Tuesday, September 19, 2006

THISS is a Must for Dealers

I've grown to love the automobile business not because of the huge profits or the lifestyle it supports, but because of the people I meet.

Just last week while in Seattle, I had the pleasure of once again running into a tremendously successful couple that I met last year while in the area. They own a dealership in the Pacific Northwest. Jim is the General Manager and his wife Millie heds the acounting department and also runs the service department. Strange, I know, but it is something that they have always done and it certainly works for them. For the past three years their son, young James, has been working in service and is about to take over the management of the department. That frees Millie up.

Jim claims he is going to transfer Millie into the Internet department- right now only one computer and a phone-however, that will change soon. I explained to the Harris' how I am able to spend so much time on the road. I As many of you who know me know, I have invested highly in my Internet deapertment and it has paid off. What was thought of as a gamble 7 years ago today is a sure win. Actually, its an "all-win." I use the Internet tools that allow me to sell most of my cars online and my customers enjoy the professionalism that we offer compared to other dealers who presume an email is a sufficient attempt at contacting a client.

If it seems like I am always on vacation, I am. That's the other reason I love the automobile business. Ever since the Internet has been teasing the cyberspace afficionados, I have dedicated most of my energies to learning the science that proved to be the foundation of strong, steady, profitable Internet sales.

It's no surprise that the dealership affords me a comfortable living. Today, almost 20% of all auto sales are done on the Internet. Think of the strides we have made over the past decade- the auto industry is changing at such a remarkably rapid pace that one thing is clear- unless you lead the pack you may not survive.

With that in mind, think about THISS. It's the latest product to be introduced to market by izmocars. The Hybrid Internet Sales System, (THISS), is a simple training program that guides Internet sales department employees on the complex prinicples of Internet sales. It's a marvelous system and works wonders with the other suite of izmo products that I use to keep my dealership running smoothly.

I have alleviated my once major problem- program deterioration through personal creativity.

When I was gone, all my systems went to hell. Now, I can monitor on the road, or in the next office. Plus, because the sales team is selling more they seldom stray from what the izmo trainers have taught them.

I suggested Millie take a look at THISS before she takes over the responsibilities of the Internet department. It will make her an instant star. In the next few days I'll also send you some info on it if you like.

Sorry I missed you at the most recent dealer dinner, maybe we can catch up next time.

Palmer Pruitt,
always on vacation

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sales Training Leads to Longer Vacations

I spent a delightful evening last weekend at Hands Across the Valley, the annual fundraising event for the needy in Napa Valley, California. Appropriately, the night glistened like a moonlit movie set as the Rubicon Estate Vineyards served as the perfect backdrop for the gala. Rubicon, for those non-wine aficionados, is home to Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola. It was a joy to see Francis greeting guests in his shorts, wine country shirt, and colorful pink socks.

Sharing a table with a wonderful couple from Ames, Iowa allowed me to do some interesting market research. It wasn’t a matter of happenstance that the conversation eventually turned to car sales. Even though I am always on vacation, I can't help myself when it comes to researching what, when, and how people are buying cars in today's rapidly changing world of car sales. I love the sites of Napa Valley. But the information I managed to collect from, Jack and Alice, was invaluable.

It seems that Jack wanted to buy a sports car with the retirement money he was getting from his 25 years of work at the Hormel Plant in Austin, Minnesota. He took to the web and began searching within a 250 mile radius of his home since Ames doesn’t have a lot of sports car dealers.

His requests for information made quite an impact on the salesepople of the heartland. According to Jack, he got a lot of calls, a lot of questions, and a lot of emails begging, if you will, for him to call the dealers back. Jack said that most of the emails he received had little to do with his needs for a sports car. The salespeople hadn’t done any research. They didn’t take the time to get any information. And, all in all, Jack said they were rather unprofessional. That's unfotunate since the Internet can make almost anyone appear professional if they follow the right program. However, it is very important to develop a marketing plan and stick to it. And, every Internet marketin plan must include the broadcast email.

Since its inception, the efficient use of the broadcast email has become a science. A study in common dialogue between consumer and salesperson. If strategically developed, your lead conversion program can easily increase sales so you too can be spend more time on vacation. I have been using izmocars for the past three years and frankly, their Rainmaker product is one of the best on the market. They have essentially developed my Internet Sales Department and have trained my staff on the science of lead conversion. And, isn’t that what its all about? Leads are just the beginning of the sales process.

At a recent dealer’s dinner the conversation turned to the subject of websites as it always does. It’s good to know that we are still brainstorming about developing the Internet as an wworthwhile venue to research cars. One thing I have learned- the consumer knows how to shop for a car on the Internet, but dealers need more training on Internet sales. Cyberspace is full of pretty websites that are packed with pretty pictures of good looking cars. But that’s not what sells ‘em.

People sell cars. And,it is a fact, trained people sell more cars. There's a lot of truth to THISS, but more on THISS later.

I am now off to Seattle to see a few friends. I will keep you posted on my dealer discoveries while on the road. Don’t dealers serve Bratwurst in Seattle at the parking lot barbecues on Saturdays? Or is that Wisconsin?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Attention to Detail Takes the Cake

Since my last post, I stumpled upon a delightful Parisian bakery while in France. The offering, authentic rose petal cupcakes, were worth the trip. I did send out a few postcards while there, but thanks to email, I can now share thoughts, photos of my travels and at the same time suggest tips on dealership management and sales growth through this blog. My seminar career is going well.

The cupcakes, however, were probably some of the best I've ever had. The rose petal frosting had julienned rose petals artistically layered between the moist vanilla cake and the velvety topping, offering just a simple taste of sweetness. It was interesting to observe the detail the baker went through to make sure each cake was pleasing.

Detail is what business is all about. I still make it a point to remind my salesmen at Palmer Pruitt Auto World that we must focus on the details of the business if we are going to succeed in becoming one of the most successful dealereships in the country.

The history of Palmer Pruitt Auto World speaks for itself. Once a little Pontiac dealership in Montana. Now virtually, one of the largest dealerships in a virtual world. And, that's what made Palmer Pruitt Auto World such a success.

I grabbed the Internet by the horns as though it were a Bull on the back forty. When dealers scoffed at the idea of selling cars online, I said "Wait just a second. I can do that." And, I did it.

I have learned through experience the Internet is more than just a pretty website. Just as you had to look for a great location for your dealership, you just can't park your website anywhere. Even in cyberspace, the theory of location, location, location holds true.

If you don't have a company seriously accelerating your website SEO, your website isn't worth the paper the contract was written on.

When I began my search for a web company I went local at first. And, my designer did a great job. But it took a company with experience in driving traffic that made the difference. That's when my results soared. I found a company like the cupcake lady- one that paid attention to details.

Izmocars is now my cyberspace management company. We've developed a great relationship. But more on this later. Now, I am off to look at the pictures of last weekend's travels to wine country.

I'll share a few photos with you in a day or so. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Palmer Pruitt,
Always on vacation

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Analyzing Your Showroom Floor

Let me make myself clear. I love the auto biz. But, there is a better way to automobile sales than just a conglomeration of desks, sales people waiting for ups and a bunch of sports pages cluttering the GM's office. Auto sales have become a science. It's evolved into charting a course. Developing a plan. And because I have mastered that plan, I am now, always on vacation.

Today, I am writing this from the harbor, relaxing, knowing that the Palmer Pruitt Auto World is cranking out sales. But it didn't start out that way.

When dad passed away and left me in charge of the dealership I will admit, now, some ten years later, that I didn't have a clue of what I was supposed to do. I had worked there during the summer months when not going to college, but I never really thought I would take over the dealership until I was old enough to drive a big Pontiac Sedan. But suddenly it happened to dad in one of those shouting match sales meetings he had every Monday morning.

He bought the farm, I got the dealership. Mom was my partner. I knew the first day I walked through the doors something had too change. I never wanted to go out like dad.

There sat Bob Johnson, a sixty-something guy who had been with Dad ever since the mayor cut the ribbon in front of the dealership decades earlier. Bob was big in Rotary Club. He sold most of his cars at the weekly service club meeting down at the Longhorn Diner. The rest of the week he would sit at his desk, smoke his cigarettes, read the paper, drink the coffee, eat the doughnuts, and tell the new salespeople to get to the front door as soon as a car drove into the lot. If anyone ever did get to Bob's desk, he would double crease the paper, blow the ashes off, and quickly toss the powder-sugared paper towel in his top desk drawer. It was a sight to see.

However, The Grand-PooBah of the showroom floor- Dick Shmekelman was the one employee who made me thankful that I majored in Business and Marketing.

Ol' Dick was the self appointed General Manager and didn't let anyone forget it. Stricken by dad's passing, not because of their closeness, but because Dick always considered himself a non-contributing partner, Shmekelman's rise to power in the showroom hierarchy was suddenly boosted by his self imposed authority on everything sales.

Gerald Ford was in office when Dick received his first "Employee of the Month" plaque. But that's when dealerships reported directly to Detroit. Dick was a pup back then. He kept that memento polished as though it were a star on Ike's epaulet. And, since he admired the general so much, he sort of acted like him. And if Bob had Rotary Club sales cornered, Dick was the sales person for the Lion Club in town. Both service club guys had a line of customers that the new guys- employed less than a decade- all envied. They wouldn't move out of their chairs unless an UP looked familiar. And, most of the deals the old guys made were finalized at the weekly service club meetings. Of course they got fined at the club for "doing businesss" but it was good marketing, or so they claimed. The fact that everyone in those clubs knew exactly how much cars were selling for never bothered these two guys, it damn near killed the biz.

Their customers only came to the dealership to enjoy the Saturday weenie roasts. I knew then that I had my hands full. I had to rearrange the showroom chain of command and at the same time look for other model lines that had become more popular. Ironically, I was situated in Billings and the population there wasn't chomping at the bit to buy new cars., they just enjoyed the hot dogs.

It took me some time to reorganize the dealership. But it was worth it. Now, I sell more cars than I ever could have imagined and I am always on vacation. I have mastered the science. Until Friday, be well.

Palmer Pruitt,
Always on Vacation

Monday, July 31, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Trip to Montana

I wasn’t that sure I liked the name Palmer Pruitt either. I dropped the Jr. after my father passed away. And, once that happened I got rid of a lot of other things too. I’ll get to that later.

I was brought up in a dealership during the “take home pay” era. My parents moved to Montana when I was a puppy. Dad said there was an “opportunity” there, and when he told my grandfather, my mom’s dad, that we were leaving Toledo and the Ford Dealership my gramps owned, the conversation stopped faster than a frozen tranny on a ’69 GTO. My dad handled the blasting from my grandfather pretty well. Gramps told him that the dealership was losing a general manager and on top of that he was kidnapping his daughter. Nobody laughed when gramps asked if we could have found a more desolate area to move to. He didn’t even know where Montana was. He had to get out the Rand Atlas. My grandmother was speechless and in tears when she realized what was happening.

From my earliest days I remember car talking at the dinner table. I was surrounded by it. While driving to Billings, the new home of Palmer Pruitt Pontiac, all I heard was my dad talk about the plans and dreams for his new dealership. My mom said “Yes, Palmer” so often I thought she was on cruise control. I had to man the grill and tie the balloons on the new Pontiacs every Saturday. That’s the word I got from the man in the front seat just as we approached Bismarck, North Dakota. Wow. That was his big marketing idea. I thought it was a winner back then. Cooking Hot Dogs and putting balloons on cars. My dad thought of that just after we rounded I-94 in St. Paul. And, I was the 11 year old who was going to be in charge of that. Cool, I thought.

But it didn’t stop with the hot dogs and balloons. I lived dealer-speak. I learned pump-outs, pump-ins, service contracts and service departments. I listened to my dad when he spoke about marketing and advertising. I learned when times were bad, after those big Montana snow storms, that the fear of loss is often greater than the hope for gain.

But it wasn’t until I lost my dad and inherited the dealership that I really had to analyze the direction Palmer Pruitt Pontiac was taking. I hadn’t had a vacation since I started grilling those hot dogs. Bob, our head salesman still dusted the framed Salesman of the Year, 1976 certificate he got from my dad 40 years ago. And any of the other sales people still had the green metal desks we bought from Billings Office Supply when we first came to town. Balloons, hot dogs, full page newspaper ads. I had seen it all. And, I still wondered how to increase sales, promote community good will and become a force in the world of auto dealerships. It may be time to remodel. I think I’ll decide while on vacation….