A WESTERN DEALERSHIP'S INTERNET MANAGER wants to share his thoughts and experiences of launching a dealership website. He says business reasons prevent him from sharing his name or the name of his store.

Here's what he had to say:

“I am a regular reader of your publication, and have found many, many useful tips, techniques and goodies that I've applied to my little department here. I want to tell of our successes as a relatively small, yet very profitable Internet department.

“I developed our website from a nearly static ‘brochureware’ page, producing perhaps three to four sales per month, with a fairly minimal gross average. We now routinely deliver 20-23 cars per month, with a great level of profit. This change has come about just over a year.

“Although these numbers are certainly not overwhelming compared to other outfits, I think they are quite noteworthy.

“First, it is just me doing it. We have kept our Internet overhead down by using only one person. Naturally, this poses a couple of scheduling problems, but it works. We have a fairly inexpensive site — our entire department has a budget of $4,000 per month (salary excluded), and this factors in our own website, all of our lead generators, hardware, software, etc.

“Our gross profit levels are considerable, since we have decided to have our dominating theme be used cars. Although we're a new-car franchise, we specialize in used units online. We have found that, in our market area, profit in new vehicles is far less than used. Last month, we had a per-unit average gross of more than $1,700 on our used vehicles. Not too bad!

“I guess this would be directed at the other dealerships, on the edge of jumping into the Internet fray. Our dealership (along with several others out there, I would imagine) resisted getting active with our website. Too much money to invest, too much time, too little profit.

“But it certainly can be done, with minimal financial resources.

“We're on target for a 275-unit year for our Internet department, with approximately 10% of our overall business stemming from the 'net.”

But he says that as the dealership's Internet guy, he sometimes feels isolated:

“I have found that brainstorming with the dealership staff, management, etc., really has not been nearly as useful as hammering it all out with people who are trying to accomplish the same things I am!”

Keep it between the foul lines

Along the same lines, another dealership Internet manager, Angel Grajales of Davis Chevrolet in Houston, tells me:

“Sometimes I thought I was the only one with certain ideas, but I'm learning that a lot of people share those ideas.

“The Internet represents a world of ideas. Some of them go to right field, some to left field.”

The important thing, he says, is to keep it between the foul lines.

Frustrated Internet manager sounds off

But some Internet managers are frustrated because they think their dealerships — while maintaining Internet operations — are less than committed to them.

Consider this fellow's story:

“I am the Internet sales manager for a sizable Eastern dealership. Unfortunately, my title is pretty much glorified and part-time. The dealer principal has chosen to take a ‘sit-back-and-see-attitude’ regarding the Internet sales role.

“I realize that the Internet is here to stay and that this is a gold mine waiting to be opened by whomever has the courage to be among the first to do so. I understand that getting results is what drives an individual to stick to a program, and then is willing to make improvements to fine-tune and adjust as necessary. I have been filling this role for over a year and still nothing has changed to make this a more positive selling tool.

“I am a skilled salesperson to the walk-in customer, usually finishing each month as one of the top salesmen. At times, I feel this is hurting our Internet program because it is understood that I do a high closing ratio with the walk-in customer. Management insists on taking me away from the Internet to sell to the walk-in customer.

“I have shown the dealership management various program that others have tried, some things that worked and even the things that haven't worked. Usually my suggestions fall on deaf ears. I have also shown the statistics from Reynolds & Reynolds that an Internet team does not usually succeed when selling to Internet and walk-in customers at the same time.”

That said, he's seeking advice on how to convince his bosses that “the Internet can be a positive selling tool if given an opportunity to show its worth.”

Can any readers help him out?

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: sfinlay@primediabusiness.com