A 'computer idiot' is here to learn

Kathy Jackson covers Asian automakers for Automotive News from Los Angeles.
Where is brown? As in the brown badges that identify dealers at the NADA convention. Didn't see many of them on the show floor. But the dealers who are here look focused and serious.

"I'm here to learn, particularly about all of this computerization," says Lancaster, Wis., dealer Tod Gillian. "Everything now is computerized. I'm 83, a computer idiot. But if you have a dealership that is not computerized, you can forget it. You'll be out of business."

Henry Ware, a dealer in Southaven, Miss., feels much the same way.

"I'm trying to learn more about how to use the Internet -- how to harvest more leads and deliver more vehicles from the leads. I'm also looking for a way to better manage my advertising dollars and improve my profits on fixed operations."

Gary Trimarco of Big Rapids, Mich., is looking to reduces costs on his dealer management system. He now uses ADP, which he says is too expensive.

"ADP and Reynolds and Reynolds continue to dominate the business, but there are some good, smaller companies cropping up. With some of these smaller companies, you can save thousands each month and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a five-year period."

John Giamalvo, director of dealer initiatives at edmunds.com, says only the Internet strong dealers will survive. But he also warns that increased use of online ratings and reviews of dealerships, like you see for hotels and other services, is the next step in separating the good from the bad operators.

"We're getting more requests for reviews than we have people writing them," Giamalvo says of Edmunds' online dealer rating section. "I think future sales will hinge on ratings and reviews." He says the data show that 75 percent of online customers are reading reviews and 25 percent are changing where they will buy if the dealership gets a bad review.