Every truck has a name and is considered an individual at Gibson Truck World. Even the owner, Yves Belanger, has a special name. He is called the King of Trucks, and he has earned his title as the largest used truck dealer in Florida. His 14-acre dealership sells about 150 units per month using a variety of advertising strategies—including naming and giving personalities to trucks.
About 15 years ago, Belanger started selling vehicles in Canada and later moved to Florida to begin wholesaling vehicles in Orlando. Six months later, he moved to Longwood, Fla. and began selling 35 units per month from a small retail lot. He has worked his way up to maintaining his current $7-million facility in Sanford, Fla., which opened in 1995. The dealership has 65 employees, about half of whom work in service and parts. “It runs like a truck factory,” Belanger said. The dealership was recognized as a Top 50 AutoTrader.com Dealer in 2009 and 2010, and this year, it ranked 18th in the Auto Dealer Monthly Independent Retailer Awards.
Belanger, along with Marketing Director Angela Stockman, uses social media, radio, television, magazines, a website, billboards and good old word-of-mouth to advertise the dealership. Even with new media opportunities, Belanger said, “You can’t reinvent the wheel,” and credits 50 percent of his business to customers referred by word of mouth.
Belanger is proud to advertise his company, saying, “It’s beautiful the way we operate.” Advertising content usually promotes their one-year bumper-to-bumper warranty and 15-day return policy. “If you take a truck home and then you’re scared you’re going to scrape the sides of the drive-through, you can bring it right back,” he said. “Some dealers are afraid to do this, but I am the warranty company here. I take from my own pocket when something goes wrong.”
The dealership also promotes their one-year free maintenance policy and boasts the lowest prices around. If a customer can find the same vehicle at a better price, they will receive $1,000. “I tell customers to show me a truck that’s cheaper. I haven’t paid [a customer] the $1,000 in 10 years,” Belanger said. The message is consistent in their advertising—the lowest prices with great quality. “We don’t give away free trips to Hawaii, and we don’t have sales,” he said.
Stockman has worked at the dealership for two years and revolutionized the website and online presence, among other tasks. “The website wasn’t nearly what it is now. We redid it all. Before [I came to work here], they were still doing mostly print ads,” she said.
She works daily on new media and more traditional advertising efforts, and Belanger approves daily updates and changes to the dealership’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Posts from the dealership include information on unique vehicles on the lot, testimonials from new buyers and promotional information related to the dealership’s sponsored animal rescue group, Save Our Florida Pets. The dealership also builds rapport through general posts to the community, such as this post on Memorial Day weekend: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. To the brave men and women who have fought to keep our country free, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! We are proud to be American!”
Stockman said this community-building is “just normal practice for me.” She explained that when people become Facebook fans of a business, they don’t do it to be bombarded by product promotions. “We try to keep people engaged on the Facebook page and interested in what we’re saying. It’s not really [an] advertising tool for me, with the exception of [posting] really nice units; it’s more to keep people thinking about Gibson and keep in back of their mind.”
Comedian Larry the Cable Guy had a strong presence in the dealership’s advertising and on Facebook; he recently took part in a dealership-sponsored mud-racing event held at Bandit Mud Racing in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Stockman said, “It’s a fun community event, and we do similar, smaller events throughout the year.” Larry the Cable Guy did all of the dealership’s promotions in the late 1990s and was in town filming his television show “Only in America” when he decided to participate in the mud-racing on camera. Recently, when a customer bought a truck, he said he learned about the dealership by Larry the Cable Guy’s radio advertising.
The 50 percent of sales that are not referrals come from a combination of traditional and digital media. The dealership advertises on two area radio stations, one country music station and one rock music station. A local radio personality at the rock station hosts a talk show in the mornings in which he reviews trucks he drives from the dealership.
“He switches trucks out every couple weeks, and talks about the current monster truck he’s driving. He also talks about us throughout the show and records 60-second spots that change every two weeks,” Stockman said. “They discuss a lot of events. He has contests, and he brought a truck to the lot and listeners brought things to run over.”
Stockman said that the ads they play on the country music channel are much different in their phrasing. “It’s geared more toward country listeners. They have a sense of community and are very family-based,” she said. This translates into advertisements promoting safety and the best deals for your family.
In addition to radio ads, the dealership has an infomercial running on two area television stations. Stockman said, “A lot of people watched it. It played for nearly four years, and we just took it down and are in the process of making a new one.”
Print magazine and billboard advertising accounts for about 10 sales per month of the 150 units sold and takes about $10,000 of the $100,000 budget. “AutoTrader.com gets a huge part of the budget, and the rest is spread out between television, radio and Google’s pay-per-click campaign,” Stockman said. The print advertising efforts include magazines such as Commercial Truck, Trailer and Equipment Trader; Horse ‘N Tack; and Sport Horse. People who own horses need trucks, making those niche magazines a great place for the dealership to advertise.
Much of Stockman’s daily efforts go toward maintaining the dealership website, which was designed by Belanger. It remains successful with 90,000 visits per month. The dealership posts 30 or more photos per vehicle and video walk-arounds of each vehicle, which are also posted on YouTube.
Stockman estimated about 35 percent of her Web traffic is organic, 15 percent is direct (meaning people typed the site’s URL into the Web browser), 15 percent is pay-per-click, and 35 percent is referred from other sites such as AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, Facebook, and radio websites. All vehicles are also posted on Craigslist, which has led to 30 sales since January 2011.
Gibson Truck World has sold internationally to over 15 countries, including Sweden, France, Italy, the Virgin Islands, Greece, New Zealand, and more. Fifty units monthly are sent out-of-state and 20 of those are to customers who have never set foot in the dealership, thanks to a strong online presence.
"It's beautiful the way we operate ... If you take a truck home and then you're scared you're going to scrape the sides of the drive-through, you can bring it right back. Some dealers are afraid to do this, but I am the warranty company here."
The dealership’s website has more than the typical cookie-cutter dealer site. It does offer much of the same information on things like inventory, financing, directions, etc., but it is also meant to educate customers through a “Disaster Prevention” section. This includes truck-buying tips as well as a “Rejected Trucks” page showing pictures and explanations of vehicles that Belanger purchased at auction that were later rejected due to failing the required 135-point inspection and sent back to the auction.
This educational portion of the website is part of what he calls “drawing the line between right and wrong” to build trust with customers. It’s important to sell them quality vehicles. “The last thing I need is someone coming in on a busy Saturday and yelling ‘You never told me …’ in the showroom.” As the website states under each listed vehicle, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”
The website also incorporates a little personality in online vehicle descriptions. Vehicles are sometimes named (beyond their make and model), and their “personality traits” are identified. “My wife [named] one of our 50 monster trucks Berta,” Belanger said. Vehicle descriptions are sometimes written as if the vehicle is speaking to the customer. For example, the description of a 2008 Ford F350 Lariat Crew Cab Dually Powerstroke Diesel 4-by-4 read: “I am over $6,000 BELOW Blue Book value so you won't have to worry about money management problems with me, riding on six brand new tires we can bolster each others’ egos with my power moon roof and your razor-sharp driving maneuvers, my dual power heated leather seating will give you complete and utter comfort, together we can have many adventures …”
Of these unique descriptions, Stockman said, “It helps us stand out a little bit and we really treat every single truck as an individual … Considering we have over 50 monster trucks, you can’t help but get a little creative sometimes.”
To track advertising success, every truck buyer fills out a sheet that explains how they heard about the dealership. “Nine out of 10 have been on our website,” Belanger said. He said honesty is the best policy when creating advertising. “People are educated nowadays. You click on a button and go to another dealer … you can see easily if one is $2,000 more expensive. It’s the easiest thing in the world … You cannot fool people.”
Stockman said that having upper management involved in the advertising process is helpful. “Everyone is very involved in others’ positions.” She added, “We all have each other’s backs. It makes sense to have everyone go over each others’ work.” Belanger, who works seven days a week, approves every advertisement.
In the end, he said word-of-mouth advertising is the most productive, so much so that all his employees always have “a ton of business cards in their pockets.” Like the owner, they are “extremely proud” of the business.
Vol. 8, Issue 8