Established in 1985, Don Wood Automotive is the largest auto dealer group in southeast Ohio, with four stores in two cities (Athens and Logan) covering eight automotive franchises, plus a powersports dealership. Over the last several years, Don Wood Automotive President Jeff Wood has been working toward building an online presence to match. When it comes to a digital footprint, the organization is well on its way to becoming Bigfoot.
The group’s online presence has developed bit by bit (or byte by byte) over a number of years. It started in 1995 with DonWood.com, which began as the website for one of the individual stores but is today the main site for the entire organization. Unlike today, at that time “the Internet really wasn’t even a factor in our world,” Wood observed.
During a visit to the NADA annual convention one year in the late 90s, Wood began to understand the direction the industry was headed concerning the Internet and decided he would need to do something to stay ahead of the game—generate organic leads. “You realize real quick that you can put yourself out of business if you pay all those lead sources and don’t generate enough revenue.”
Wood said he slowly began learning more about websites, e-commerce and things like Google AdWords. “Your digital real estate is as valuable as your business real estate in terms of learning how to position your business to where people can notice who you are and what you’re about,” he stated. “I realized that websites needed to be optimized for the search terms that people would be looking for.” Starting in 2007, he began gradually developing sites for each of the brands he carried, like DonWoodToyota.com and DonWoodFordLM.com, but he didn’t stop there.
“If people are looking for Don Wood, obviously we have the group site, but if they’re looking for Toyota, I needed to have a more-optimized website that was mainly for Toyota products.” With that in mind, over the last three years he has developed blog sites like OhioToyotaDealer.com and OhioHyundaiDealer.com to cast a wider net for search traffic. He applied that same concept to automotive-related services as well, adding sites like AthensAutoRepair.com and AthensTireandWheel.com to his list within the last year or so.
"Your digital real estate is as valuable as your business real estate in terms of learning how to position your business to where people can notice who you are and what you're about."
The group also maintains Facebook and Twitter pages as well as a couple of YouTube channels (one for the auto group and another with video from Jeff Wood’s racetrack adventures). Wood believes there is still a lot of room for improvement for his dealerships’ social media presence. “We haven’t embraced it yet like we need to,” he said. “We’re probably going to do more contests and more things for people to opt in and have a reason to want to communicate with us.”
When he took a headcount of all the automotive and powersports websites used by his organization, Wood easily listed 39 different domain names and has no intention of stopping there.
One of Wood’s more recent websites is OEMParts123.com, added in September of 2010. The site allows consumers to order original equipment manufacturer parts and accessories for Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Lincoln, Mercury, Scion and Toyota.
This is not Wood’s first foray into selling parts and accessories online. He’s been selling Polaris parts and accessories online as part of the powersports side of the business for about five years, which shed light on the potential of selling automotive parts online. About a year-and-a-half ago he started with ToyotaParts123.com, HyundaiParts123.com and Scion parts123.com.
A big challenge for many dealers wanting to sell parts and accessories online, he said, is getting noticed. “The problem with most parts websites when you are a dealer is that they’re not search-friendly,” he noted. “It’s very expensive to buy AdWords, and your returns can be minimal selling parts online … [so] the challenge for anybody in that arena is to come up with a strategy to make their site search better organically.”
For that reason, he said, “My plan is to build sites that are search-friendly terms that feed OEMParts123.com, because [it’s] not search-friendly.” He went on to explain, “I’m not optimizing it because it does too many things. It sells accessories for all these different franchises, and to create a site that does everything isn’t very good, in my opinion. You have to have a site that specifically targets one keyword [or phrase] that generates the bulk of your traffic,” he said. ToyotaParts123.com, HyundaiParts123.com and ScionParts123.com – all previously standalone sites – now serve as search-friendly microsites “that feed to the mother ship, which is OEMParts123.com.”
Parts and accessories microsites are planned for all the franchises carried by Don Wood Automotive, and Wood has already purchased and is developing multiple domain names like LincolnParts123.com, ChevroletParts123.com and BuickParts123.com for that purpose. As of late October, Wood noted there was still some planning to do for the Ford and GM parts microsites. “We’re just in the infancy on that side. We could sell a GM part online right now, no problem. I just don’t have the digital real estate up yet.”
Although OEMParts123.com and its related microsites ultimately expand the digital footprint of the Don Wood organization, they are not labeled with the phrase, “Powered by Don Wood Automotive,” like most of the organization’s other websites. However, the dealership is referenced in the “About Us” section, and there’s a hard-to-miss link at the top of the home page to Don Wood Automotive’s customer review site. Wood said the parts sites are not search-optimized for the dealership name, the reason being that the focus of the parts sites “is less about local and more about global.” He explained, “Don Wood is a name people know locally but not nationally … I’m targeting somebody in [for example] San Antonio, Texas, who needs parts for their Toyota, not necessarily targeting somebody in Athens, Ohio.”
Efforts thus far have undoubtedly produced results. “[Online business] is about a third of the Hyundai parts sales right now,” he stated. He estimated that 25 percent of his Toyota parts and accessories sales are online, which has definitely been a boost for that store, which was previously dueled with a GM store eliminated by the manufacturer. “That was, I guess, one of the reasons I took more interest in selling parts online,” he noted.
He urged other dealers to be cautious, however, about jumping into online parts sales too quickly. “Having a website is only one part of the equation,” he warned, explaining that dealers need to have the manpower in place to handle the extra business. “I’ve gotten my nose bloodied many times in this online parts business,” he said, pointing out that a dealer needs to know how many phone calls his staff can handle and needs to understand the business of shipping parts all around the country. Right now, business from OEMParts123.com is handled by dealership staff already on hand. “I could ramp up a lot more traffic, but I’m not equipped to handle it at this point. I’m trying to keep it manageable by growing it slowly,” he explained. “I don’t want to lose money to sell more parts, so as our sales grow, I’ll add staff members.”
His other word of caution to dealers: expect a competitive field. “There are more dealers getting in it all the time, so it’s getting tougher,” he said. “I don’t know if the few will squeeze out the many … but for us it’s been working and it’s certainly been nice to grow our business by 25 percent.”
Wood noted that expanding and maintaining his business’ overall digital presence is a work-in-progress, and a time-consuming one at that. “It’s a journey, not a destination. And I still have to review schedules and sign paychecks and worry about used car inventory and all those other things,” he said, “so you do what you can when you can in the evening.” He hopes to have all the mircrosites for parts and accessories ready to go and all AdWords in place by March of 2011.
Vol. 7, Issue 12