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Embracing the New Reality

We have been forced to rethink the entire car-buying process. So, how have dealers stayed profitable and competitive during this time? The answer lies with those dealers who have fully embraced the new reality.

How Paragon Finished #1 in the Nation

Since 2020, the automotive industry has changed for better or worse. Automotive companies, retailers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are now forced to rethink the entire car-buying process. Two years later, enterprises and consumers worldwide felt pandemic-induced changes firsthand — empty store shelves, back-ordered products, late deliveries and dwindled inventory. So, with this “new normal,” as we have all heard the state of the world being referred to as, how have automotive dealers stayed profitable and competitive during this time?

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The answer lies in the dealers who have fully embraced the new reality. 

click here to view the January 2022 issue

Consumer behavior and dealership operations have fundamentally changed for good. To survive and ensure profitability, dealers needed to adapt to the new reality quickly. The “reality” is digital adoption and technological advancement. This refers to the ability for consumers to access immediate information online about the dealership, vehicles in stock, service scheduling and more. It refers to consistent, relevant and personalized marketing through email, search, social and text campaigns. And most importantly, it relates to the ability to complete an entire transaction from start to finish, with pick-up and delivery, all without ever setting foot on a showroom floor. In return, this means adjusting dealers’ marketing campaigns and finding a way to create a frictionless customer experience.

Today, dealers that embrace change, technological advancements and a frictionless customer experience have excelled during these trying times. One dealer group that has fully adapted to this new reality is Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura, located in Queens, New York. Led by Vice President and General Manager Brian Benstock, the Paragon dealer group has seen immense success before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely thanks to their digital adoption. Up 506 units year-over-year, Paragon seems to shatter records despite the current market conditions.

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“This is a new reality we have to pay attention to,” says Benstock. “COVID has advanced digital advertising and marketing by five to 10 years. Anytime we have a systemic shift like this, where real big gaps open, dealers need to take real advantage of it.” 

About their strategy, Benstock says, “There is a three-step success formula by Robin Sharma. ‘With better awareness, you will see better choices, with better daily choices, you will see better daily results.’” For the Paragon teams, better results refer to growth. Whether that means growth in sales, gross profit or customer retention, the growth of the business is Benstock’s key performance indicator. 

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“There is no standing still in business,” Benstock says, “It’s like what Wayne Getzky always says, ‘I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where it is going.’ And I think we have adapted that as a business strategy at Paragon.”

Adapting to change and meeting the consumer’s needs are nothing new for Benstock. While the automotive market continues to shift, and dealers cut back on budget — particularly search — Benstock increases. “The online search for cars has never been better,”  Benstock says. “Dealers are cutting their search budget at the very moment when search interest is at its highest. My turn and earn rate is at 94.31%. Our next closest competitor in the country is nearly 50% behind us because we’ve earned more cars quickly.” 

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Any business, including the automotive sector, can benefit from digital technology enhancements, specifically digital retailing. Now more than ever, COVID has changed commerce and how consumers interact online and offline in many ways. Consumers today expect speed, relevance and personalized content no matter which medium they are shopping on.

“Think about Amazon,” says Benstock. “When I go to Amazon, if I have an account with them, it recognizes my account. It recognizes what I’ve done there in order to serve me better and faster. I think it’s time that automotive websites do the same thing.”

A significant component of Paragon’s success is Team Velocity’s all-inclusive customer experience platform, Apollo. For over a decade, Paragon has partnered with Team Velocity to increase sales, service and, more importantly, improve the entire customer journey. With Apollo, Paragon can access a range of essential and groundbreaking tools. Apollo provides the dealership’s website, customer relationship management, advertising and data collection altogether to make the team’s job more accessible and the customer’s experience completely enjoyable and frictionless. 

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For the Paragon dealer group, scaling down the number of vendors needed to complete transactions successfully was a non-negotiable. “My goal was to run a dealership that provided a truly frictionless transaction,” Benstock says, “and integrate my website with my DMS, to make it easier and seamless for my new and previous customers out there.” By utilizing Team Velocity’s fully integrated website product, Apollo Sites, Paragon saw website conversions skyrocket from 4% to 8%, resulting in 933 more sales leads year-over-year (196% increase). Apollo Sites is the industry’s first transactional website built for a frictionless customer experience that includes a suite of transactional features geared toward sales, service and trade-ins, like one-touch service scheduling with built-in pick-up and delivery and more. “We’re able to ease the speed that the transaction can be conducted in and to remove friction altogether,” explains Benstock.

Moving forward in 2022, Benstock’s advice for dealers is to simplify any way they can — starting with eliminating vendors, if possible. “I don’t want vendors, and that’s why I have a very unique situation with Team Velocity. Having multiple vendors only gets in the way of the customer experience,” says Benstock. 

A fully integrated platform that does the job previously done by multiple vendors, such as Apollo, is the perfect place to start in simplifying a dealership’s selling process. This integration is essential for modern retailing because it makes the customer experience more user-friendly, seamless and relevant to each consumer. “If you make it easier for people to do business, they’ll do more business with you,” Benstock says. In December 2021, Paragon finished #1 in the nation with over 615 new cars sold, the largest margin of victory to date. 

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“With clearer data, you get better awareness, with better awareness, you get better decisions and with better decisions, better outcomes,” says Benstock. In 2022, along with simplifying, he advises dealers to focus on the customer — specifically by providing a frictionless buying experience for them from one-stop shops, omnichannel vendors and integrated websites customized to each individual. 

“It’s time to reimagine,” Benstock says, “because the game and the players have changed — and opportunity is everywhere.” The automotive industry was destined to embrace the popular Amazon-style retailing sooner rather than later. However, the pandemic has forced dealerships and customers to get there faster than many expected. “One of the really good things to come out of a dark time,” says Benstock. As the pandemic continues to change the way the world spins, Team Velocity and their customer experience platform, Apollo, will be with dealers like Paragon, adapting to the times and making a difference in the customer experience.

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