Rich Younker, general manager of Fort's Toyota of Pekin in North Pekin, Ill., repeatedly hears the same compliment about the dealership's Web site - and he thinks it's a good indicator of what consumers want.
'A lot of people tell us, 'You guys have a great Web site. It changes every day,'' Younker says.
That's no accident. The Fort's Toyota site was handed to a younger member of the sales staff as his sole responsibility, he says.
'We gave the site to him,' Youn-ker says. 'That way, we knew we would have somebody taking care of the site each and every day and inputting new material.'
Although the site manager, Eric Stahl, is occasionally pulled onto the sales floor to handle overflow customers, Younker says he knows the site is his meal ticket. Younker recommends that sort of staffing to other dealers contemplating a Web site.
The dealership moved into Internet sales because it seemed to have the potential to become a new, major sales avenue. Younker says dealer Mike Fort 'is very computer-oriented, like everyone else here.'
Keeping the inventory on the site current is particularly important, Younker says. That is basic Internet etiquette, but it also takes priority because sales from the site tilt heavily toward used-car buyers.
'We originally thought the new-car buyer would be the way we'd go,' he says. 'But we're getting more business on the used cars - the unique used car you can't find.
'With new cars, it's all going to come down to price. It's a good source for leads, but a used-car shopper is looking for the right color and the right model.'
That makes it important to get pictures of used vehicles on the site as soon as possible, he says, and to delete what is sold every day.
NEAR AND FAR
In November, Fort's Toyota could attribute '8 or 9 percent' of vehicle sales to Internet shopping, Younker says. The overwhelming percentage of Net shoppers is from the immediate area, but there is a consistent stream of out-of-town inquiries.
Although it is in central Illinois, about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, Fort's Toyota fields regular inquiries from Chicago-area prospects searching for high-end vehicles.
Younker says Fort's also has received two inquiries about Toyota Supras from New York City. Although the Big Apple queries did not result in sales, Younker is glad to have received them: 'That's two more people looking at my inventory who wouldn't look at it if I didn't have all that stuff on the Net.'
The CarPoint and Autoweb.com services produce about 10 to 12 leads per week, he says. Stahl says he finds the CarPoint leads to be of higher quality, adding that 'everyone goes to CarPoint.'
Younker says the availability of price information on the Net cuts both ways. He stays on top of buyer price expectations that way, keeping his prices near buyers' expectations.
The result, he says, is that 'I shouldn't have to move very far in negotiations.'
In his experience, Net shoppers like to do the preliminaries online - like scouting out inventory at several dealerships and getting a price quote. They come to the dealership to close the deal.
'Some of them come right in with the sheet,' he says.
'They just download the information on their computer and have it in their hand. They say, 'I want to see the 4Runner with 24,000 miles for $21,500.''