When you enter Dennis AutoPoint's five Ohio showrooms, you can't help but stare at the flipped-up cars.
Drawing on the same gawker mentality that clogs freeways after accidents, Aaron Masterson, vice president and general manager of Dennis AutoPoint, has been displaying vehicles flipped either horizontally on their sides or vertically on their ends to illustrate their components.
It's something that the dealership has been doing off and on for almost 10 years.
After the fluids are drained, the vehicles are turned and secured to a half-moon-shaped frame. Then as many as 100 parts are labeled with sticky notes.
Something to think about
The idea is to encourage people to think about what they're buying and get them excited about the technology behind it rather than dwelling on the incentives or rebates.
"The best thing to do is really show customers what they're getting for their money," Masterson says.
Exterior features that are seen easily, such as the grille, fog lamps and mirrors, are labeled, as are the basic - and sometimes mysterious - components underneath, such as the oil and transmission pans, exhaust systems and suspensions.
The showrooms usually display new vehicles, but occasionally a used vehicle is shown.
Typically the vehicles are displayed for three weeks before they are returned to inventory.
Customers aren't told the vehicles were displayed, but Masterson says no vehicle has been returned with a problem related to being flipped.
Customers are responding. Masterson says the closing ratio on vehicles featured on the display has increased at least 20 percent.
He also says the dealership tends to make more money on them, but he would not specify how much.
Masterson says people feel they're getting value for their money because they can see the vehicle's features and discuss them with the salesperson.
Salespeople learn how to explain the displays as part of their training.
"It's like having an extreme visual brochure," Masterson says. "It puts an energy into the dialogue between the customer and the employee."
The displays cost $100 to set up - the amount a technician is paid to drain the fluids from a vehicle before it is flipped and secured to the frame. The process takes 40 minutes.
The setups are intended to be eye-catching. For example, the Pontiac display features lights and is clearly visible from outside the dealership at night.
Emery Bear, Dennus Hyundai's sales manager, and administrative assistant Tricia Barker inspect a 2005 Tiburon. PHOTO: JOE DUNCAN
Usually one vehicle is featured in each of Dennis AutoPoint's showrooms. Dennis AutoPoint has Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Pontiac, Isuzu and Hyundai showrooms in Columbus, Ohio, and a Hyundai showroom in Dublin, Ohio.
Masterson says the displays have been effective at maintaining interest in products such as the Pontiac Grand Prix that have been on the market for a while but still can intrigue customers when presented differently.
Masterson, 52, who has been with Dennis AutoPoint 18 years, says marketing the vehicles' attributes rather than hawking the deal has been an effective strategy.
"It provides a lot of depth and value equity," he says. "It just gives us a leg up on our competition."