Special Coverage

2011 Ward's e-Dealer 100

Conicelli Autoplex cleared an Internet hurdle early on.

The suburban Philadelphia dealership is familiar with the modern likes of search-engine optimization and marketing, customer-relationship management software and business-development centers.

But for many dealers, the real Internet-strategy challenge can be summed up in two words: Buy in.

That particularly means getting managers and owners on board. If they’re not, nobody else will hop on.

“Everybody here is involved from the receptionist to the BDC,” says Lori Hammond, Internet director of sales. “It takes everybody believing in it and working everyday to make it happen.”

Conicelli is a family run business, with seven relatives who “get it” among the ranks, she notes. “We’re very fortunate that way.” As a returning member of the Ward’s e-Dealer 100, Conicelli ranks No.6 this year.

“Our entire management team is involved daily with our Internet managers and the BDC,” Hammond says, explaining the autoplex’s online success.

“We discuss our team efforts daily and decide what is working and what we need to tweak. I can't say enough about how important it is to have the right people supporting you.”

Conicelli launched its first website in 1998. Its Internet department soon followed. That occurred after Hammond’s husband, Mike Hammond, vice president- sales and marketing, saw the emphasis on the Internet while at a National Auto Dealers Assn. convention. “I was running our BDC at the time and he called me and said, ‘We just signed up with several third-party lead providers; get ready to add an Internet department to the BDC,’” she recalls.

“From that day on, we were all in. It didn’t take us long to start hiring an Internet management team as well, as sales assistants to our BDC and a group of Internet sales consultants to handle our online leads.”

Since then, it’s been a matter of continually tweaking the process over the last 13 years.

“We continue to try new and improved methods of communicating with our customers, creating more effective and informative emails and making sure the sales and BDC staff is working as a team,” she says.

Initially, the Conicelli Internet department sold about 25 new and used vehicles a month. Today, it’s nearly 450.

Lori Hammond says many Internet people at other dealerships tell her their biggest challenge is convincing their bosses Internet departments need more resources.

“At this point, that should not be necessary,” she says. “But you definitely need to have the owners and general managers totally dedicated to making your department work.”

Like most dealers, Conicelli continues to work on its social-network presence. What started with a MySpace page in 2008 has migrated into a Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube account today.

The advantages to social media is using it as a form of customer service and a channel to communicate with customers on their playing field, Hammond says.

The challenge is to make sure content is relevant.

“We try to only post sales-related information when there is something really special going on or a holiday event,” Hammond says. “You don't want to get carried away with posts that your customers have no interest in reading or sharing.

“If you post too much and it is not relevant to your customers’ interests, you can certainly become a nuisance. Our hope is that they will want to share our posts with their friends.”

It’s sometimes hard to connect a dealership’s social-network investment to direct sales, but it’s not impossible to track.

“As far as quantifying direct sales from social media, if you are sourcing your customers when they come in or if you are setting appointments directly on Facebook, then you can track your sales,” Hammond says.

“Otherwise, I do not really see that being the most important factor in using social media. Just be interesting, friendly and stay familiar to your Facebook and Twitter followers. They will think of you when they are ready to buy.”