Sonic's big changes to begin at Toyota store in Charlotte

Sonic's big changes to begin in N.C.

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Sonic Automotive Inc.'s iPad-enabled bid to reduce transaction time and transform customers' car-buying experiences kicks off in July at the dealership group's Town and Country Toyota store in Charlotte, N.C.

Sonic will expand the approach, called One Sonic-One Experience, to its four other stores in the Charlotte market between September and December. Sonic hopes to begin adding other markets next year.

"We're going to eliminate the pain points the consumer has been complaining about in our industry for a long time," said Jeff Dyke, Sonic's executive vice president of operations.

Those pain points include the amount of time it takes to buy a car, the number of people with whom a customer has to talk and back-and-forth negotiations, Dyke said.

As part of the initiative, a sales representative will use an iPad to handle a vehicle sale from beginning to end, a process expected to take 45 minutes or less once a vehicle is selected. The approach will reduce transaction times, improve customer satisfaction, lower employee turnover and increase overall sales, Sonic executives say.

Sonic ranks No. 3 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 132,136 new vehicles in 2012.

While Sonic's goal had been to spread the approach to the company's 105 stores by the end of 2015, the rollout likely will continue into 2016, Dyke said.

"It just depends on how the cadence works and how all the applications work and how the training goes and how well it's accepted in the first market," he said.

A marketing campaign showcasing the changes will debut in Charlotte at the end of 2014 or early in 2015. Sonic is working with advertising agency Huge, of New York.

"One of the things we can't stand is the traditional car advertisements with the plaid-jacket-wearing guys," Dyke said. "We're really going to be a specialty retail organization that does things in a very classy way, and it's going to be significantly different than what you see today, even in our own stores."

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com.


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