 100-year-old home improvement company that was swallowed up by another company and I wasn’t needed after a while. My efforts to find work in that area ran into a wall. So, I responded to newspaper ad for someone who had attributes I thought I had and the job turned out to be a car salesman’s. It wasn’t JM Lexus; I wish it had been.
It was a Lincoln Mercury store in South Dade County. I was there until Hurricane Andrew blew it away in 1992. Then I switched to a nearby Mercury dealer, was there for a year, and then got a call from the original store: They were going to rebuild. ‘Did I want to come back as a manager?’ I did.
After two years, I was recruited back to the store I had gravitated to after the storm. From there, I retired. After a year and a half of retirement, I was so sick of being retired, I went back to work at a competing local Lexus store, got involved in their Internet activities and then was recruited by JM Lexus in 2006. I’ve been here four and a half years as Internet director. We have two Internet departments: current staffing is nine for the new car Internet sales department and nine for the pre-owned.
Dino: I’m a computer guy. I had a web posting and design company and managed a boat financing web site. I did well with that, but in 2001, with the stock market bubble, things went south for me. I was reading Fortune magazine in May 2003 and saw that JM Family was one of the best places to work in South Florida. So I jumped on Monster.com and saw JM Family had a job opening. I applied and was hired in June 2003 as desktop support guy for all the computer systems and I’ve been here ever since. In 2007, I became the support services manager. I have a staff of four IT people – programmers, project managers and desktop support people.
Let’s talk about the unique JM Lexus experience.
Bob: Our customers expect the best, so we are dedicated to providing that across the board, but we also like to go above and beyond that with unexpected amenities.
For instance, we recently finished building a nine-hole putting green on the top of the service center. Jim Dunn, our vice president and general manager, came up with the idea of the putting green and our Fixed Operations Director Brad Schafer led the effort to get it done. Our customers who are golf enthusiasts can now improve their game, while getting their cars serviced.
Another amenity we offer – if our customers want to work instead of relaxing while they are here – is the availability of PCs and iPads in our guest lounge.
Dino: For service customers who just want to kick back and relax, we also offer massage chairs, sandwiches, and coffee and danish.
For customers buying a car who prefer to be in and out of the dealership quickly, we have a “Ready Upon Arrival Program” that allows our customers to hone in on a car on the web, call and talk to a sales rep, negotiate a deal and make an appointment for delivery. Much of the detail work is done over the phone and via fax and we guarantee that when they come to the dealership, they will only need to be here 30 minutes to buy the car and drive off with it.
(Incidentally, JM Lexus also treats its associates to a unique workplace experience – providing on-site medical services, a gym, a hair salon, a massage parlor, and two cafeterias!)
Bob: One of the things we do best to provide a superior experience for our customers is respond to leads quickly and effectively. We cater to our customers; product specialists – who fully understand all our products, who can answer all questions knowledgably, and who can tell the customer what is in stock in the store – respond to all our leads.
Whether it be a walk-in customer, a web site customer – what we call the virtual front door customer – or a phone customer, we want our customers to know that their needs are our first priority.
Dino: That’s one of the reasons we’re getting our arms wrapped around mobile shopping for our customers – to provide the very latest in customer convenience.
If you pull up www.jm-lexus.com on your phone, it redirects you to our mobile friendly web site. We’re just finishing up our iPhone, Blackberry and Android apps. There are a lot of companies that you can buy a canned app from, but we wanted to make sure we were providing an app worthy of being on our customers’ phones, so we decided to create our own iPhone app. It ended up being very cost-effective.
Now, our customers and prospects can search our inventory, look at basic information about any of our departments – including our lifetime warranty and tire programs – and schedule service with us all on their phones. Then they can call on direct numbers to any one of our departments. It’s extremely convenient.
What is your biggest challenge?
Bob: Internet sales is continuously changing. You never get there. There are always new things to try: new sources for leads, new spins on processes, new technology that permits different approaches. It never stands still and it’s never dull. It’s a continuous learning process.
How do you keep up with that?
Bob: Both Dino and I attend the Digital Dealer Conferences, and we read many publications, both inside and outside the industry, including Dealerand Digital Dealer magazines. I attend meetings among other Lexus Internet people. We exchange a lot of notes.
Dino: I also attend a ton of podcasts and participate in many forums, some automotive social media, and I read tons of newsletters.
How do you get your Internet sales leads?
Bob: We have a number of different web sites, including our own, that host our pre-owned and new car inventory. We get 50% of our leads from our JM Lexus web site, another 15% from Cars.com, and another 12 % from AutoTrader.com.
The rest come from other recognized third party lead providers: Kelley Blue Book, Vehix, Dealix, Carsoup.com, Automotive.com, MotorTrend.com, eBay – so there’s quite a variety of sources. And, we get some pre-owned referrals from the manufacturer.
We also have Black Book online on our web site as a courtesy to our customers, so they can get an idea about what their car is worth, and we get leads from that as well. We also get phone leads and we get Live Chat off of Cars.com.
All these leads feed into our CRM, VinSolutions. The Internet Lead Management (ILM) piece of our VinSolutions CRM is used by all our Internet salespeople.
How do you handle distribution of your sales leads?
Dino: Anybody that’s ready to take a lead from our CRM takes it on a first come, first serve basis. We don’t use the round-robin approach. If we were to round-robin it off sequentially to the next salesperson, he/she might not be ready to take the lead. Once a saleperson takes a lead, that triggers a scheduled follow-up. So, we can be sure the customer is taken care of as fast as possible. Bob and I have developed a formalize schedule that we think is the most effective way to follow up with customers to make sure they get the proper information based on what they are looking for.
Bob: Many lead providers send the lead to multiple dealers, so our approach is when a lead comes in, we’ve entered a competition and the clock starts ticking. We want to be the first to respond, with the best response.
There are no auto responders in our process. Whoever claims the lead, sends the appropriate response – an e-mail, saying: I’ll call. Then, they pick up the phone and make the call.
Our average response time –with an e-mail or phone call – is under 10-minutes. With our response e-mail, the customer gets a virtual interactive brochure in the form of a link and while they are looking at it, their phone will ring and it will be one of my sales reps talking to them.
Dino: Any time a lead comes in and it isn’t picked up within 30 minutes, it is open to any department. For instance, if a lead comes into the new car department and no one can take it for 30 minutes, it can be taken by someone in the used car department and vice versa.
When we first contact a lead, we set up the next contact – whether it’s going to be one day, two days, or three days and the CRM will tickle the salesperson at that point. If no contact is made within that time, then appropriate notes go into the system and either an e-mail or call occurs daily until contact is made.
How many days do you follow up?
Bob: We go out 120 days because 65% of our new car sales business is leasing. A lot of our customers start getting notification anywhere from three to six months prior to their lease being due. When they first get that notification, they jump on the Internet, start looking at cars and maybe fill out an e-mail to get information. Then they sit on it, until their car lease is actually due.
How is your CRM working for you?
Bob: VinSolutions does a great job for us with the Internet follow-up process and schedules. It also allows us to do other things in-house that we traditionally used to have to outsource.
For instance, we’re taking pictures of our own cars now. We used to outsource that for both new and used cars. We also used to outsource the lease termination process. Now, with VinSolutions, we do that in-house too and that saves us money.
How do you handle SEM and SEO?
Dino: Cobalt (now owned by ADP) is our Lexus-provided web site company. Cobalt manages most of the SEM for us and also does some SEO.
We also do a lot of the SEO in-house. It’s all about good content. If you have that, you’ll get a lot of clicks. That’s where we do our best on our Lexus web site.
We’re also increasing our SEO by pushing out custom-made videos. We have a couple of college interns that help create “how to” videos. We also do the standard photo-stitched videos with voiceover to promote all our vehicles. When these videos are tagged right and are of good quality, they show up in searches. We have a YouTube.com Channel and we are also looking at video syndication with TubeMogul, which will provide us great SEO value.
Bob: We also rely heavily on PR to increase our SEO. We really benefit from the services of two public relations professionals – Christie Caliendo and Michael Esposito – and their tech support team from our parent company, JM Family. They write many of our press releases and their hard work increases our SEO.
In the past, we only did press releases on traditional, hard-core news and sent those to the business wires. Now we find softer news – such as the dealership’s charity work, or our achievements in making the dealership an environmentally friendly business operation, or our very latest customer amenities – and we work those into press releases, so we can get our name out there as much as possible.
Dino: We post these press releases on a lot of free online PR sites and we make sure we work the key words and meta-tags into the releases that will help us with SEO. The Internet has allowed us to maximize the impact of this type of soft news.
For instance, we just put up a nine-hole putting green on what had been dead space on the roof that covers up the service drive. We had the grand opening in March and had Channel 7 news here and we got a lot of great press and that is helping with SEO.
How do you use social media and has that affected your SEO?
Bob: We have a Facebook Fan Page where we post information about our charity work and the events we host every weekend at the dealership, and that helps our SEO.
We use GOSO, a social media brand management platform, to help us create a strategy to manage not only Facebook, but YouTube.com and Twitter as well, and we use GOSO’s Buzz Monitor tool to monitor our results. It’s all about creating a buzz online.
Dino: We are finding that having a strong social media presence is starting to very favorably impact SEO on Google and Bing.
Let’s say, you and I are friends on Twitter and Facebook. If I buy a car at JM Lexus and tweet about the car or the dealership, or I share that information on Facebook, then you search on Google or Bing for that type of car or our dealership, Google and Bing will show you that your friend just posted this tweet about JM Lexus.
And, people who “like” us on our Facebook Fan Page and post about us are starting to have an impact on SEO. We are trying to get those people who “like” us to also post about JM Lexus on their own Facebook and Twitter pages.
When a customer buys a car, do you ask them immediately to write about their experiences online?
Dino: We haven’t gone that far yet. Right now we’re looking into strategies around how to do that. For instance, we’re looking at an iPad app that allows people to take a survey that is formatted like a golf scorecard. At the end of the survey, there’s a path for them to post or tweet about their experience at our service center. We’re hoping that the customers using our courtesy iPads in our guest lounge will take the survey and then use this app to post or tweet favorably.
Overall, how do you handle online reputation management?
Bob: We are on DealerRater.com and we’ve learned how to manage our presence there. We stand pretty tall compared to other Lexus dealers in our area. We have 139 reviews and we’re rated overall 4.9 out of a maximum of 5 for customer service, quality of work, friendliness, overall experience and price.
Dino: As part of our scheduled CRM follow-up, we send sold customers an email welcoming them to the JM Lexus family and saying we hope that if they enjoyed their experience that they’ll share that on DealerRater.com. So we get a lot of people posting to DealerRater.com.
There are so many different places that people can post about JM Lexus that it’s impossible to actively monitor them by going from site to site. You have to set up some tools to do that. So, we use Google Alerts, SocialMention Alerts, and GOSO’s Buzz Monitor to monitor what people are saying about us on the Internet.
If we find anyone who hasn’t had a great experience here, we respond to them. If it was a sales or service or body shop issue, we’ll go to that manager and show them what was written and have them write a response.
Bob: Many automotive web sites, like Cars.com, AutoTrader.com, etc., are also getting into the reputation business, setting up tabs on their web sites where consumers can submit reviews as they do on DealerRater.com. So, it’s come full circle: the site the consumer started their search on is where they can now come back and report on their experience.
Dino: Actually, all of those reviews – whether it’s DealerRater.com, Edmunds.com, Yahoo, Yelp, etc., are all being pulled into Google Places, which is also something that does really well for us. We get a lot of traffic out of Google Places.
How are you optimizing your exposure with Google Places?
Dino: Most of the time when someone goes to Google Places, it’s to get directions to JM Lexus. I have optimized our description, tags, photos, and videos, and that has done wonders.
For instance, I changed one of the phone numbers once for the pre-owned store and the person who answers that number called me a half hour later, asking why she was suddenly getting “40 million phone calls.” So, it works.
A lot of people are using Google Places on their phones. They’ll go to the map program, put in JM Lexus and call the number that comes up straight from there. So it’s important to pay attention to Google Places.
How are all these online marketing efforts paying off in terms of the dealership’s bottom line?
Bob: For 2010, we were in the top 25 dealerships nationwide for Internet Sales. Our new and used Internet Sales Units were 2,223. That’s a 527-unit increase over 2009. Of that number — 2,223 – approximately 65% represents new cars and 35% used cars.
Dino: Our Internet sales leads to sales conversion ratio was in the low 20% for 2010. We are typically in the high teens. JM Lexus has been the number one volume Lexus dealer in the world since 1992.
Bob: JM Lexus a very exciting place to work. I commute 62 miles round trip to each day just to work here. I’ve worked in many car stores and there isn’t another one like this. It’s a true family. I can’t wait to get to work in the morning.
If someone looked at our operation, what they would see is everyone is a team player. Dino and I work closely together. No one individual is responsible for our success – everyone at the dealership contributes to achieving the common good.
Dino: I feel the same way. My typical day here is about squeezing 12 to 14 hours of work into eight or nine hours. It’s hectic, but I love to do it. It’s the culture here. I can stand up and be really proud of being on staff here.
Bob: We are all proud of our teamwork at the dealership. We’re proud of the charity work the dealership has done in our community, and we are particularly proud of being awarded the 2008 Broward County Commissioners’ Emerald Award Certificate for our environmental efforts.
In that year, the dealership recycled: 50,040 pounds of shredded paper; 303,360 pounds of used tires; 64,623 pounds of miscellaneous metals; 41,980 pounds of aluminum, cardboard, glass and plastic; 2,124 pounds of electronic waste; 60,206 gallons of used oil; 3,429 lead-acid batteries; and 6,425 pounds of lead wheel weights.
But most of all, we are proud of giving our customers the highest level of service.
Dino: We’ve been a Lexus Elite dealer since 1995 and that is Lexus’ highest standard for customer service and satisfaction.
Bob and Dino: We never rest on our laurels. We’re always looking for ways to do it better.