Special Report

Ward’s
e-Dealer 100

ELMIRA, NY – “One-price” selling is alive and well at the 5-store Simmons Rockwell dealership group, where Internet sales are healthy, as well.

Ranked No.11 on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100, the group based in upstate New York has long been on the elite list, owing its Internet numbers to the continuity of value-pricing vehicles and bypassing negotiations.

“Our customers know they can count on undeviating delivered prices for new and used cars,” says Internet manager Randy Meeker.

The Internet lends itself to the 1-price system, he says. “You don’t shuffle prices around from what consumers first see on the screen, and as a result we draw buyers from all over.”

That includes other New York markets such as Rochester and Syracuse. Customers include people from other states – such as Pennsylvania, Maine, Florida and California – as well as other countries.

“Four years ago, we delivered a Dodge Caravan to a guy in Caracas, Venezuela, and in January we heard from a shopper in Tokyo.”

The Simmons Rockwell group retailed nearly 3,000 Internet-linked units in 2009, from about 20,000 new- and pre-owned-vehicle sales in total for the group.

Last year, the group’s 24 Internet sales people worked off 17,497 leads, up from 15,596 in 2008. Members of the team are often among top sales people honored each year for their work

In total, the group employs 130 sales staffers and its stores represent a variety of brands, including Buick, GMC, Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.

“The variety gives Internet shoppers a real choice, and every brand benefits from the one-price approach,” says Meeker, who has run the Internet operation for six years.

His is the only position in the organization that’s exclusive to the Internet. The members of his team handle Internet sales in addition to conventional sales responsibilities. “They are sharp and handle the extra duties well,” Meeker says.

He’s reduced the average Internet response time to about 15 minutes. “I tell my staff to put yourselves in the customer’s shoes,” he says. “If you are in the market for something as important as a vehicle, you don’t want to play a waiting game.”

Meeker preaches three “musts” of an email response:

  • Build rapport. “It can be just a simple statement saying, ‘I’m looking forward to meeting you,’ or mentioning common ground. Don’t drag it out. People won’t read three paragraphs.
  • Answer all questions.
  • Ask for an appointment. “When you do the first two things right, you have earned the right to ask for an appointment,” Meeker says.

Like a good teacher, he stresses good punctuation and correct spelling. “It’s Internet 101. You are representing the company as a professional and need to leave a good impression.”

The five Simmons Rockwell stores carry an inventory of about 3,000 vehicles. “It offers our Internet customers a wider selection,” Meeker says. “Every vehicle we have in inventory, new or used, is posted on the website with a ‘you-pay’ price. Those prices match the stickers on vehicles on the lot.”

He attributes much of the group’s Internet successes with promoting its website address in all advertising.

“Whether it’s TV, radio, newspaper or billboard advertising, it doesn’t matter: It always promotes our website. And we pride ourselves on being not a cookie-cutter website. It’s vehicle-information and sales driven.”