This week, independent dealers across the U.S. are coming together in Las Vegas to share new ideas and learn best practices at the annual NIADA Convention and Expo. In celebration of NIADA, the DealerADvantage team sat down with three Cars.com representatives who work primarily with independent dealerships to share their digital marketing tips. Here’s the advice our own John Morris, Kim Smith and Joe Bousquet shared.

Cars.com NIADA roudtable
Consultants John Morris, Kim Smith and Joe Bousquet

How can independent dealers stand out against bigger franchise dealers in their market? 

JB: At the end of the day it’s all about trust. In every market I’ve worked with, there’s always a big dealership that tries to run the show. The fact of the matter is that “John Smith” from three towns over doesn’t necessarily know about the big family store. You can stand out by taking advantage of tools like Dealer Reviews so that every customer that walks through your door shares their experience to help you stand out.

Dealers on Cars.com are also on a level playing field. Say a car shopper is looking for a late model Chevrolet Malibu under $12k, they’re going to get results based on what they’re searching for. It doesn’t matter if you’re a franchise dealer, an independent dealer or a private seller, if you’re inventory meets the shopper’s criteria, you’re going to show up on top.

JM: I try to show that dealers are putting themselves at a disadvantage in competition against larger franchise stores by not having inventory on automotive marketplace sites. It’s important to know that we give independent dealers the same tools as franchise dealers, such as the ability to post 32 photos, include a video and showcase Dealer Reviews. We let the customer decide where they want to buy their vehicle.

What tips would you give independent dealers for merchandising their inventory on Cars.com?

JB: Cars.com is kind of a like an online dating site. If you’re trying to find a date for Friday night and you see 10 listings for people that fit your criteria, but seven of them don’t have a photo, you’re going to bypass those options, even if they’re a perfect match. The more photos the better because they influence emotions and buying decisions. They can make the difference between customers going to dealer A vs. dealer B.

There’re also a lot of pricing strategies out in the market today. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some dealers still try to price inventory 20% higher than market rate to see if “a fish will bite.” The reality is that those dealers are going to sit on cars longer because car buyers have a better understanding of market prices today. But if dealers price according to the market, they’ll hold the inventory less time and have a higher turn rate.

You can also choose not to list a price and try to have people call you, but since other dealerships know they need to price their cars, it leaves dealers that don’t price at a disadvantage. Like photos, if an ad doesn’t have a price, why should the average customer spend time looking at it?

KS: From a process standpoint, I typically encourage the dealers I work with to look at pricing first because it can affect the way listings show up in search. I’ll search for inventory that they have on their lot and show how not including a price can give competitors a leg up — a car that isn’t priced ends up at the bottom of search results.

JM: Process is huge. Once you start merchandising inventory consistently, it becomes repetition and gets easier and easier. Dealers can do it during their downtime, when they’re home or not busy on the lot.

What are the benefits of online automotive marketplace sites, like Cars.com, for independent car dealers?

KS: Sites like Cars.com can bring customers who don’t know about you from word of mouth – shoppers who haven’t heard about you from a family member or driven by your lot. They bring in customers the dealership may not even have known existed.

JM: I think the biggest benefit for dealers is the ability to reach shoppers outside of their immediate area. Sites like Cars.com help reach customers that are 20-30 miles away, or farther, that may be in-between towns.

JB: To piggy back on what these guys are saying, a lot of times independent dealers have to take a hard look at the forms of advertising they use. The benefit I see for an independent is that when you put your inventory on our site, you’re putting it in front of a 100% car buying audience.

I’ve asked some of our customers that fish, “Where’s the best fishing hole?” My guys would always say, “Lake Pontchartrain.” Equating that to Cars.com’s marketplace, it’s the best “fishing hole” you could ever go to because the only reason people go to Cars.com is because they need to buy or service a car.

Be sure to stop by booth #512 at NIADA this week to learn how Cars.com can help reach local shoppers and grow your business.

Have a question for Kim, John or Joe? Send them an email by clicking their name or leave them a message in the comments below!

Related:

How to write effective seller’s notes using the M.A.R.K. strategy

Text your way to better show rates

NIADA Tips for Success – Part 2