In an age when auto dealers are plunging into digital tools for marketing, store management and customer retention, Chicago's Rizza Cars has become a star practitioner.
The six-store retailer with Ford, Lincoln, Acura, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Kia and Porsche brands is a case study of a traditional dealership group transforming in a new era of operating technologies.
At Joe Rizza Ford Orland Park, the group recently instituted ServiceEdge, an ADP Dealer Services app that aims to speed service work and improve in-store communication.
Here's how it works: Service advisers photograph any problems on incoming vehicles. The technicians who will work on the vehicles receive the digital images on iPads, review the photos and use the iPads to order from the store's parts department, which makes needed parts ready as the vehicles arrive in the service bay.
That's typical of the tools Rizza Cars uses to increase efficiency and appeal to consumers who expect digital commerce, says Dan McMillan, CEO of the Orland Park Ford store and CFO of the dealership group, which sells about 450 new vehicles a month.
"The technology is just exploding," McMillan says. "You go to a seminar and think, man, this is the answer. And then something even better comes along.
"The common trend in all of it is consumer empowerment. The consumer has more information than he did in the past and we have to be ready.
"Be it good or bad, it's technology where we have to go," he says. "We don't have a choice."
Nine months ago, Rizza Cars launched a mobile app for customer smartphones developed by the vendor Dealerbug. The app enables customers to peruse Rizza Cars inventory, download owner manuals and watch videos that the group uploads to YouTube and other social media sites.
"It's the Y generation that's driving this," McMillan says. "This is how they want to do business. Everything is an app to them. They want to come into your store by hitting your app.
"And it doesn't hurt us just having our logo sitting there on their phone screen," he says. "We're always branding."
For perspective, flash back to the Rizza organization's earlier days.
Joe Rizza started the dealerships in 1978. He and his brother Tony Rizza, a partner in some of the Chicago-area stores, long prided themselves on being stubbornly old-school.
In a 1992 Automotive News visit to the used-car lot of their Rizza Chevrolet store, Tony Rizza held forth on the importance of dealers keeping track of every sale, customer and vehicle on the property.
He demonstrated an amazing memory for names and details about every vehicle in his used inventory, and every nick and scratch anywhere on the vehicle.
To illustrate his accuracy, Rizza produced from his suit coat pocket a worn notebook of management notes. Written in pencil were the names of every customer and trade-in amounts for past sales. If any question arose, he would pull out the notebook and find his jottings about the issue in question to corroborate his memory.
Back to 2013, McMillan explains the organization's digital transformation.
"Now, instead of having all that information on a piece of paper, you've got an iPad, and you can use your dealer management system to look up inventory questions, service jobs and read through your customer list," says McMillan, who had been Joe Rizza's outside accountant before the dealer hired him as CFO in 1988.
"We decided we had to go this direction in the late 1990s when the Internet was becoming a big factor," he says. "And we needed to hire somebody who knew how to run Web sites, how to put your inventory on the Web site and how to post videos."