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A New Look at Used Cars: part 1

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This is the introduction to a series of commentaries on Used Cars and it comes from a real-life experience that some might not even see as being in the same ball park as properly balancing inventory at a car dealership: going to the bakery.

Before I began my new fitness program, I shopped a local bakery popular for cakes, pies, muffins and a variety of sweet rolls –and it was always crowded. Some bought the whole cake or pie, some just a slice, others took a dozen of this or one of that and always, always someone would be browsing the bakery’s ‘day old’ section looking for a bargain. The delicious fresh-baked aromas had no effect as these people dug through the day-old, wrapped in wax paper baked goods, and if they didn’t see something they liked, they didn’t buy. I’m not talking about riff-raff, these shoppers included upscale professionals browsing for a better buy.

I believe this analogy applies at a dealership – you need to have the inventory balance to be ready for ALL KINDS of shoppers. They come looking for what they want, and that ‘want’ is 100% based on their personal preferences in a multitude of combinations: buy or lease new, shopping used but qualified for new, firm on price or payment range and don’t care about new or used, vow to never absorb new car depreciation or grateful just to find something to drive – long list and even crazier when in the shopping cycle.

When I drive on the lot for a dealership visit, one of the things I do is walk the inventory and assess it from a shopper’s viewpoint. The best presentation is chalk-line straight rows of new and used displayed to give the shopper easy access in fulfilling their preference: new, used, certified all grouped by model or marked with price. It is this balance of new and used that is going to give you the best chance of turning a shopper into a customer. With the latest statistics saying shoppers physically visit only 1.8 dealerships [down from 5+ only a few years ago], the first impression has even more importance.

I understand there are going to be times of ‘skinny’ as well as ‘overload’ in terms of inventory and both situations need to be treated with the same priority. Competition comes from every other dealer as well as on every corner that has a mom and pop operation. Online used car shopping continues to grow. Our Next Day Traffic goal for this Used Car series is to revisit what we know works, share what innovations we have seen, and hopefully give a renewed perspective to this critical area of operation. “Appealing through appearance” will be the next blog, followed by segments on price-point, acquiring cars through your service lane, and the importance of what time of year you’re stocking up your used inventory.

You know the percentages for new versus used sales – we’re not talking 90-10 but the 60-40 range and more often closer than that. In terms of profitability, the value of used sales is a game-changer at the bottom line. Used cars, you’ve got to have them because that shopper who was digging in the ‘day-old’ bin at the bakery, I’m pretty sure that’s what he drove home in…with his bargain bagel!

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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