MARINA DEL REY, CA – When customers tell one of his sales people they are just looking, it is music to Chad Collier’s ears.

That is when customers are introduced to Lena. In many ways, Lena is the perfect sales person. She never has a bad day. She never prejudges customers. And she never acts inappropriately or says the wrong thing.

Lena’s sales presentations always are consistent and comprehensive, and she treats every customer the same. Her numbers also are impressive: increases of 33% in closing ratios, 19% in new-car sales, $218 per sale in gross profits and 7% in customer satisfaction

Lena is a woman on an interactive personal sales device Collier and his dad, Ron, created. They set up a company called I’m a Looker to market the handheld unit to other dealerships and, possibly, auto makers. The PDA device is preloaded with video walk-around presentations of all the new vehicles in stock.

Collier, a dealer, found aspects of the business frustrating, which led him to develop the device.

“The customer’s perception of the purchase process has brought consumer confidence to an all-time low,” he tells attendees at the TLS Automotive CRM Summit here.

When a customer says, “I’m just looking,” the sales person hands him the device with a quick explanation of how it works. The prospective buyer then can walk onto the lot without a salesperson and touch the picture of any vehicle. Meanwhile, the salesperson scans the customer’s driver’s license for follow up purposes.

Lena appears on screen and does a short walk around of the vehicle. “It’s amazing how the customer does exactly what Lena says,” Collier says. “Lena says to step back, and they do.”

Often, when customers come back to the store to pick up their license plates, they list Lena as being their sales person. Collier says the dealership management laughed the first time it happened, but it’s become a regular event.

Lena actually is a TV personality from Mississippi who also happens to be a dealer’s wife.

Collier’s dealerships also have started handing the device to customers waiting in the service department.

“Now they’re not sitting around watching Jerry Springer or seeing our competitor’s commercials,” Collier says.

Lena does the finance and insurance presentation and will do an accessories presentation when the latest upgrade is introduced. She also is the face on the video email follow-ups used by the dealership.

Customers who began their shopping process online seem to like the device because it’s technologically driven. “It does a nice job of bridging the gap between the Internet and the showroom,” Collier says.

The Collier dealership group recently began employing senior citizens to hand out the devices to customers who come by the lot to browse on Sundays when the stores are closed. “That allows us to convert those Sunday shoppers into real opportunities,” Collier says.

I’m a Looker allowed the group to reduce its sales staff 20%.

“We were able to get rid of those guys we kept around just in case Saturdays got busy,” he says.

Collier bought his first store in 1993 and now owns several dealerships in Oklahoma, Arizona, Tennessee and Indiana. Assisted by his father and sister Carrie, who help run the group, he has a reputation for turning around poor-performing stores.

They bought a Lincoln Mercury store outside of Memphis a couple of years ago that was selling three cars a month. Collier took the store to No.3 in the Memphis region, increasing sales to 40 per month.

But the store leveled off there and couldn’t get over the hump. Since Lena was introduced, sales have increased significantly.

Collier got started in the business after his dad retired at age 40 and decided to sell cars. His father quickly became a general manager and Collier started washing cars in high school.

His first sale happened while he was washing 300 vehicles on a hot Saturday afternoon in Yuma, AZ. A man came up to him and asked to see a vehicle. Collier told him he was just a porter but would find him a sales person.

The man, wearing coveralls, said, “No, you seem to know your way around. You can show me.”

“We’re on the test drive, and I’m reading the sticker backwards trying to answer the guy’s questions,” Collier laughs. A little while later, the man wrote a check paying cash for the vehicle.

“That was my first sale,” he says. Four years later, Collier became the youngest non-succession Ford dealer in the auto maker’s history. And now he hopes to change the industry – with Lena’s help.

cbanks@wardsauto.com