July 24, 2006 – Web presence, direct mailings start to pay off

The Alabama dealership involved in a year-long project to modernize its business is seeing some positive signs.
Employees at S&W, the Jasper, Ala., dealership, have noticed increased calls and sales as a result of a new Web site and a new direct mail program.
ARI, one of the companies involved in “Turning Technology into Sales and Profit,” created S&W’s new Web site, www.sandwpower.com, which debuted in June. The site features the three generations of Wilsons — Jim Sr., Jim Jr. and son Whit — that own S&W as well as the dealership’s vehicles and products.
ARI also developed a series of direct mailers, which focused on technical service, accessories, credit support and power generators. Discount accessory offers were mailed out in a 75-mile radius of Jasper and prospects in a 100-mile radius received mailings regarding deals on power generators.
“This week, we started to get calls from people in southern Alabama, over 100 miles away, looking to buy power generators from us,” said Whit Wilson. “Normally, we don’t get a call from generator prospects until after a storm hits. But the MailSmart cards went out before the storms and they’re starting to attract attention.”
Wilson said a key consumer driver has been the direct mailer’s promise of free shipping.
“I’ve also seen a difference in the flow of e-mails from prospects and customers, after our new WebsiteSmart went live,” said S&W office manager Rachel Wilhite. “We’re getting a flow of e-mail messages from people in Walker County (where the dealership is located) and from prospects hundreds of miles away, asking about whole good products, even parts and oil, to see if they’re in-stock.
“And we’re getting orders off Web site visitors, most recently from a customer as far away as California.”
Wilhite and Whit Wilson also said they are looking forward to new technology that will change the dealership’s F&I practices.
Later this month, a computer center designed for F&I purposes is scheduled to be installed at S&W. The system will be set up by Motorcycle Management Consulting Services Inc (MMCS). a California-based company, and be run by Dealers Finance Source, a Texas firm.
Consumers will be asked to sit down at the computer station and fill out an application online. If the consumer’s credit checks out, they will be then be given a menu of F&I choices.
“Not only will the kiosk help us process loan applications faster, it should help us reduce the turndown rate,” said Wilhite.
Julia McCarthy, president of MMCS, said she can’t guarantee the new F&I service will decrease the turndown rate, a percentage that’s dictated largely by a consumer’s credit history.
“The true benefit is that we help them build an F&I department that they don’t have now so they generate revenue through F&I sales and they then enjoy the customers coming back into their service department because they bought a service contract and those types of things,” McCarthy said.
That’s not to say that S&W’s turndown rate — about 60 percent currently — may not decrease.
McCarthy said she’s working to introduce three new lenders to S&W. “The chances are,” she said, “that if (S&W) chooses to do business with those lenders, that, yes, we can get more vehicles bought for them.”
Plus, the new F&I service could help S&W generate more sales with its existing lenders.
“We tend to work loans more then a lot of dealers that don’t have a F&I department,” McCarthy said. “For instance, some dealers don’t even run their own credit report. So when they get a turndown from a lender, they have no idea why. They don’t know if the person is really credit worthy and just accidentally put the wrong Social Security Number on the form and that’s why it was turned down, or if the person has bad credit.”
That won’t be the case once the Dealers Finance Source computer center is launched.

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