Special Coverage

2011 Ward's e-Dealer 100

E-commerce growth is building luxury-brand demand and cementing a “new force” in the auto retailing universe, says Shaun Kniffin, director-Internet sales for the 18-store Germain Motor headquartered in Columbus, OH.

Germain’s Internet sales soared 43.1% last year, putting it No.5 on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 with Internet-related sales of 5,127 vehicles.

“Our stores averaged a 40% Internet share of overall vehicle sales in 2010, and we’re expecting a higher level this year,” Kniffin tells Ward’s.

“We are experiencing higher e-commerce levels at our Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus stores,” he says. “That tells me Internet-driven sales are lifting luxury-brand purchases by wide margins.”

He thinks brands such as Audi, Mercedes, Acura, BMW, Lexus and Infiniti are beneficiaries of upscale motivations in the car-buying public.

Kniffin is a member of the first Internet-specific dealer 20 group in which participants from different markets discuss best practices.

Organized by David Kain, the group includes members whose Internet teams have brought e-commerce sales to “the top of the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 ranking the past five years,” Kniffin says.

Kain, who owns a stake in a family dealership in Kentucky, is an online automotive pioneer and consultant.

Germain stores are in central Ohio and Florida. Founder Warren Germain opened the first dealership, Germain Mercury, in 1947.

Over the years, the organization has focused on customer-centric high standards, says President Steve Germain.

He credits Kniffin with building an Internet team early on, “because the Germain family realized online sales were the way to go to meet customer needs.”