In the two years Rusty Strange has been the Internet director at Beaman Toyota in Nashville, TN, the dealership has increased its Internet sales 192%.

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.

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.”

Strange, But True

By Cliff Banks

A woman in New Mexico buys a Subaru with 10,000 miles on it from a Honda dealership in New York. It's a story the dealership proudly tells.

The used Impreza sat on Honda of Nanuet's lot for 46 days without generating any customer interest. Then the dealership listed it on eBay Motors. Within 48 hours, the sold vehicle was on its way to New Mexico.

The customer owns a horse ranch there, and had recently bought a new VW Passat. She took it back to the dealership for its first oil change. She got a Subaru as a loaner.

Driving it around her ranch, she decided it was a better vehicle for her needs. She went to eBay Motors and found that the Nanuet, NY, dealership had what she was looking for. The store had just listed the vehicle on eBay.

Once the paperwork was completed, the store shipped the vehicle to her, charging a $600 delivery fee.

A couple of hours after the deal was signed, Nanuet received a phone call from a California woman who so much wanted the vehicle, she offered $500 more than what the woman in New Mexico paid. General Manager Jack Ryan regretfully turned her down.

The dealership doesn't list all of it inventory on eBay. Says Steve Pincus, the store's Internet manager, “Honestly, eBay is a lot of work. But it lets us sell cars we wouldn't normally sell.”

As Ryan sees it, the moral of this story is to make sure your loaner cars are of the brand you sell.