Gulf States Toyota Inc., a Houston-based distributor, is moving dealers into a new Web-based communications system designed to serve as an all-purpose window into the vehicle business.
Dealers will use the system to access news, monitor factory incentives and check their sales performance against goals set with the distributor. The system, modeled after Toyota's Dealer Daily Web site, eventually may be put to work as the main tool for storing and accessing customer data.
Gulf States moved dealers from an older system that used proprietary software and text-only terminals to personal computers with Windows software. Thus, dealers have the option of using the new personal computer-based system for other applications, including Web browsing or communicating with manufacturers and suppliers other than Toyota.
'The main thing was access to information,' said Angie Sherrell, director of information strategies for Gulf States.
The new Gulf States communications gear works with dealer management systems supplied by Reynolds and Reynolds Co. or ADP Dealer Services Group, Sherrell said. About one-third of the 139 dealerships in the distributor's five-state region have converted to the new communications system. The remaining dealerships are expected to convert to the new system by December.
Ben Kane, Internet sales manager for Toyota of New Orleans, said the new system 'makes my life much easier.'
For example, Kane can use the Gulf States technology to handle automated responses to e-mail sales inquiries that come in from the Web. The new communications system also allows the New Orleans-based store to handle vehicle swaps with other dealers more quickly.
Sherrell declined to disclose how much dealers paid for the new communications system. The e-mail component was outsourced to USA Net Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo. Dealers get eight e-mail accounts as part of the package. Business Solutions Inc. of Houston assisted as an information technology consultant on the project.
Gulf States' ultimate goal with the new communications gear? 'Selling more cars, trucks and parts,' Sherrell said.