When Ted Britt Ford launched a radio ad campaign 18 months ago in the Washington area touting the lowest new-vehicle prices in town, the dealership also hired a full-time researcher to stand behind that promise.
That researcher spends every workday checking vehicle prices on rival Ford dealers' Web sites and reports her findings to Evelyn Smallwood, general sales manager of Ted Britt Ford in Fairfax, Va.
Smallwood uses the information each day to adjust new-vehicle prices at the Fairfax store and at Ted Britt Automotive Group's Ford-Lincoln store in nearby Chantilly, Va. The prices are reflected on the stores' Web sites and third-party online shopping sites where their vehicles are listed.
"We're making good on our promise," said Smallwood, who at 33 has been general sales manager of the Fairfax store for six years.
Her approach to competitive pricing is low-tech in an automotive retailing world increasingly dominated by software that promises to tell dealers and shoppers what vehicles should sell for.
It's not that Ted Britt Automotive is anti-technology. For instance, Smallwood said the group is happy with the way software vendor vAuto helps the stores manage used-vehicle inventory and pricing by gleaning information on competitors from multiple sources.
But new-vehicle pricing at Ted Britt Ford is more personal. Smallwood's assistant, Emily Robinson, is employed full time surfing rival Web sites and dutifully logging vehicle prices on a spreadsheet.
Then about 2 p.m. every day, Robinson calls to Smallwood, "Are you ready?" before giving the rundown, Smallwood said.
"Our whole goal is to move metal and sell to a happy customer," Smallwood said.
Last year, Ted Britt Automotive Group was one of just 22 Ford franchisees around the country named as a Triple Crown winner for excellence in sales, service and customer satisfaction. The two stores together sell between 400 and 500 new vehicles per month, Smallwood said.
Smallwood's credibility is on the line with the stores' low-price guarantee. She is the voice on the radio commercials, recording them in an office in the store.
Those commercials, which promise to beat any competitor's best deal, run on a country FM station in the market, WMZQ. "You know we sell a lot of trucks -- Ford Country, Toby Keith," Smallwood said.
Keith is a country music star who has made pickup commercials with Ford.
Until a couple of years ago, the Fairfax store could stay a high-volume dealership by simply quoting $1,000 under invoice price, Smallwood said. That was good enough to beat most of the competition.
But as pricing generally became more sophisticated, Ted Britt Automotive turned to its simple but effective price verification system to ensure discounts. The group has branded its deals as the VIP price.
Said Smallwood: "We know where we're at. We're comfortable that we'll deliver the best deal."