Mike Seelye and Bill Wright, co-owners of Seelye-Wright of South Haven, Mich., believe in the power of advertising.
That's why ads for their seven satellite used-vehicle stores in South Haven and Kalamazoo, Mich., appear weekly in the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Battle Creek Enquirer, The Herald-Palladium, The Holland Sentinel and six other newspapers in western Michigan.
And every couple of months Seelye and Wright will run TV spots and radio commercials starring Wright, reminding viewers of the locations of Seelye-Wright used-vehicle stores.
Unlike franchised new-car dealerships, there are few national used-car brands. So some dealers, such as Seelye and Wright, create their own brand with aggressive advertising, special promotions and convenient, multiple locations.
That consistent, focused marketing strategy has helped rack up sales of about 600 used cars and trucks a month at the seven used-vehicle stores and at Seelye-Wright of South Haven (Cadillac-Pontiac-Buick-GMC-Jeep), Don Seelye Ford in Kalamazoo and Seelye-Wright Kia in Kalamazoo. Mike Seelye's brother, Pat, is a partner in the Ford store and some other Seelye-Wright stores. Wright is not a partner in the Ford store.
It also has established the Seelye-Wright name as the dealership consumers turn to for used cars and trucks in western Michigan, said Wright, who handles most of the company's used-vehicle operations.
FATHER TAUGHT HIM
'My dad started the Ford store in November 1963; he was always heavily into used cars,' Seelye said. 'He taught me how important and profitable the used-car business can be, and my partner, Bill Wright, is a talented used-car operator.'
Wright and Seelye write and star in the stores' radio and TV spots. They favor advertising that focuses on specific sales events, store location and price. They spend about $100,000 a month on used-vehicle advertising.
'I don't do the circus; I don't do the smashing of windshields,' Wright said.
Neither does Bob Mullen, owner of Hansen Ford-Lincoln-Mercury and The Chrysler Center (Dodge-Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep) in Grand Forks, N.D.
He leaves his used-vehicle image building to J.D. Byrider Systems Inc., a buy-here, pay-here used-vehicle dealership franchisor in Indianapolis.
Mullen holds three Byrider franchises, one in Duluth, Minn., and one each in Grand Forks and Fargo, N.D.
He said he sells about 900 to 1,000 used vehicles a year at his Byrider stores. He sells about 1,400 new and 1,400 to 1,600 used vehicles a year at his new-car stores.
J.D. Byrider is the nation's only used-vehicle franchisor and specializes in 5- to 10-year-old used cars and trucks.
Of its 98 stores, 11 are company-owned and the rest are franchise stores. New-car dealers own 80 percent of the franchise stores, said Steele Gudal, company president.
Byrider charges its franchisees a $39,000 fee, and franchisees need approximately $250,000 to capitalize the business.
In addition to helping its franchisees with site selection, hiring and training employees, and computer systems, Gudal said Byrider offers its franchisees marketing campaigns.
Byrider's ads vow to deliver superior customer service and positions its stores as beating the competition in terms of selling certified used vehicles with warranties.
The company's marketing strategy also includes:
'Buy a Car, Get a Visa Card,' a promotion in which a customer qualifies for an unsecured credit card with the purchase of a vehicle.
'Down Payment Back' gives the customer a refund of the entire down payment after the loan has been paid in full if all payments were made on time.
A tax season promotion during which Byrider teams up with a tax preparation service to help customers with income tax returns. Their refund is applied to their down payment on their vehicle purchase.
Mullen said his Byrider stores cater to customers who are looking for reliable transportation in the $3,995 to $7,995 range. He said used-vehicle franchising is the way to go for him.
'When you study any retail business, franchises have had more successes compared to independents,' Mullen said. 'There aren't many Bob's Burgers around.'
Former Ohio new-car dealer Bill Knafel said he is finishing plans for his Amerigold brand used-vehicle dealerships that are to specialize in vehicles 5 years old or newer.
Knafel, 74, owns Gold Seal Corp., a Fairlawn, Ohio, company composed of a finance division, an insurance division, a lease division, a management group and a dealership management system.
Knafel said he plans to open at least 22 Amerigold dealerships in Ohio. He said he will own some of the stores and license others to franchise and used-vehicle dealers. Knafel said he is negotiating to buy three parcels of land in the Akron and Canton, Ohio, areas for the dealerships.
Knafel said Amerigold will be a 'turnkey' operation that includes site selection; help finding financing, employee recruitment and training; and volume discounts on equipment and supplies. Also included are signs and advertising.
Knafel said Amerigold licensees have to have $500,000 in net assets to qualify. Knafel said licensees will pay 4 percent of gross profit as a fee.
Knafel, who used to own championship stock-car racing teams in the 1960s, said he believes dealers will find his system more attractive than going it alone because his company does all the up-front work.
He said: 'You don't have to do anything; you can't beat it.'