In the fall of 2012, Robert Karbaum sat at a gate at the Las Vegas airport waiting to fly home to Toronto. The e-commerce manager at the seven-dealership group Weins Canada Inc. had been in town for an innovation conference, at which dealers pitched their best ideas for a chance to win prize money.
As he sat staring at the digital boarding pass on his phone, Karbaum had an aha moment: Weins stores, which sell Toyota, Lexus, Volkswagen, Audi and Hyundai, had been struggling with low show rates for scheduled test drives. What if he could use the formality of the boarding-pass process to get customers to take their test drive appointments more seriously?
"The airline industry's show ratio is as strong as it gets," Karbaum says. "The whole business is built on the fact that people have to show up for their appointment on time."
What he came up with is an "appointment boarding pass" to send to customers' smartphones via text or e-mail minutes after they schedule a test drive. It notifies them that their "booking is confirmed," and includes a reservation number, appointment time and date, a salesperson's name -- even a "flight number," or appointment code. It also includes a Google Maps locator for the dealership, tabs for directions and a number to call the store, as well as an e-mail link for the customer to reschedule if necessary.
In April 2013, he decided to test it at Don Valley North Lexus, which had been getting only 36 percent of its scheduled test drive customers to show up.
The store's business development center had been short-handed and unable to make follow-up calls to confirm the appointments.
In the first month, the store's show rate surged to 68 percent, and has remained around that mark. Karbaum has since rolled out the concept across all Weins dealerships, which delivered nearly 9,000 new vehicles in 2013.
Now 68 percent of the group's customers are showing up for their scheduled test drives vs. 54 percent previously.
That translates into more sales, Karbaum says. He estimates that about half of the customers who take test drives end up buying a vehicle. So "for every two additional test drives we do because of the boarding pass, we sell one more" vehicle.
Last fall, Karbaum returned to the innovation conference, DrivingSales Executive Summit, sponsored by Drivingsales.com, a Web site for dealerships that serves as a social media platform. His boarding pass won "best idea" and $3,000 in prize money.
"I think Robert's idea really resonated so well with dealers because it is an original, forward-thinking concept that is relatively easy to execute," says DrivingSales spokesman Mike Jeffs.
During his on-stage presentation, Karbaum ran through a 16-step process to help dealers create their own boarding-pass tool, which is free to set up.
The instructions are at appointmentboardingpass.com.
Karbaum says he soon will implement the boarding pass concept for service department appointments.