Special Report

Ward’s
e-Dealer 100

TROY, MI – A longtime leader in Internet-sourced sales, the Suburban Collection based here attributes its stellar record to proper management of the thousands of leads its 26 stores generate.

“Despite the sales decline, we recorded 69,764 leads on the Internet in 2009, of which 10.6% resulted in closings on new units and 14.3% on used,” says Dan Boismier, the network’s Internet director.

“Our closing benchmark is 12%, which our CEO David Fischer believes is higher than that of most (dealership) groups.”

Boismier gives his store Internet managers maximum leeway in lead handling. Last summer, two metro Detroit stores – Suburban Toyota-Scion in Novi and Suburban Honda-Acura in Farmington Hills – staged a trial run of ResponseLogix’s lead-management system.

It automatically emails customers price data and specifications on shopped vehicles and similar vehicles for optional consideration, rather than urging a visit to the showrooms for sales negotiations.

“Our customers are pretty well pre-informed about the cars they inquire about,” says Jennifer Reeve, who oversees Internet sales for Sububan’s Audi, Nissan, Volkswagen and Mazda stores in Farmington Hills.

“That's all right with us, but we’d rather they go through the discussion of finance terms, leasing payments and the like in person in the showrooms.”

When auto sales ebbed last summer, even for prime import brands, the ResponseLogix concept was put in place at Suburban’s Toyota-Scion store in the sprawling Troy (MI) Motor Mall.

Using Internet response software based on relevant data dissemination, rather than pricing terms alone, seemed “worth a try” as the market softened, says the store’s Internet manager Dominique Van Der Brouck.

Something of a pioneer, Boismier, 38, introduced Internet selling in 1996 at Jerome Duncan Ford in Sterling Heights, MI. Two years later, he moved to the Al Serra group, based in Grand Blanc, MI, where he established the lead-management system he deploys to this day at Suburban.

“In the beginning, the Internet selling was viewed as a sales device, with follow-up consisting of brochures and websites with minimal content,” he says. “All leads were assigned to salespersons who then did face-to-face selling.

Today, Suburban’s Internet leads almost all go to dedicated salespersons. “We insist on instant follow-up 24-7,” Boismier says. “Dominique and Jennifer direct what goes out and what comes in online.”

In 2008, Suburban’s stores tallied 8,148 sales resulting from Internet leads. The 2009 total rose to 8,462, despite the markets downtown.

Boismier has set a goal for 2010 of a 10% boost in Internet sales, noting the fourth-quarter 2009 leads were higher in the aftermath of last summer’s “Cash-for-Clunkers” incentives.

“That was a sparkplug for sales, the likes of which we hadn't seen, particularly in online traffic,” says Boismier. “Interest in our inventory rose after Clunkers ended. We have enjoyed a spurt that showed folks still need new or used cars.”

Online communications also helped steer shopping customers to Suburban’s foreign brands, which continued to offer leasing packages even as the three domestic brands saw their captive-lender leasing offers curtailed or stopped altogether.

“The fact that our import brands offered attractive leasing deals, while the Detroit 3 backed off, was a selling point last year,” says Reeve, who hopes for a Clunkers return this year.