I remember selling cars. We’d all count the days until spring, so we could stop living on Van Camp’s Beanie Weenies and rice and get back to making money. Spring is especially important this year because we have to make up for a lot. We’re all hoping this season will bring out the buyers along with the buttercups.

However, these desperate times have prompted us to make tough decisions that might not be conducive to the increase in traffic and shoppers in the market.

The Internet is showing us that more people are now shopping for vehicles than they were in November, December and January. Because these shoppers are about two to three months from purchase, we can look at current trends now to see what will sell in the coming months. For example, new vehicle shoppers are down almost 40 percent, but pre-owned shoppers are only down about 13 percent. So focusing on pre-owned inventory marketing would be most beneficial.

If we can bring people in on pre-owned car deals, then we can show them the excellent deals we have on new vehicles and try to make that switch. Almost half of all people who submit a vehicle lead via the Internet will buy a different vehicle than the one they first inquired about, and over 42 percent of people who submitted a lead on a new vehicle actually purchased a pre-owned car. So don’t let these shoppers fool you; almost half the time, even they don’t know what they want.

Look closely at your Internet presence, positioning and presentation. Many dealers switched to “free” OEM Web sites during the past several months to save a few bucks.
Although I understand the concept and respect why the decision had to be made, I cannot justify the reasoning behind diluting your Internet presence and brand image down to the lowest common denominator. You cannot expect to be competitive when the shoppers re-enter the market if you have a well-below-average Web presence.

Question: Can you name one thing the OEMs ever gave you for free that truly boosted sales? Class?  Anyone? During my 11 years in a dealership, I can’t remember a single one.

With the industry about to become extremely competitive, I certainly would not look to the OEM to dictate how I present myself on the Internet to hundreds of thousands of shoppers. Just as I would not look to the OEM to give me free newspaper ads, radio spots, and TV spots and expect those freebies to set me apart in the arena. Only you can make that differentiation, and it’s critical that you set yourself apart in this market.

My grandfather used to tell me, “The 25-cent apples always tasted better than the free ones.” So why were there free apples? To establish a quality level for the 25-cent apples. In other words, anything that’s free is just there to set the standards for quality. If you just have to have an apple, the free one is there, but if you want to take one to your teacher, I’d surely suggest spending the extra quarter.

Vol. 6. Issue 5