Acquiring & Growing Dealerships
By Mike Newman, NuVinAir San Antonio, and NuVinAir Austin
Dealerships present an interesting opportunity for NuVinAir Franchisees. The revenue upside is material given each store is four customers/businesses – Service, Sales, F&I, and Parts – but the fact that decision-makers have all taken an immersion course on how not to respond to emails or phone calls (this is a guess based on my experience), they are tough to get into. This translates to a greater investment of time during the sales cycle, which translates to higher customer acquisition costs, which is a bad recipe for a business with a smaller initial deal size like ours.
And, in our territories, we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel – and we are fairly certain it’s not the headlight of a train coming at us. With good old-fashioned persistence and partnership, we’ve built a solid book of recurring revenue with our dealerships that represents ~80% of our overall revenue. This gives us needed diversity in our revenue mix, given rental is not the 800-pound gorilla in our territories like it is in other territories.
We won’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some insights we’ve gathered so far relative to acquiring new dealerships and growing the ones you have.
- Leverage existing relationships – We decided to find people in our market that we’re already connected into dealerships vs. hiring a slew of salespeople. Detailers, Recon Companies, Distributors, Odor Remediation Companies – there are tons of them when you look hard enough. The idea was to create a network of “salespeople” that would introduce us into a dealership for a commission on sales. This helped us keep our customer acquisition costs lower and avoid hiring and taking on the expense of a sales team. Plus, it gave us needed credibility when we walked in the door.
- Be persistent – Even though we rely heavily on our network of “salespeople” just mentioned, we do more than our fair share of good old-fashioned grinding and knocking on doors. We’ve learned you have to be respectful – for example, try not to drop in at month end – but being persistent while professional has brought us many dealerships.
- Go digital – We’ve used LinkedIn and Search to help acquire new customers (Lyft, Carvana, Wired Trucks, Arrow Trucks, to name a few) with great success and return on advertising spend. The beauty of digital, other than it is 2022 and all, is that it delivers forward-leaning leads further down the conversion funnel (at consideration vs. awareness), which means shorter sales cycles and lower customer acquisition costs, both critical success factors in our business. Tangential to digital lead gen for you, we have also found success in helping dealerships, and other retail customers drive traffic into their locations using Facebook, NextDoor, and other digital ad platforms. It helps us further differentiate ourselves as a partner vs. a vendor.
- Go high – It goes without saying, but when you can, go after decision-makers. When I bought the SA franchise, my first call was to an auto group owner, Rick Cavender, simply asking for his guidance on this new business I bought. To date, we have 80% of his dealerships on board.
- Go low – Even though we have seen success going high, we have also had success going low. Talk to and make friends with the Porters, the Recon team, the Detailers, etc. They are influencers that will help you sell up. Walk into the decision maker’s office hand in hand with them.
- Go Recon/Make Ready – Service Drives are in a tough spot right now and have been for some time. They are desperately short on labor and, given supply issues, are having a tough time getting parts. This means the business model of “turn and burn” as many vehicles as quickly as possible is hard for them right now. So, we decided to let that dust settle and go the Recon/Used Cars route. It has paid off, and we’ve found it is an easier sell than the Service Drive.
- Speak business, not products, most of the time – We are all seasoned business people, so you get it. We rarely talk about the products initially; we talk about the impact on the business, especially when we are going high. Going low, it depends on who we are speaking with. They most likely care more about the products than the business impact.
- Emphasize the simplicity and partnership – We emphasize how simple the treatments and implementation will be and present ourselves as a partner that handles the heavy lifting – training, marketing, op codes, etc. We’ve found that most dealerships are resource thin (and in many cases pretty inefficient), so the easier and less time-intensive we can make the rollout, the better.
- Spread like a virus – The idea is not new. A major initiative for us in 2022 is to grow inside existing accounts vs. acquire new ones. We track which departments we are in (Sales/Recon, Service, F&I) by account and are focused on checking every department box in each account.
- Bring food and drink – Not necessarily together, but they work!