Special Report

Ward’s
e-Dealer 100

ATLANTA – A 13-year veteran of Internet sales and marketing, Wayne Ussery has seen Jim Ellis Atlanta dealerships finish in the top 10 on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 every year in the list’s 10-year history.

He attributes that to “determined efforts from the onset to harvest leads and convert as many as possible into sales. Closing rates at our stores ranged from 12% to 22% in 2009.”

The Ellis group boosted its Internet sales to 3,423 units in 2009 from 2,974 in 2008, advancing its position on the e-100 from No.10 to No.8. The group sells six international and three General Motors Co. brands.

Accounting for the upswing were investments of $325,000 in third-party leads, $75,000 in online ads and $180,000 in search-engine marketing with such portals as Google and Yahoo.

The Ellis budget for Internet-related marketing was boosted in 2009 to 55% of the group’s overall marketing budget, a move facilitated by the overall new-car sales decline in 2009, especially for the Chevrolet, Buick and GMC brands sold by Ellis.

“What offset the GM falloff last year was Internet growth in our foreign brands – Audi, Hyundai, Mazda, Porsche, Saab and Volkswagen,” Ussery says. “Atlanta is a strong import market, stemming back nearly 40 years with Jimmy Ellis, and import buyers are tuned in on the Internet, so we get a lot of traffic on our website.”

Repeat business is crucial to any dealership, “and the Internet has been key in developing repeat sales and service customers,” he says. “Last year, 33.6% of our 10,174 total new- and used-vehicle sales were Internet-linked.”

Ussery believes online sales will gain market share every year, as young people, who grew up with the Internet, reach driving age. Ellis is ready for them.

“We have extended our reach to younger customers on Twitter and FaceBook channels, like dealers in other Southern markets, such as Charlotte, NC, and Jacksonville, FL, where the youth markets are growing,” he says.

Before joining the Ellis stores in Atlanta, Ussery worked at dealerships in Charleston, SC, and Augusta, GA. He says he is in the car business for the long haul. “The Internet has given the business a dramatic uplift for both dealers and customers. Dealerships have become great places to work.”