Used car dealer John Edelman has what some would call an unconventional definition of “empowerment.”
It was radical enough to shock many of the 300-plus dealer attendees at Kijiji Auto’s Dealer Talk conference, held early March in Toronto, anyway.
“‘Empowerment’ is really giving power away, by giving your customers all the information you have, via the internet,” explained Edelman during his presentation, ‘How I Sell 5,000 Cars a Year by Empowering My Staff, Customers, and Community.’
(5,000 cars is a lot—Edelman’s Haldimand Motors, in Cayuga, Ontario, about a half-hour south of Hamilton, is generally recognized as the largest used car dealership in the country.)
Keep the information you give them as current as possible, and give it to them with no strings attached; don’t even ask them for their email, Edelman says.
When Edelman noticed his words were causing some jaws to drop, he figured in some further explanation. “Give them all the information—they’re going to get it anyway.”
Giving and taking websites
Most consumers are aware of the various ways advertisers have devised to leverage the internet in their marketing – and remarketing – efforts.
Businesses, including car dealerships, can now use Google Ads and other services to track the clicking or browsing habits of visitors to their website, or can target ads based on the user’s demographic.
Fewer are aware the internet information exchange going on between Canadian car dealers and consumers works both ways.
“There are two different types of websites: giving websites and there are taking websites. Almost every car dealership’s website, 99 percent of them, are taking websites—take, take, take, take,” is how automotive advertising executive Paul Potratz put it during his Dealer Talk presentation.
“‘Put your email in here! Get a quick quote! Do this! Call me!’ A giving website, on the other hand, tells the person the answers to their questions—‘What’s APR? What’s a powertrain warranty?’”
Consumers – no surprise – prefer giving websites, tend to frequent these and, when shopping for things like new or used cars, do their homework there.
That explains in large part the massive success of Edelman’s website, whose traffic eclipses that of some major Canada automotive classifieds websites. Edelman’s website gives consumers everything – links to government fuel economy ratings; a list of their vehicle inventory, updated hourly; a no-haggle, bottom-line price – and has, as a result, turned into a national reference for shoppers.
“Seven or eight years ago, we had 200,000 unique visitors, which was a strong site in those days, and now we have a million and three,” says Edelman. “As a ratio, we’re not selling that many more cars today, so we understand [it’s not our shoppers, that] the site’s become more of a reference point.”
Consumers expect car dealers to give them more information nowadays, he says, and the amount of information they’ll ask for is only going to grow. Giving them what they’re looking for builds trust, which explains in large part the success of Edelman’s business as a whole.
The social media game
Social media is, of course, another space car dealers are using to build trust digitally. Both automakers and dealers have realized relationships started on Twitter or Facebook can be just as powerful as ones started in person, now.
“I’m new to the business, but I grew up on the internet, so coming into a dealership and [using social media in my work] was easy for me,” says Kevin Cabioc, a 21-year-old sales consultant with Planet Ford in Brampton, Ontario.
“Facebook, Twitter—I use them to my advantage by sharing with people, getting retweeted, engaging people. I want to be that guy that, when friends [or friends of friends] think of a car, they think of me first.” Cabioc says he’s even managed to turn some of that social media clout into sales.
“Some dealers think we’re being beaten up by the internet right now, but the internet is not the issue—it’s the people. Consumers are demanding more information than they’ve ever had before.”
– John Edelman, co-founder of Haldimand Motors
Edelman’s Halimand Motors came up with their information-sharing, relationship-building mandate well before social media came into play, though. His no-dicker pricing policy was put in place when he founded the business with his wife Arta in 1984, and his reputation as a trusted, like-Dad dealer flourished not long after.
“My understanding of the word ‘empowerment’ came as the years went along, and as the information era evolved,” he says. “But I did right from the very beginning give them everything I had, because people wanted to know the information, even when it came from a print media back in those days.”
“Some dealers think we’re being beaten up by the internet right now, but the internet is not the issue—it’s the people. The people are demanding more information than they’ve ever had before.”
He realizes his model is unique – Haldimand Motors operates out of their single location in Cayuga, with an average 500-plus cars on the lot at any time and a staff of just nine salespeople – and doesn’t encourage other dealers to try to replicate it.
However, he does admit to trying to start a movement to encourage dealers to be more transparent with their customers, to give them the information they’re going to get anyway. He’s not certain whether it will catch on.
“We’re in the car industry, and good [dealerships and websites] will pop up, and bad will pop up. It’s human nature in our society. I’d love to challenge my industry, and I’m in a unique place in that I have the credibility that I can challenge them,” he says.
“If you have a nucleus of people who want to learn, I think you can start a movement. Will it happen? You know as well as I do.”