Cox's Schwartz urges 3 dealer changes

NEW YORK -- Sandy Schwartz has been campaigning this year with a stump speech that drives home a simple message: Auto dealers have to change the way they do business, and today’s good times represent an opening to do so.

You could argue that Schwartz, as president of the vast Cox Automotive empire, has a vested interest in getting dealers to adopt new ways of selling cars. You know, tools like Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, vAuto and the like.

Schwartz acknowledges that good-humoredly. But he insists there’s more to it than that.

Speaking to the National Automobile Dealers Association/J.D. Power forum here, Schwartz drew a distinction between companies that responded to changing consumer preferences -- and those that didn’t.

The first batch: Zappos, Minute Clinic and Travelocity. All alive and growing.

The second batch: Blockbuster, Borders and Radio Shack. Either gone or imperiled.

In an interview afterwards, Schwartz listed three areas that dealers should pay attention to:

• Cut transaction time. Keep the dealership buying experience under 90 minutes, he advises:. “We have research that’s told us over and over, it’s almost like a magical thing, when you get to 91 minutes, people get pissed off.” For instance, he recommends, use technology to let people fill out credit apps and title work online before they get to the store.

• Facilitate online consumer research. Keep your online inventory current, have photos of the specific vehicle consumers look at, and remember that some people will do online searches while they’re at your store.

• Upgrade your staff. Make sure the sales staff has a high level of product knowledge and has a mindset that allows the shopper who doesn’t want to be pestered to shop until he or she wants some questions answered.

Schwartz, who was touting the AutoTrader study of buyer preferences, says many dealers are keeping up with new consumer preferences.

But not enough, he adds: “In some ways we have moved the industry drastically. In some ways we have moved the industry a little bit. In some ways, in 30 years we have not moved the industry at all.”

You can reach Dave Guilford at dguilford@autonews.com -- Follow Dave on Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/guilfordautonews

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