Hook, Sales & Sinker: Selling in tough times

By Geoff Williams

Attracting car buyers has never been more difficult, or more important. This dynamic has placed an increased emphasis on marketing, as dealers try to achieve higher returns on
shrinking budgets.

Regardless of the economic climate, the key to marketing cars remains constant. As Kevin Gallagher, who owns Utah Auto Sales in Lindon, Utah, says, “I call it the BSD factor. You have to give your customers Benefits, you have to have a little bit of Sizzle, and you have to be Different. If you don’t have the BSD factor, you’re not going to attract people.”

Marketing strategies don’t have to be all three things at once, but they better have at least one of these attributes. Some examples:

Look after your current customers

According to OneCommand.com, a marketing firm for auto dealerships, 89 percent of buyers will never return to your parking lot—not even for maintenance. Of those remaining 11 percent, 72 percent will eventually repurchase a car from that same dealership. The message: stay in touch. Whether the economy is up or down, failure to market to your existing customers is a mistake.

Be a resource

To your own customers, absolutely, but even to the general public, if possible. Eight years ago, Gallagher started publishing “The Used Car Buying Guide,” a 30-page magazine with articles and information about beating depreciation. He has printed 10,000 copies over the years, occasionally modifying the text, and he has built relationships with credit unions around the state, offering educational seminars on the premises to the institution’s customers.

Consider newer ways to get out your message

Six months ago, Mike Sage, owner of University City Nissan in Los Angeles, gravitated to Gumiyo, a specialist in automotive mobile marketing. Gumiyo, whose prices ranges from zero to approximately $150 to $200 per month, places a dealership’s inventory, vehicle photos and condition reports on mobile phone screens. Photos on a mobile phone aren’t for every dealership. “If we were another company, aimed at Generation X and Y, I would say that would be a focus that we would need to concentrate on,” says Paul Nogrady, new car sales manager at Porsche of The Main Line in Newtown Square, Penn.

Partner with organizations to attract new customers

Dan Quirk is the owner of eight dealerships in Massachusetts and recently set up a partnership with a nonprofit called Moore Center Services, which helps people with developmental disabilities. Quirk paid for a 1950s-style diner to be built on the premises of his Quirk Chevrolet Buick dealership. Moore Center Services staffs the eatery and keeps the profits.

Remember your community

Gallagher’s dealership has an annual complimentary barbecue that feeds approximately 1,500 people. It’s always a success because he joins forces with a local parade, which has a built-in crowd that is grateful for the food. “People need some benefit when they’re going to do business with you,” says Gallagher. “You’ve got to change with the times and give people something that they want or need.”

As guerrilla marketing guru Orvel Ray Wilson once said, “Customers buy for their reasons, not yours.”

Of course, that’s how it has always been, which should be comforting. The times and technology may be frequently changing, but the actual marketing in many ways doesn’t. “History repeats itself,” says Nogrady of Porsche of the Mainline in Newtown Sq., Pa. “When it comes to marketing a car dealership, you often have to stick to the tried-and-true to bring in customers. It’s how you handle those tried-and-true events, and where you’re spending your money in general — that’s what’s important.”

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