Dan Lynch started Lynch Ford's web site two years ago to satisfy what he calls "a demand in the marketplace." Internet shoppers represent an increasing market segment, and having a web presence is important for his Iowa dealership, Mr. Lynch believes.

The store's web site is designed to reflect the dealership's commitment to customer service. Lisa Jess, Lynch Ford's Internet service manager, says "The website is another convenience for the customer. Customers can come online at their convenience, and shop for a vehicle, even in their pajamas."

The web site is informative with the standard features found on every dealership website - new and used inventory searches, credit approval forms, parts ordering, scheduling service appointments and information about specials. The information is always current, says Ms. Jess. Whatever changes she doesn't make, she sends to Vehix, the web site designer. She says Vehix's turnaround time on making the changes is very good.

While conducting a search on the new or used inventory, prospective customers will need to click on the vehicle's make, model, color and trim. Then the customer needs to complete an online contact request form.

In addition to the standard fare, however, the site has unique features that prospective shoppers might find useful. Visitors can do a side-by-side comparison of Ford vehicles with the competition's vehicles. Also manufacturer recall and safety information is available on the site.

A down-home section on the Lynch site is "Meet our Employees." It features photos of the staffers and paragraphs that tell a bit about each one. With the dealership being located in the small town of Mt. Vernon, this feature adds to the perception that Lynch Ford is customer friendly and folksy.

Lynch Ford gets approximately 100 Internet leads each month - half coming from the web site, and half being generated by Vehix. Currently, 15% of those leads translate into actual sales. The dealership expects to see that increase to 20% soon. Long-term, Mr. Lynch is dedicated to turning 50% of those leads into sales.

A quick response time is key for turning those Internet leads into sales, he says. "Internet shoppers are searching at other websites, too, and the dealership that responds the fastest has an advantage," he adds.

"One response doesn't cut it," Mr. Lynch warns. Selling to prospective customers on the Internet is a long-term process. In fact, Ms. Jess exchanged 11 e-mails with one customer before the deal was closed.

Even though it is a small-town dealership, Lynch Ford, with its modern web site and quick response philosophy, appears ready to occupy a place in the Internet big leagues.