At first, Mike Martinez doubted the potential success of dealerships having their own mobile apps. Now, he’s written a book about how great those apps are.   

“When we started this journey, I have to admit I wondered why someone would want a dealer app on a smartphone,” says the chief marketing officer of DMEautomotive.

The project went ahead anyway, and the results have made Martinez a believer. About 200 dealerships now offer DME’s Driver Connect app. Customers who download it spend an average of 21 minutes per visit.

“That is five times higher than the average for a dealership website,” says the lead author of “The Pocket Revolution – The Complete Guide to a Killer Mobile App.”

DMEautomotive sells the app to dealers who brand it as their own when offering it to customers.

A section of Martinez’s book tells how to get dealers to encourage employees to persuade customers to put the app on their smartphones and computer tablets. “That can be the hard work,” he says. “It requires management and personnel commitment, enforcement and buy-in.”

“Let-me-show-you-our-cool-app” word tracks for salespeople and service advisers help. So do stickers and windshield hanger tags with QR codes for easy aim-and-click downloads.

People in the market for a car often are reluctant to download dealership apps because they feel it limits their shopping choices. They are more likely to go to a dealership website. A study indicates shoppers visit as many as eight dealer websites during the buying process.

But the DMEautomotive app is intended mainly for use by established customers, not shoppers, Martinez says.

“The goal is to make their car ownership experience better,” he says. For the dealer, “it is a chance to stay connected with customers, create loyalty, deliver hyper-targeted offers and sell additional products and services.”

A dealership has 10 to 12 selling opportunities during the course of a 3-year car ownership, Martinez says. “Think of the ability to communicate constantly through the most intimate device consumers have, one that is always with them. Think of the impact on the service department.”

A customer can use the app to schedule a repair or maintenance appointment. After that, the customer can track when a technician starts working on the vehicle and when it is ready for pickup.

App features include a service history record, parking-lot finder and flashlight function.

“The fourth most-popular feature is the new-and-used vehicle inventory listing,” Martinez says. “People often like to spend time browsing through dealer inventory, even though they might not be in the market at that particular time.”   

He is a realist. “You are not going to get every customer to download this app, but if you get 40% from your customer base, that is about 5,000 people for the average dealership.”

About 50% of the adult population has smartphones. A majority of those are under age 35, he says, adding that using mobile strategies to capture Generation Y business is vital for dealerships.

One message of the book, as evidenced by its title, is that “mobile apps are going to revolutionize retail,” Martinez says. “They already are having an effect.” Another message to dealers is to join the revolution. “I remember how we went through the web revolution of about 10 or 11 years ago,” he says. “There was a lot of chaos and time spent trying to figure out how everything should work. With this book, we are trying to short-circuit that confusion.”

To download the book for free, go to http://www.dmeautomotive.com/the-pocket-revolution. Print and electronic versions are available at amazon.com.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com