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2004 Internet Dealer Of The Year

Driving east through the mountains on Interstate 90, you come across a city limits sign for Kellogg, Idaho, boasting its 2,395 residents. It is located adjacent to the Coeur D’Alene National Forest, about an hour east of Spokane, Wash. and about an hour south of the Canadian border. For years, Kellogg used to be recognized as the largest mining area in the United States, with the world’s largest silver mine. That was, of course, before the silver mine closed in the early 1980s.

Today, Kellogg, Idaho may not have any silver mines, but it is the home of one of the largest “miners” in the country and certainly the largest Internet retailer in the automobile industry. The “miner” is Ken Smith, the president of Dave Smith Motors, mining over 4,000 Internet leads per month. He is also the largest automotive retailer in the country for the third consecutive year, and earned the 2004 Internet Dealer of the Year Award once again.

This year, as well as the past two years, Smith raised the ante. Last year, Smith predicted they would increase their Internet business by as much as 10 percent from the previous year’s high of 4,840. True to form, to garner the top spot in the Top 100 Overall rankings with 5,307 units, Dave Smith Motors posted an increase of 467 units, or 9.6 percent. To put the increase in perspective, 467 units by itself would rank 215th on the overall list.

There are always doubters. They just can’t believe a single dealership could begin to retail as many vehicles as they do over the Internet, let alone the other 300 to 400 units they sell each month.

Yes, Dave Smith Motors is the home of nine franchises. There are a few “country” General Motors dealerships across the nation displaying all six franchises on one sign. Dave Smith is one of them. Right beside that sign resides a Daimler-Chrysler sign showing Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep. Indeed, all nine franchises reside inside their castle-styled facility.

All a doubter needs do is to get off Interstate 90 at the Division Street exit and begin to look for a place to park. The dealership is about a block off the interstate, and on a Saturday, you may be lucky to park close.

Walk into the showroom, or what used to be the showroom, and amidst the sea of sales desks with flat-screen monitors is room for one vehicle. Generally, the desks are extremely active. On Saturdays, it is near chaotic with roughly 25 sales people present, and, especially so when they have their mammoth outdoor grill fired up supplying all of their customers with hamburgers and hot dogs. The showroom has been remodeled, but their main building has obviously been in existence for quite some time. The attached service department remains absolutely packed.

Of course, what else would you expect from the dealership that holds this distinction of being the largest Dodge dealer in the world for two years running and the largest GMC dealer in the northwest?

A dealership doesn’t store the necessary inventory to sell 9,000+ units discreetly in a town of 2,395. As a result, a drive through the town will find Dave Smith Motors storage lots virtually everywhere. It seems as if every vacant property has been snatched up by the dealership, to be used to store inventory.

Across the street from the central primary showroom is Dave Smith’s massive accessory department sharing a building with their Internet team. On most days, this is where you will find general sales manager, (and Ken’s brother) Eric Smith there at the helm, leading another 25 dedicated Internet sales consultants.

The accessory department has become so large that it may yield sales of $9 million in 2004, making it one of the largest accessory dealers in the nation. Smith’s philosophy was that they were selling a lot of trucks, and someone was making a lot of money selling bed-liners, chrome wheels, tool boxes and the like, so he wanted a piece of it as well.

The Process

The obvious question everyone asks is “How do you do it?”

“We use a system that we developed in-house called Lead Rocket,” Eric Smith said. “It is an Internet interface system that takes us through the whole marketing and sales process.”

The dealership Web sites, and, receive on average 3,500 visitors per day, which translates to 135 leads per day on average. The bulk of the leads come from throughout the northwest–Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska–but they commonly deliver cars to virtually every state in the country.

Using Lead Rocket, they are able to track the leads throughout the process. Visitors requesting a price quote are required to complete a rather extensive list of questions, which help eliminate the teenagers looking for a new Viper. Once the lead is in the system, it becomes date and time stamped and is routed to the Internet manager. After it is reviewed, it is routed to one of the dedicated Internet consultants.

Unlike many Internet departments in the marketplace, the first thing that occurs once the sales consultant receives a lead is a phone call. There are no surprises to the customer as their Web site clearly states in three areas of their quote page that the dealership will be calling.

“Naturally, we would like to bring the customer to the dealership before we begin the pricing process, but with customers driving and flying in from such a large geographic area that is not always possible. As a rule however, we will not quote prices until we have spoken with the customer on the phone,” Smith said.

With every sales person having a computer (and a total of nearly 200 in the dealership) Lead Rocket is truly part of the culture of the dealership. With the large number of leads and sales, it is essential for customer follow-up. It is also tied to the phone system to monitor phone calls (in both real time and recorded for later review) to assist in identifying training needs.

“Lead Rocket additionally allows our management team as well as the sales staff to check their sales results on an up-to-the-minute basis so everyone knows where they stand relative to their sales goals,” Eric Smith said. “The system can be set with pop up reminders on screen or even call a cell phone or pager to remind someone of a needed activity. Using Lead Rocket, we have the ability to insure that if someone calls, they will we not be reaching two different sales people and be quoted a different price from each.”

So it is with a combination of outstanding people, integrated systems and aggressive pricing that has driven Dave Smith Motors to the pinnacle of the industry and kept them there for three years in a row. With over $250 million in sales expected in 2004, they show no sign of letting up.

It is indeed hard to imagine a dealership selling nearly one vehicle per year for every man, woman and child that resides in their entire county, but as you drive throughout the entire northwest, it seems that no matter where you are, the familiar hot-pink Dave Smith Motors license plate appears on cars and trucks. If you find yourself near the Spokane area, it is well worth the drive to friendly Kellogg, Idaho, to view the amazing accomplishments of Ken Smith and his family. Congratulations once again on winning the 2004 Internet Dealer of the Year Award.

Vol 1, Issue 3


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