With iPads in hand, service advisers at 34 Sonic Automotive Inc. stores are greeting customers -- and watching repair orders grow as they walk around the vehicle.
At the stores that use service iPads, customer-pay business is up. For example, grosses per repair order have risen 11 percent on average at Toyota dealerships and 8 percent at Lexus stores. Apple even acknowledged Sonic's accomplishments in a rare shoutout during the iPad maker's earning conference call last October.
By next April, service department iPads will be in all Sonic stores. And the retailer's big Apple initiative doesn't end there. Sales reps already are getting iPads, too.
"We've made a huge, huge, huge, multiple-tens-of-millions-of-dollars commitment to go this way, and it's just going to keep getting bigger," Sonic President Scott Smith said in an interview. "We're rolling out the iPhones and iPads to technicians, to service writers, to salespeople, to F&I, to porters -- and it's not cheap."
Sonic, the nation's third-largest retailer, is spending $57 million on technology this year. It's placing a big bet that arming its customer-facing employees with Apple devices will increase their productivity, convince customers to spend more and improve loyalty. Sonic is bucking the trend of other large public dealership groups by staying out of the acquisitions market now in order to invest internally.
Other big retailers are heading down the same path with tablets, but Sonic's efforts are on the leading edge.
AutoNation leaders have said they will arm their sales and service staff with tablet computers this year and next. Asbury chief Craig Monaghan envisions a day when tablets replace PCs in most areas of the dealership. Asbury has used iPads in some store pilots. Group 1 Automotive is using tablets in service departments at some stores. Lithia and Penske are running service department pilots.