Chris Little, vice president of variable operations at Hendrick, sold used cars at Hendrick stores for years before rising through the ranks of the dealership group. Little instituted the guidelines about eight years ago, he said.
His reasoning is that shoppers can see for themselves -- without coming to a dealership -- that a used vehicle has all the equipment advertised and is in the condition promised.
The average 16 hours that a used-car buyer shops online before going to a store has dramatically reduced the number of dealerships that a shopper visits before buying, Little said. It has gone from four or five store visits five years ago to one or two today, Little said.
That means deals can be made or broken online, and more photos are better than fewer, he said. "Our job is to not get eliminated," Little said of the online shopping experience.
East Bay BMW uses the photos as one way to distinguish itself from the eight other BMW dealerships within a 50-mile radius of its location in Pleasanton. Gebers said it is not unusual for customers to come from 150 miles away for a car.
Her stores employ a full-time and a part-time photographer who stagger their work six days a week to get cars shot and up on shopping sites as quickly as possible, Gebers said.
The photography is staged at an industrial park that has given the stores permission to shoot, but Gebers said she hopes to have an in-store booth in coming months.
In the four years since adopting the 60-photo policy, used-vehicle sales at the stores have increased 40 percent to 100 per month, she said. She said the better exposure from the photos has contributed to the increase. The BMW store sells 90 new vehicles per month and the Mini store 65.
The photos reveal minute details about the exterior and interior. Photos are taken of tires to show wear, body panels to remove doubts about dents and under-hood shots to show the shape of the engine compartment. Interior shots include one of the odometer.
Like most Hendrick stores, East Bay BMW and East Bay Mini also shoot their own new-car photos for listings rather than relying on factory-supplied images. Because there's no wear on the vehicles, 12 photos per listing is required, Gebers said.
She said the outsized number of photos is important to profit. Margins can leak quickly if the store has to discount price because a customer discovers wear or nicks not revealed on the listing, she said.
Little said the carrot for dealers of hewing to the guidelines is better presentation of used inventory to online shoppers. The stick is that the parent prohibits any of its dealers' used inventory to be posted on Hendrickcars.com if a listing has fewer than 31 photos, he said. Thirty-one is considered the bare minimum to show a vehicle's condition.
Hendrickcars.com is a home-grown shopping site available exclusively to Hendrick stores that lists more than 25,000 vehicles at any one time to shoppers driven there, in part, by advertising visible at NASCAR and other racing events.
Rick Hendrick, chairman of Hendrick Automotive and owner of Hendrick Motorsports, has one of the most successful racing franchises in the country.
Little said Hendrick Automotive has a goal of putting photo booths in all 86 company stores. About 20 percent have them today.
The booths, which cost about $10,000 apiece, would help with a company mission of getting all used inventory online within 72 hours of getting a vehicle, he said. Hendrick's inventory management vendor is FirstLook.
Only a handful of stores are without staff photographers and, instead, contract with outside photographers to take photos at $20 to $26 per vehicle, Little said.
Hendrick totals about 6,000 used- vehicle sales per month, he said.
Said Little: "We view used inventory like a block of ice -- the longer it sits out the less of it there is to sell."