In uncharted waters, the Indiana dealership is leaning heavily on its virtual presence to navigate it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Gregory Arroyo
This March marked Emily Spellman’s first year as director of digital marketing for Highland, Ind.-based Circle Buick GMC. She’s been a driving force in the 39-year-old dealership’s digital push, but she admits that nothing in her more than 10 years as a marketing professional prepared her for COVID-19.
“We’re all learning as we go,” she says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to focus on what I can control and zeroing in on what really matters, which is taking care of the community and our employees and translating that in our messaging in a way that connects with people.”
Circle Buick GMC’s showroom and service department remain open despite Gov. Eric Holcomb’s March 23 executive order directing all Hoosiers to stay home. Thanks to local officials, who personally requested that Circle remain open, dealerships operating in its Lake County market were deemed essential. Spellman’s challenge is to strike the right balance when it comes to the dealership’s messaging.
“You don’t want to encourage people to leave their home, but, at the same time, you need to show you’re available to people who need us,” she says. “People are still buying and servicing their cars.”
Spellman feels fortunate to work for a dealership that has taken several forward-thinking steps that are helping during this uncertain time, such as adopting DealerSocket’s full platform of solutions. They include the software provider’s CRM, RevenueRadar data-mining tool, and the company’s DealerFire website and PrecisePrice digital retail platforms.
For the three months ending on Jan. 16, RevenueRadar generated 33 store visits, 23 open appointments, and 21 sold units, while PrecisePrice created 40 new leads, 33 store visits, and 16 sold vehicles. Total gross on PrecisePrice deals was $684 higher than units sold via internet leads.
Spellman calls that snapshot conservative in terms of PrecisePrice’s true impact, noting a definite uptick in customer interactions with the tool. “People are sending us that info, which comes to the CRM. And we’re pretty proactive about setting those appointments,” she says.
“But really, it’s been a mixed bag in terms of the traffic we’re getting,” she adds. “I was looking over some of the data today, and we’re getting walk-ins, return customers … So, digital retailing is one piece of it. The big difference I’ve noticed is between our current DealerFire website and our previous site. We’re getting more leads overall.”
Stay the Course
Sales for the 130-unit-a-month dealership remained on pace with last year through the first two days of April, but Spellman predicts a slowdown for the month. For now, General Motors’ interest-free financing for 84 months with deferred payments for up to 120 days is what’s influencing buyers, who she believes are taking advantage in case their job situation changes.
“It’s definitely influencing people,” she says.
It’s why the dealership has adjusted a couple of in-house sales procedures to keep customers and employees safe and to abide by the state’s social distancing mandates. The dealership is also using the moment to collect supplies for first responders and the local St. Jude House domestic violence shelter.
“We’re trying to take advantage of the captive audience we have by sending a positive community message,” Spellman says. “People always remember the businesses that stood up to help, were positive and didn’t feed into the crisis mentality.”
As for the road ahead, Spellman’s advice is don’t panic. “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate,” she says. “The dealerships that will survive are the ones that have a cool head and a long-term strategy.”