Simmons Rockwell, a 10-franchise dealership group based in Elmira, NY, is No. 15 on the Ward's e-Dealer 100.
Internet manager Randy Meeker tells how the Emira, NY-based group (owned by Don Simmons, Dick Rockwell and Brian Barrett) sold 2,219 vehicles online last year.
What does the future holds for the Internet?
Randy Meeker: We really still are in the infancy of our efforts online. It is new to all of us here, and we're still learning.
I'm a car guy, not a computer guy, so I learn something new every day.
Last year we averaged 185 units a month, but I think we can reach the 300-unit level. This year we are averaging 215 units a month so far.
We're doing that without a separate Internet department right now. But we are talking about that. We just want to make sure we set it up right.
How do you handle the Internet leads?
Randy Meeker: I have a team of sales people who I send the leads to each month. Typically, each person handles approximately 50 leads in a month.
They do other things, though. They'll take phone ups, walk-in traffic. They'll move and sticker cars. It is a team effort. They do a great job and work hard.
We have an auto responder that sends a response within seconds. I tell my people that speed is the biggest factor in getting that sale.
Let's not kid ourselves. If they are e-mailing us, they are e-mailing 10 other dealers. We need to get to them quickly.
What tools do you use?
Randy Meeker: For our lead management tool, we use NetTrak and we usefor our reporting.
We send out a monthly e-mail newsletter for both sales and service. We also send a bulk e-mail to leads based on where they are in the buying process.
Do you pay your sales people differently for Internet sales?
Randy Meeker: No, we pay our people the same for Internet and showroom sales.
How many Internet leads do you receive each month?
Randy Meeker: We average close to 1,100 leads from our website. We also buy finance leads from Cars.com. I keep a lid on how many leads we buy, because I don't want to overwhelm our staff.
We did just deliver a Lincoln LS to a woman in California who found us through Cars.com. She said we were $5,000 cheaper than the dealers there. So she paid us $1,000 to ship it there.
Are you doing any search-engine marketing now?
Randy Meeker: We're not now, but it's something I'm sure we'll do in the future. We advertise the heck out of our website and drive traffic that way.
We're a one-price dealership, so many of our customers who send us leads know exactly what they want and what the price is. In fact, their biggest question is what we're going to give them for the trade.