For 2009, national Toyota sales were down more than 20 percent, while Jeff Wyler Toyota was up 28.6 percent. When the Toyota dealership originally opened 25 years ago, it was named Green Tree Toyota after a new, nearby mall, Green Tree Mall.

When the dealership completed a new showroom in late 2008, Dealer Jeff Wyler took it as an opportunity to rename the store to match the other 20 stores in the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family.

Rodney Carter, general manager of Jeff Wyler Toyota, has worked within the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family for 13 years and has been the GM at the Toyota store since it reopened with the new moniker.  High on Carter’s to-do list was to brand the dealership under its new name. Branding is a long process and takes a strong multi-pronged strategy.

On the Tube
At a time when many dealers view television as a medium that’s too expensive and hard to track, Carter approached TV advertising with a smart and specific strategy. He said, “We happen to be in a very sport-oriented market here in [the] Louisville-Cincinnati-Southern Indiana [area], so cable TV is real big, and you’ve got to realize that you need to piggyback on sports.”

And it’s not just the male audience Wyler Toyota reaches by advertising on sports-oriented channels and programs. Carter stated, “More and more women are watching basketball and football,… one of the areas that we really concentrated on was making sure that we were on ESPN, ESPNU and then also on other channels—the Discovery Channel, the History Channel.”

While the medium is expensive, he acknowledged, it’s effective, and TV was what the dealership needed to get its new name out to the general public. In addition to the push on cable TV, Carter is branding the dealership on broadcast TV as well. “We really stepped our budget [for broadcast TV] up. I probably spend four times as much as this store has spent in the past on broadcast TV … I increased my reach, and when we go out on a campaign, we’ve really got a lot of punch … because we spend the money to reach the people.”

For the most part, the dealership promotes a used-car message in its TV spots, especially on cable. Carter said, “The big market with used cars is on cable.” The dealership also promotes new cars in some spots – most of which are 30 seconds long – but he doesn’t advertise price. “Let’s talk about selection. Let’s talk about location. Let’s talk about reputation because what you have to understand is that in our eyes and in the public’s eyes, I’ve got a new facility, so I must brand the Jeff Wyler name in the Louisville market. It’s been Green Tree Toyota for 25 years, so instead of me going out there talking about price … I need to talk about location, our new facility. I need to talk about things that brand our name.”

A Direct Approach to Mail

After about six months as Jeff Wyler Toyota, the store delved into direct mail to continue to brand the dealership. Every month, the store sends 7,500 to 10,000 mailers out, and a large part of the dealership’s direct mail strategy is maintaining regular contact with its past customer base, which receives something to about once every three months. “The biggest response always is your own customer base … On a 7,500-piece mailer, we’ve probably [sold] as many as 50 [vehicles], which is a huge number, and probably as few as 20.” said Carter.

While some dealers turn up their noses at direct mail today, Carter takes a pragmatic approach and considers it a viable source of customers. “Throughout my career, I’ve always dabbled with direct mail … Direct mail is direct mail,” said Carter. “I think at least every quarter, the dealer should do direct mail. If he gets a good campaign, you can almost guarantee yourself you’re going to have a pretty good month.”

One key to his success this time around with direct mail is the relationship and marketing plan he’s developed with the company he partners with, Strategic Marketing. He added that the fact that he can trust the company and rely on it being efficient is also key. “Direct mail has always been in the plan.”

Also a huge reason for his success with mail is the process by which the leads are worked. When customers call in from a mail piece, they submit their information through an automated system, which triggers an e-mail to the dealership. The dealership then transfers customer information into its CRM system and begins the follow-up process, which typically starts with a call from the dealership and another call from a third-party call center (a service of the dealership’s CRM provider, VinSolutions).

“For whatever reason, if the salesperson does not follow up with that customer, VinSolutions will automatically [follow-up] … What we found out in our industry is [with] 85 percent of the customers that come into our store or call back, salespeople don’t follow-up with them, so we make sure that the system follows up, and it follows up again and again. And I gotta tell you, that’s probably one of our keys to success over 2009,” said Carter.

Getting In the Game

In addition to strategically placing television ads on sports-oriented channels and running them during televised sporting events on cable, Carter discovered another way to piggyback on the sports craze in his market—literally get the dealership’s name in the game. “I did a sports buy with the University of Louisville basketball team [and] the Louisville Bats, which is the [Cincinnati] Reds minor league team here in Louisville, so I’m starting to get out in the community and do some things that we hadn’t really done in the past … We sponsor the starting lineup for the home and visitor’s teams, and we’ve got electronic banners that come up during different times of the games.”

Louisville is just across the Ohio River from Clarksville, Ind., and the basketball program at the University of Louisville is a cash cow for the region. Carter said, “The University of Louisville basketball team is the highest revenue-producing [college] basketball program in the country. One of the reasons why is that [Louisville is] a pretty nice, medium-sized city with no professional sport teams.” So the sports draw for that spot in the Midwest (a region typically known for its love of basketball) is the University of Louisville team. “Everything is geared around Louisville basketball, so it’s an opportunity for me to pretty much blanket the whole city.”

Despite a heated rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky (UK) basketball teams, there’s also a lot of love for UK in the Louisville area. UK is in Lexington, Ky., only an hour from Louisville. While Carter hasn’t reached out to the UK fans with the dealership’s marketing yet, he plans to in 2010. “Between now and the next basketball season, I will be a part of the University of Kentucky basketball program,” he stated.

Expanding Reach on the Radio

Airing spots on the radio is also a key part of the dealership’s marketing, which includes spots that run during college basketball games. “We’ve got radio that runs pre-game and post-game on the local radio station that sponsors the Louisville Cardinals basketball program, so for those who are not at the game, they also hear Jeff Wyler during the game,” said Carter.

In the spots during the basketball games, the dealership will alternate the advertisements. Some are directed at college students, while others are for the general public. Carter elaborated, “It’s a big college crowd, so [I advertise to] first-time buyers, a lot of college grad stuff.”

The dealership also advertises on local urban stations. He said, “The urban market tends to respond more to radio. When I run campaigns on urban radio stations, they come in. I’m able to track it better.” Most of his advertisements on the radio, on urban and other stations, are one minute in length and focus on used vehicles.

Carter also tailors his radio spots to match the station they’re on. “One of the things that I think dealers make a mistake at is trying to take one commercial and put [it] in the Hispanic market, put it on the urban stations and put it in the general population. That doesn’t work.”

Paying to Play Online
Before the name change, Green Tree Toyota maintained a sales force of eight people. After a year-and-a-half in business as Jeff Wyler Toyota and more than a 28 percent increase in sales, Jeff Wyler Toyota now employs 15 salespeople, four of whom are solely dedicated to Internet sales—another integral part of Carter’s marketing strategy.

While he tried traditional newspaper advertising, he quickly realized that his buyers weren’t reading many newspapers; they were online. “That market that is buying cars, the young generation – the X and the Y – they don’t read newspapers. If I want to build my business in the future, I have to market it to those people,” said Carter.

To appeal to buyers, he had to think like them. “How do they get their information? Well, they get it through the Web … We do a lot of online marketing. We buy leads, and we make sure that we follow up with them. You’ve got all kinds of dealers out there buying tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of leads from different sources, but nobody’s following up … It’s all about follow-up.”

It’s also all about funneling customers into the Jeff Wyler Web site. “There are certain ways that customers can get to your site, and we are very selective about where we have links at that feed back into our system … If it’s used cars it’s probably going to be … We also promote our own URL called We promote that a lot on the cable side.” He said he also stays up-to-date with how Google searches. “Google searches by video [and] by dealer ratings, so if you get online and google ‘Toyota Camry Louisville,’ we’re probably going to be top of the page. We also do pay-per-click … It doesn’t matter where you go; I pay to be at the top of the page.”

“Because we’re Jeff Wyler Clarksville and we haven’t had that URL long enough to be able to compete against Toyota Louisville and Oxmoor Toyota, I’m on down the page [in the organic search results]. We’ve been there a year, and these guys have been there 30 years,” said Carter, before adding with a chuckle, “I’ve got to pay to play.”

The latest craze in Internet marketing – social media – is something Jeff Wyler Toyota is “easing into.” He added, “I think sometimes dealers can go overboard … I have to master what I’m doing now before I start spending a lot of money [elsewhere] because what happens is you just don’t have the personnel to really cover the turf.” First he wants to master sites like craigslist—sites that are free and that customers are visiting. “I’m just trying to think like a customer, and I don’t think somebody goes on Facebook to look for a car.”

Electronic Communication
Another way to reach out to the Gen-X and -Y buyers is through e-mail and text messaging. “A lot of times, it’s cheaper, so every month we’ll send out [service specials] whether it be oil change coupons, ‘winterize your car’ or for just a 150-point inspection. We use VinSolutions to get to our people without spending a lot of money,” said Carter.

These non-invasive communication points have helped the dealership change its thinking about follow-up and appointment setting. “The philosophy is a little different now that I’ve got the ability to e-mail and text message, and we do a good job of setting the next appointment,” he said, equating the dealership’s new philosophy to the appointment-setting process of a dentist. “When I go in to get my teeth cleaned, my dentist says, ‘OK, six months from now on February the whenever, you’re going to be back,’ and then they will start to follow-up with me to let me know when my next cleaning is due. We do the same with oil changes and 5,000-, 10,000- and 30,000-[mile maintenance].”

To be Continued
In addition to appealing to the UK fans in his market in the coming year, Carter also plans to tap into the Hispanic market in the Louisville area. “That will be one of the things I will go after in 2010 … How do I market to the Hispanic community?

“The Hispanic market is huge this side of the river in Clarksville, and I need to find out the best way to get to that market … I need to find somebody that’s big in the Hispanic community that can let me know how they receive their information. Where do they go to the grocery store? What do they buy? … I’ve only been here 16 months, and I’m still working with how that group of people receives their information. So that’s going to be a challenge for the year, but hopefully in the near future I’ll have that under control also.”

Vol. 7, Issue 4