Special Coverage

2011 Ward's e-Dealer 100

Forty-five years ago, a young Jerry Chapman left a dealership in Mississippi and took over a Chevrolet store in Chandler, AZ, a Phoenix suburb.

In 1972, he constructed a new building for the “bowtie” brand. That dealership is going strong as a flagship for the Chapman Automotive Group.

In the early days, he never dreamed he would preside over an 18-store, 21-brand group using a once unheard-of marvel called the Internet to rack up vehicle sales in 2010.

The work of the dealership group’s central Internet unit puts Chapman on the top of the Ward’s e-Dealer 100.

“Jerry still can’t get over it,” says Internet Director Dana McFall. “From a single Chevy store out in the desert, he has built a group which used the Internet to sell a record 8,946 new and used vehicles.”

That record jump is nearly 2,000 units more than in 2009, a 23% increase. It topped all company goals.

Chapman’s Internet unit draws from the group’s “best salespersons” who recognize the region’s consumers are “tuned into the Internet for vehicle facts and prices,” McFall says.

“Chapman Choice is our theme, which leaves decisions up to customers in their online exchanges with us,” he says. “Our closing ratios have been stronger as the Internet has acquired a major role in the selling process, particularly among the luxury brands.”

In 2010, Internet closing ratios averaged 18% for the group’s BMW and Mercedes-Benz stores, 16% for Honda and Volkswagen. The Mercedes store in Tucson was a top performer with a 20% closings of e-leads.

Chapman allows individual stores to followup on Internet leads as they see fit. Most stores have a process in which prospects are contacted on a regular basis.

The group also uses the Internet to send monthly e-blasts for lease and financing specials.

While luxury-brand sales do particularly well online, McFall finds that frequently changing vehicle images and descriptive text on the group’s website boosts overall customer loyalty and interest.

In the lower-priced brands, “hot draws are Hyundai and Volkswagen,” he says. “In addition, the Internet’s pulling power helps sell the value of certified pre-owned vehicles that sell like hotcakes.”

Chapman is shooting for the Internet department to account for 45% of total sales this year. “We're looking at a 20% closing ratio in the near future.”

Expected to aid that cause are a new BMW dealership and newly acquired Chapman Ford in Scottsdale, AZ.

Also helping out are Arizona-Nevada demographics favoring Internet-savvy young consumers, McFall says.