The Internet department accounts for approximately 15% of the dealership’s bottom line. Strange believes running the department is something of a science because the growth can be measured and managed. “We are methodical here,” he says. “We’ve developed a strategy and are sticking with it.”

The store ranks No.46 on this year’s Ward’s e-Dealer 100 with 1,196 total sales. A dealer like Lee Beaman helps, says Strange. Beaman gives his managers the freedom to experiment and financially supports their efforts. “The secret to our success is that we have a great team here that works well together.”

Strange manages a 6-person department. He prefers to hire people with a customer service background and train them in the car business.

Strange:
“A gentlemanly way to sell a car.”

He says his most successful salespeople will respond to e-mails on their days off. “What an impression that makes on a customer,” he says. “Just reacting to those Internet customers with timely responses that have real meat – that goes a long way.”

He has tried three different customer-relationship management tools in two years, working to reduce lead response times. “When I started, our response time averaged 18 hours,” he admits. “Not counting our auto responders, we now average 14 minutes 85% of the time.”

The technology allows the staff to respond to purchase requests using cell phones, Blackberrys, laptops and pagers.

Strange has developed templates for his staff to use in their e-mail responses. “I’ve tried to create messages that bring consistency and branding,” he says. Some of his sales staffers put their photos in the e-mails. “It adds a personal touch,” Strange says.

Even the auto response e-mail has been carefully crafted. “The message talks about our dealership’s value and what they can expect from the sales person,” says Strange. “It comes from me. I want customers knowing they have a manager who is looking out for them.”

One of his sales people coined a phrase that Strange likes: “The gentlemanly way to sell cars.”

Strange seeks ways to help other profit centers in the dealership. “When I first started two years ago, it was the first time in a dealership I was able to sit down with other department directors to see what their needs were,” he says. “It’s just a matter of determining what everyone’s capacity is and what their comfort level is.”

cbanks@primediabusiness.com