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Growing In A Flat Market

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JONES HONDA BLOWS PAST NEW AND USED AVERAGES IN THEIR MARKET. SALES UP 22.5% YOY WITH INCREASES MARKETING PRESENCE

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Jones Honda, part of the Jones Family of Dealerships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has a great reputation for retaining customers and providing outstanding sales and service experiences. What the dealership lacked, however, were the tools and marketing strategies needed to get those customer onto the lot in the first place.

“Once customers come and see our facility and meet our people, we have a high conversion rate,” said Kris Jones, General Manager of Jones Honda. “Typically, if they’re coming, we’ll close them. Just this past weekend, we had a customer from Maryland who came in because they love our store. They’ve bought three cars from us over the last 10 years. They literally passed two major Honda stores to get here. We have a loyal customer base, even by Honda’s standards, and they measure everything.”

With a loyal active customer base and excellent retention, the question became; “How do we grow and get new customers walking through our doors who have never heard of Jones Honda?” With all economic indicators pointing towards a slowing market, this was a question Jones knew he needed to answer.

HONDA PIONEERS

One of the oldest Honda dealerships in the country, Jones Honda truly knows their customers and what their customers want. “We started off in 1960 as a standalone Pontiac dealer,” Jones said. “We were a Pontiac dealer until 1971. My grandfather, Jim Jones, had an opportunity to expand and add a new franchise, and the two that were available were Subaru and Honda.”

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Deciding which franchise to pursue was a major decision, but Jim Jones found his answer from an unlikely source: dirt bikes. “My father, Steve Jones, always had Honda dirt bikes, and they didn’t require any maintenance,” Jones said. “You just rode them into the ground and they always started and ran well. My grandfather said, ‘Geez. If they build a car half as well as they do a motorcycle, we’re going to be in good shape with Honda.’ That’s what pushed my grandfather to select the Honda franchise over Subaru.”

In hindsight, the decision was the right one for the company. At the time, however, the future was cloudy when the products weren’t meeting the dealership’s immediate expectations. “If you remember, in ‘71, Honda’s quality was not anywhere near where it is today, so there was a bit of a struggle for a few years,” Jones said. “My grandfather believed in the product, though, and Honda quickly started producing great, reliable vehicles, and it’s been a wonderful franchise to have.”

From there, the dealership expanded, opening a GMC franchise in 1984, Acura in 1990 and Buick in 1999.

TOOLS AND TRAINING

Lancaster County isn’t a large metropolitan area, but there is still stiff competition when it comes to where customers decide to buy a car. Besides the many other franchises around Jones Honda, there are three other large Honda stores within a 40-minute drive, and still more competition in nearby Maryland and Delaware. To hold their own against their rivals, Jones Honda has recently remodeled its store into a state-of-the-art facility. Jones knows, however, that the true value of a dealership is with its staff. Because of this, the company focuses on training and providing a culture that supports staff longevity to enhance customer service and satisfaction.

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Part of a winning customer service strategy is treating customers as people, and not simply as sales opportunities. “We’re not a super pushy store,” Jones said. “We’re not going to send five closers out there to try to close the deal today. A lot of stores have that, ‘You’ve got to buy it now’ kind of mentality. We talk to the consumer, and we get their agenda. We see what they’re looking to accomplish today, and then we tailor our process around that. It works well for us. Do we want to close a car deal? Of course. We’ll push — but only so far. People appreciate that and we have a lot of customers who come from all over to buy a car from us.”

That philosophy is also followed in the dealership’s online and follow-up processes. “Each store in our group has its own Internet team that responds to leads,” Jones said. “Our method isn’t to shoot somebody the best price and hope they come in. It’s a consistent follow-up program that gives the customers what they’re looking for.”

Training is also a key factor in Jones Honda’s processes. The dealership has contracted with David Lewis and Associates to provide new hires in their group with a five-day sales process training. “It takes our new employees from start to finish, so it starts on a Monday and by Friday, they’re done,” Jones said. “Saturday, they can come in and take a prospect through the processes up until the negotiation part. In the first week, they don’t spend lot of time going over our negotiation strategy only because each store does it a little different. Once they get through the initial training, there are various courses covering closing, objection handling and more. It’s nice because the training facility is only an hour away for us.” Advanced classes and refresher courses are also provided for experienced staff members to keep the sales team sharp and motivated.

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MAKING MARKETING MATTER

While his store had great people and processes in place, Jones wasn’t liking what he was seeing from a marketing perspective. To get to the next level, he realized he needed to make some changes — a step Jones Honda didn’t take lightly. “We were with our last advertising company for around 15 years, and were with the one before that for about 20 years,” Jones said. “We’re not typically a ‘let’s try the latest, greatest thing and shoot from the hip’ kind of dealership.”

Change, however, was necessary. “We had hit a wall with our last agency,” Jones said. “They were a national firm located states away, and we would see them once a year, or maybe twice, if we were lucky. There was a big disconnect between what we were trying to accomplish and what they were trying to accomplish. We were never on the same page.”

Jones knew he wanted a marketing company much more responsive to his dealership’s needs, a company that his dealership could stick with for the long term who truly understood the car business. After searching for a company that would meet his needs, Jones and his team selected Team Velocity Marketing as the right agency for the job. “We were looking for a long-term solution that could move the needle,” he said. “We got away from our last ad company and went 100 percent with Team Velocity. They handle every aspect of our marketing and advertising. From SEO and SEM, to direct mail and equity mining with email. They even produce all our traditional TV and radio spots — everything. And we’ve seen a tremendous uptick. It’s been worth the investment.

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Because they now have monthly meetings and weekly reports, Jones Honda can adjust much quicker to market forces and consumer behavior. “With Team Velocity Marketing, we know what’s working and what’s not working. If we see that a mail piece or email blast is killing it, we can tweak that for the next month and run it again. If something is underperforming, we can take another look and see if it can be made better or if we need to try something else. It’s a much more rapid process, and they’re much quicker to react and move forward.”

REALIZING RESULTS

A major benefit of having a single marketing agency dedicated to the store is the ability to execute a centralized, all-encompassing marketing plan from start to finish. Why? Because it helps communication within the store, giving customers a better experience. “Before, with our previous advertising company, we would advertise, say, a Civic or Accord lease special,” Jones said. “Customers would come in asking about that special and nobody here — management or sales staff — knew what it was. The agency just made up an offer and never got our team on the same page”

Jones knew that had to change. “The way it works now, with Team Velocity, is that everybody knows what our message is,” Jones said. “Sales, Service, F&I — the whole store knows what we’re trying to accomplish. Now, when an ad brings a customer in, we know what the ad offered, what the payments were, and we can jump right into it with them. It’s that kind of across-the-board communication between all our departments that’s made a huge difference.”

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Jones said his service department has seen the greatest results from the new strategies. “Obviously, sales has been doing well, but our service department has grown a ton with Team Velocity’s mail pieces,” he said. “We have a three-tiered approach. We have our active customers, our lost customers and our conquests. Team Velocity has a unique way to go after each of those groups and the results are incredible.”

The new marketing company also helped Jones Honda learn about their market — and turned up some surprising facts. “We have more than 22,000 thousand Honda customers who are in our direct market,” Jones said. “We had no idea that number was so high. I would’ve guessed it to be half that.”

Once the market was better defined, marketing strategies were put into place to take advantage of the information. “Team Velocity’s approach is to send out highly personalized mail pieces to bring those customers in,” Jones said. “We’re seeing great success with these customers who have never been to our store. We’ve also been having a lot of success with customers who live in our market who bought from another dealer — we’ve been able to bring them in and get them to use our service department.”

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The increase in visibility and staff coordination has directly increased Jones Honda’s sales figures and the dealership’s bottom line. “Year over year, from 2016 to 2017, we’re up 22.5 percent in sales, and 115 percent in certified pre-owned,” Jones said. “To give you some perspective, in our district, Honda is up only 12 percent in new car sales and 17 percent in certified pre-owned for that same period. Team Velocity Marketing’s program is a winner and has had a huge impact on our overall growth.”

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