Ed Tonkin learned a lot from his dealer father, Ron Tonkin. Now, he is learning a thing or two about modern auto retailing from his son, Adam Tonkin.

The younger Tonkin a key Internet strategist for the Portland, OR-based 12-store Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships. He is involved in online initiatives, from marketing to social media.

Ed Tonkin realizes such things are important, particularly social networking.

“But I'm not the guy to do it,” he says. “Younger people in the dealership group are, including my daughter, who graduated from the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Assn.) Dealer Academy.”

The youthful staffers are doing well. The Tonkin dealership group placed No.4 on the latest Ward's e-Dealer 100, tallying 5,645 Internet-assisted vehicle sales last year.

“Our dealership's rise from ninth to fourth was the result of a great deal of planning, focused on growth of the Web as an auto-retail necessity,” says Adam Tonkin, who now is general manager of the group's new Fiat store.

“The Fiat 500 is tailor-made for Internet users in the Portland market,” he says. “Our average closing Internet ratios have been above 20%. We're shooting to double that in 2011, with the Fiat 500 a perfect Internet seller.”

Ed Tonkin admittedly needed coaxing when his son proposed hiring “savvy” Internet sales people, including Andy Warner as Tonkin's Internet sales director. He previously worked at Cincinnati dealerships.

“The strategy has paid off,” says Ed Tonkin, noting the group's Internet-driven sales jumped 58.7%.

That big leap was facilitated by training and retraining salespersons in handling Web customers, Warner says. “Ingrained habits had to be surrendered.”

Showroom sales staffers were schooled in also offering Web prospects finance and insurance packages, and accessories.

“Internet customers want dealership personnel to respond quickly and completely, without being turned over to someone else,” Warner says.

“As soon as we staffed the Internet with dedicated personnel who could negotiate as well as sell, and showed total respect for the questions and concerns of the Internet callers, our Internet sales shot up.

“We joke about it, but the Tonkin family would like to reach 10,000 sales and 100% Internet closing rates someday,” he says.

Ron Tonkin founded the group 30 years ago. He served as NADA chairman in 1989, Ed Tonkin in 2010.

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