Few things have changed at the Elizabeth Garage in Elizabeth, Ill., in the past 78 years.
The Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership in this town of 600 nestled in the rolling hills of rural northwestern Illinois looks much the same as it did when Les and Agnes Graves bought and restored the building after a fire in 1925.
Back then it was a tractor dealership. It has been a car dealership since 1936, and it's the only dealership in town.
Today, Jack Graves - Les and Agnes' son - his wife, Jeanette, and their sons, Jay and Jeff, run the Elizabeth Garage. It is a business built on the tradition of negotiating face-to-face, sealing deals with a handshake, advertising mostly by word of mouth and treating the customer almost as a family member.
But don't bother to look for the Elizabeth Garage on the Internet. The dealership doesn't have a Web site, and it's in no hurry to get one. While that may seem like an understandable business move today, though, dealership technology experts say the Internet has become so important to consumers that stores without Web sites may be losing sales and not even realize it.
The fact that the Elizabeth Garage has no Web site bucks what has been happening nationally. Since the mid-1990s, the number of dealership Web sites has exploded. According to the latest survey by the National Automobile Dealers Association (nada.org), 91 percent of the nation's 22,000 dealers have Web sites - up from 47 percent just five years ago. Of those, 89 percent are interactive.
Not since the introduction of TV in the 1950s has a technology had such an effect on U.S. dealership operations. The Internet has created informed consumers - people who have learned the secrets once known only to dealers: invoice prices, holdbacks, how automotive financing works.
The Graves family knows all about that. In fact, Jay Graves says, many customers use the Internet for pricing information before coming in to strike a deal. Jay Graves handles new-car sales.
"The customers come in a lot more educated today," Jay Graves, 43, says. "They know my costs."
And it's not that the dealership can't get a Web site.