It seems the management of Steve Bailey Honda in suburban Oklahoma City is quick to recognize a good thing.
Steve Bailey, 58, traces his career in auto sales back to Oct. 1, 1965, when he started working at Dub Richardson Ford in the maiden year of the Ford Mustang.
Son Brad, who entered this world a year after that, began his career 14 years later at Steve Bailey Honda in Bethany, his father's first dealership.
Together they have witnessed dynamic changes in the auto industry. Three years ago, the Baileys entered the World Wide Web with an 'electronic brochure,' as Brad Bailey, dealership general manager, refers to it. But they quickly realized that marketing tool was not enough. With the programming skills of Brad's wife, Supaporn, the dealership revamped its site last year to meet its customers' needs.
Visitors to www.stevebailey.com find illustrated articles. Service department appointments may be scheduled electronically. Customers can review the dealership's new- and used-car inventory and submit offers via e-mail.
Financing may be secured online through the Integris Federal Credit Union. The dealership also has an arrangement with autotrader.com for access to more exotic offerings.
'I think more has changed during the last few years than in the previous 14 or 15,' says the younger Bailey. 'But the basics are the same. Integrity - you've got to have that. Honesty. A good product. And you've got to be able to adapt. Sometimes the car business is slow to do that, but you've got to adapt.'
The Baileys aren't sitting still. 'We're probably not as far ahead of the curve as we were two years ago,' Brad Bailey says. 'We have pledged to ourselves to make our Web site as technologically advanced and interactive as any out there.'
Not that they're dissatisfied with its results. As 1999 ended, up to 10 percent of the dealership's monthly sales of 100 new Hondas were initiated and closed over the Internet. But Bailey wants to stay ahead of industry surveys that suggest that the 40 percent of customers who today research their deals online will double by 2001.
'Our goal now is to make the process of buying a Honda as easy as possible and to fit the buying public as much as possible,' he says.
That means further empowering customers with electronic data and transaction capabilities.
'Some dealers regard that as a negative,' says Steve Bailey, who acquired the Honda dealership in 1978. 'But I regard that as a positive. I'm not uncomfortable at all with the customer having more knowledge and more power. I think that makes for a much stronger relationship.'
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
The dealership receives 40 to 50 e-mail messages a month from buyers as far away as Dallas and Amarillo, Texas. Brad Bailey spends about an hour a day answering those inquiries, with a turnaround response time of about two hours.
'The return on our investment is very good,' he says. Besides the computer, the dealership spent 'a couple hundred dollars' on its in-house Web design and up to $40 a month on its Internet access. Bailey updates the site daily, but he says, 'I think we could do a lot better. This is our online storefront, and the first impression is very important.'
Bailey plans another upgrade to the Web site this year. Among its enhancements:
Each department will soon be able to receive its own e-mail, which will permit quicker responses.
The site's graphic design will be revamped to make it easier to use.
Marketing promotions will be better coordinated with the Web site programming, and inventory lists will be linked to the dealership's accounting system.
That will permit easier and quicker updates and will eliminate customers' 'bait and switch' fears. For example, TV ads will direct viewers to the Web site to find out exactly how many Accords remain available at that month's featured price.
The computer powering the Web site will be upgraded to provide more potential and faster responses.
'Generally, this is a good time to be a Honda dealer,' Bailey says. 'We have no inventory problems, and generally we're able to sell everything we can get. We just don't have the availability.
'But to those who would say, `I'm selling everything I can get, so why should I invest in the Internet?' I would say, that's incredibly short-term thinking.'
Like his father, Brad Bailey understands some of the fears that outside giants or the manufacturers themselves will dominate sales via the electronic medium.
He thinks community involvement is important. 'I hope there's a place for vehicle sales by a strong, local independent,' he says. But even that will ultimately depend on what the customer wants.
'In the free-market economy, the customer dictates where the market goes,' Bailey says. 'If they prefer the Internet, you'd better be able to speak with them on that level.'