If I Were a Car Dealer…

I would shape my thoughts and actions as someone running multiple dealerships in ways that would be consistent with my product lines, my staff, my locations, and develop a true understanding of today’s car customers and how best to get them to visit my showrooms over my competition.

I would be focused on the enormous investment I have made in my car and truck inventory and understand that we must “move” these products as quickly as possible as I am carrying a hefty note every month in the form of a line of credit from my bank or banks. After all, once all the cars and trucks are sold to me by the manufacturer, I own them. There are no returns in my business.

I would also understand that while I think and plan for the long run, my investment and the time I need to become profitable is short. My business is right now as every day a car remains on my lot is a finance cost I absorb. So you see, time is never on my side and decisions I make directly impact my future and that of my teams at each dealership. Nowadays, I only talk to business people who appreciate that aspect of my profession. I have little use for anyone who does not. Sorry, nothing personal, but this is my business.

I would only deal with people who understood that basic fact of the auto business as they are the ones who will work towards the “right now” of my business. And yes, I can be short, right to the point, and sometimes less than gentle. That’s not who I am, but rather who I have to be to succeed, and indeed, survive in this highly competitive and fast-changing business. 

And while there is so much to concern myself with from a dealer’s point of view, my success will largely depend on how well I know my customers, their habits and lifestyles, and how to reach them…every day. For you see, I am really in the trust business. My customers trust our dealerships to give them a fair price, a safe and efficient vehicle, a respect for their heritage and ethnic background, and to become the dealership they will turn to over a lifetime of buying and trading in their vehicles. Buying a car or truck is for most Americans, the second biggest investment in their lifetimes.

To effectively market my business, I would rely on facts and research that I discovered to determine an advertising strategy that worked for me and my dealerships. I would take the time to meet with serious media professionals who understood my business before walking into my dealerships. And while I would already know where my business is heading and what advertising media can get me there, I would keep an open mind for new information I may have missed.

I would know the following about Southern California media based on facts and not opinions:

  • That reaching my customers is getting harder and harder as their media usage keeps evolving and new media seem to come and go in a flash.
  • That our dealerships are currently using search engines for leads and that has given us increased hits to our websites but has not translated into real sales numbers I can rely on at this point. It’s a bit too hit-and-miss for me and what we need to achieve. The factory keeps pushing this approach but the results so far have been inconsistent.
  • That traditional TV has a huge DVR issue here and around the country. My research shows that 60% of Americans now own and use a DVR to skip over TV commercials. I need to look at my costs here as I know 36% of every dollar invested is NOT being watched by my potential customer base. I also keep reading about Netflix and how their model is changing traditional TV watching habits rapidly. Saying that, I know that TV is a huge reach medium, it’s the amount I am investing in it that needs further review.
  • With newspaper circulation dropping by 38% over the past 5 years, it’s clear I am not investing much in that medium. I am, however, impressed with their page views on their websites and will continue to have a presence there, at least in key sections of the site.
  • I hear a lot about “Internet Radio” but I’m not sure that playing my commercials in that music-only environment is where I should be. I want a responsive audience and not one that feels I am intruding on them. I just read a study that shows significant dissatisfaction with Pandora over their increased commercial load by its listeners. Why would I want to irritate my customers in the wrong environment?
  • The media that intrigues me the most is Radio. Mainly because of the enormous reach and frequency of message I can achieve for my dealerships at a fraction of the cost of TV spots and their production. Southern California is a driving town and I am impressed with the traffic loads in this region and how I can reach a captive audience.
  • I also like the fact that I can target my individual dealerships’ customer base and run numerous different commercials in English and Spanish without big production costs like TV’s.
  • Radio can also let me market my products by lifestyle, age group, ethnic background, and who is most likely to buy trucks over cars, used vs new, new models and older ones, as well as promote my very profitable service departments and weekly tire and oil specials.
  • The combination of over the air commercials with a very targeted digital plan that radio stations have today is really the way I see the market going for my dealerships; getting them at any time of day on any device they have. Perfect for my “right now” business.
  • I am impressed with Radio’s loyal audiences and devotion to its personalities. I can tap into that loyalty and hopefully make them as loyal to my dealerships as they are to their radio stations. My dealer names need to be more tightly integrated into their product and market image.

Knowing my time and attention is always short since I am in the “right now” business; here is what any Radio station should know if they want to help me build my business.

  1. While selling new cars is critical to me, my service departments, used car selection, and the all-important “F & I” department are the profit drivers to my business.
  1. You need to know that leasing is always more profitable for me than selling a car, sometimes as much as 2% more in profit. It also encourages customer loyalty as 87% of all leases are turned in at the conclusion of the lease, at the dealership they bought at originally. Repeat customers are easily sold and are ready for an upgrade as well.
  1. You need to know that our service bays drive 30-40% profit margins on basic maintenance and repairs. I wish I had more service bays and well-trained technicians.
  1. You need to know that our used cars or as they call it now, “pre-owned vehicles” can get us a 50% margin over what we paid for it at auction or at trade in. That’s right, 50%.
  1. You need to know that every unit I sell gives me more clout with the factory in terms of shipping and carrying costs as well as increased influence at the regional office. After all, I am just a franchisee and I need to keep the franchiser pleased with my growth. And my bank!
  1. You need to know what CSI means and why it’s critical to my success. A bad CSI review can cause havoc for me and my staff and make life uncomfortable with the franchisor or the manufacturer, in my case.
  1. You need to know that the auto business is the largest industry on the planet, directly employing 1 out of every 7 jobs in America and all the sub-industries it relies on.
  1. You also need to know that the industry turnover rate for car salespeople is still in the 50% range on a yearly basis as we must move these cars as soon as possible. Some are better than others at knowing that fact. Can you help me find good salespeople?
  1. What I don’t need is for you to tell me how great you are or how you are number one in this or that. Tell me how you can sell cars for me and bring real customers into my showrooms. Soon.

If we are both armed with critical information about each other’s business, our chances of forming a real partnership have greatly increased! It will be best to approach me directly as we both have the most to gain and the most to lose from our meeting. I am the decision maker for my business.

As I said, my dealerships are in the “right now” business, and from what I have researched, so is Radio.

I can’t deny Radio’s strength as an advertising medium to build my business but I have many conflicting voices about how I should spend my ad dollars. You need to cut through the clutter.

Make your case for my business, Radio.

Please make it compelling and “right now”.

I am listening…