If one thing is constant in the business of selling cars, it is change. Many will say we still sell cars the way we did in the last century but other than the customer driving away at the conclusion of the sale, they would be wrong. Dealers who are struggling in today’s market have not embraced change to overcome issues with regulation, pockets of the economy that are lagging, consumer expectations and — let’s not forget — technology. Those who have adapted and changed? Well, their numbers speak for themselves.
Like many dealerships, Deskins Motors in Pikeville, Kentucky found themselves in a challenging position they had no hand in creating. They not only found a way to not only survive, however, but also thrive and set record numbers. Southeastern Kentucky was once economically prosperous and referred to as the “Coal Capital of America,” where literally tons of coal were mined and shipped around the world daily. Over time, though, the double whammy of challenges from cheap overseas competition made it difficult to compete in the world market while being hit hard at home by American regulation limiting coal use. Coal was the major source of well-paying jobs in this part of the state, where some miners with experience earned close to a six-figure income. These jobs seemed to disappear overnight, leaving generations of coal mining families out of work.
The city of Pikeville — the county seat of Pike County, Kentucky — saw unemployment skyrocket and its economy come to a screeching halt. As the people of Pikeville suffered due to unemployment and under employment, so did the area businesses, and the automotive industry was no exception. In fact, some might say the stores in this area were some of the hardest hit in the country. At a time when 12.5 percent of the roughly 60,000 Pike county residents were not working, those who were employed earned less than 75 percent of the national average. At the same time, the banks were also tightening lending rules.
This created the perfect storm for Deskins Motors, selling Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM in a suffering small town in coal country. Jason Deskins was running the store and knew that if they did not make changes to how they were doing business, the hard times the community was experiencing would have drastic effects on the dealership, its employees and, in turn, the Deskins family’s livelihood, as this was a family-owned dealership that had been a cornerstone of the community for 40 years.
Deskins knew his inventory, marketing and processes needed to change to keep up with the new reality he found himself experiencing. To bridge the revenue gap until he could implement these changes, he decided to give staffed event sales a shot. His goal was to move some of his aging units to make room for the low-cost, gas-efficient vehicles he now needed to carry and inject some much-needed revenue into the dealership’s books. “We tried to do these sales with several companies in prior years and it just didn’t work. In fact, it was a disaster,” Deskins said. “We had unprofessional teams come in and make our customers angry, hurt our reputation and take the wind from our team’s sails. Finally, after much trial and error, we found a good partner in The Best Direct Group. Latif Qadri and his team were a breath of fresh air. They came in and not only sold cars but trained our staff to do the same between sales. We increased our CSI scores, and our profits increased to record numbers. Everyone in the dealership benefited.
“It was a true no-risk arrangement,” Deskins said. “Latif is a real partner. His program is unlike any other programs out there — the true definition of putting your money where your mouth is. He charged us nothing upfront. He paid for all the direct mail and other marketing. We were in it together. He was a partner, not a vendor. Everyone at our dealership benefited from world-class sales and customer service training.”
Deskins Motors started doing event sales every other month to continue to move the needle and to get an edge on the local competition. Uplifted by the excitement and income from these events, the home sales team continued to sell more and more between the events. “The Best Direct Group brought new technology and marketing tactics to Pikeville when they came to do sales with us,” Deskins said. “They leveraged big data and advanced analytics to identify the prospects who were in the market. They would then invite people in with an array of different marketing tools; a strong direct mail piece, a live call center that would make appointment setting calls, email blasts to the mail list, geo-fencing the competition and sending them our sales message and ringless voicemail to confirm appointments and send reminders. It was incredible the number of car buyers who would show up and how many we were able to convert into sales.”
The right messaging — including the right mail piece and electronic messaging — done right is a game changer for any dealership. Properly marrying the right offers and marketing plan with the right location is the key. In addition to geo-targeting all the competing dealerships, Deskins Motors learned to geo-target places like Walmart and offer a $5 Walmart gift card to entice the public to swing by and check out the store. Despite the economy and unemployment level, the right marketing mix found ample car buyers in the Pikeville area.
The staff at Deskins Motors learned which little things made a big difference and started doing them daily. Deskins had sought to find an effective staffed event sales company and instead found a partner who helped him to identify and source the right vehicles and implement a new inventory policy. The right partner/vendor will sell, teach and leave the dealer with much more than they paid for; the dealership’s staff gains and retains the knowledge. The marketing that made the sales so effective was used by Deskins Motors to keep buyers coming in to the store throughout the month. This led to great numbers month after month and year after year. When the family sold the store, they were able to parlay this success into a very favorable sale of the dealership.
Dealers wanting to make staffed event sales a part of their ongoing efforts, or even a periodic way to move the needle, need to do their research. This part of the retail auto business has a colorful past filled with both giant successes and nightmare stories of the Jerry Springer variety. Deskins Motors needed a partner to turn a bad economic situation into a positive one for the dealership. This is one example of a small-town dealership needing help, but small dealers aren’t the only ones who need help. This type of approach with the right partner will work for dealerships of any size, from a single store in small-town Kentucky to many stores owned by a mega group on the Automotive News top 150 list.
Deskins Motors, with the right vision and the assistance of the right partner, created a bespoke marketing plan to fit the area, manufacturer and the goals of their dealership. No cookie-cutter, predetermined “one-size-fits-all” plan would have worked. Deskins Motors found the partner they needed to get the boost necessary to sell the dealership with extremely favorable terms in a down economy.
When you look for a company to partner within any facet of your dealership’s business, remember that trust is the most important thing. If you do not feel that person across the table from you has your dealership’s best interest at heart, get up.
Look for partners to help your dealership grow. For a free copy of the “Best Direct Group’s Staffed Event Best Practices Guide,” please email the address below.
For more information about Deskins Motors or The Best Direct Group, contact Latif Qadri on his cell phone at 630.347.7212, the office at 407.730.6569, or email him at [email protected]