ORLANDO -- Ally Financial has rolled out a program nationwide to help dealers attract showroom traffic.
"The business opportunity that we saw was that dealers told us they have great new products nobody knows about," Andrea Riley, Ally's chief marketing officer for global automotive services, said here this month at the American Financial Services Association Vehicle Finance Conference.
Working with a local dealership, Ally sets up a vehicle display at a neighborhood "hot spot." For instance, Ally has held events at Starbucks locations, grocery stores and home-improvement stores. Ally refers to the program as hot spots or intercepts.
Consumers can get a product presentation and fill out a survey. They can also ask to be contacted by the dealership or sign up for a test drive at the dealership, Riley said.
The offers vary, but consumers may get some small reward at the display site, such as a $5 Starbucks card or something similar, and a bigger reward, such as a $50 gasoline card, if they come to the dealership and take a test drive. Ally reimburses the dealership for the $50 card if the customer makes a purchase and finances with Ally, the company said.
3,000 test drives
Riley said the program has a couple of unusual aspects. First, it's the auto lender's own program, not a manufacturer program. Second, it's not exclusive to any one manufacturer.
Riley said Ally has put on programs for dealers of both its biggest customers, General Motors and Chrysler Group.
She said a pilot program started in March 2012 with four locations. By year end, Ally had put on displays in 13 major metropolitan areas, including Houston, Detroit, Atlanta and Los Angeles, she said.
Out of 18,000 documented consumer interactions at those events, the program has generated more than 3,000 test drives, she said. She said Ally is still figuring out how many consumers who signed up for test drives via the program later purchased a vehicle.
Riley: One of the lessons learned after several events was to add local radio spots to increase traffic at the event.
"It's a fairly substantial investment," Riley said. "We've had great dealer feedback." One of the lessons learned after several events was to add local radio spots to increase traffic at the event, she said.
Mike Somers, general manager at Christenson Chevrolet in Highland, Ind., near Chicago, said his dealership participated in an Ally event in December in a parking lot adjoining a nearby Menards home improvement store.
Somers says the event has generated "a couple" of sales so far. He said foot traffic since the event has been "better than it would have been if I hadn't done it." The dealership's cost was limited to providing Chevrolet Equinox and Malibu models to put on display and about $1,800 for gift cards, he said. Overall, it was worthwhile, he said.
"The crew they sent out was very professional and knowledgeable," he said. "It was Christmas time, and there's a lot of traffic down there. Any time you can engage customers someplace other than the dealership, that's a good thing."
Matt Saxe, the dealer principal at Matt Saxe Chevrolet-Buick in Belle Plaine, Minn., gave gives high marks to an Ally event outside a nearby grocery store in November. He says "four or five" people came in for test drives.
"Will we sell to some of those people in the future? Absolutely," he says. "If I had the opportunity, I would do something like this every month or at least every quarter. You don't see any other floorplan provider doing this. It's a good way to build brand awareness."