Sonic Automotive Inc.'s rollout of its customer experience initiative to stores in the Charlotte, N.C., area came slower than expected, in part due to a malfunctioning website.
But One Sonic-One Experience is now live at all five Sonic stores in that pilot market, and market share against local same-brand dealerships is rising at three of them, said Jeff Dyke, Sonic executive vice president of operations.
Because of lessons learned in the Charlotte stores, Sonic plans to roll out the approach to other markets in pieces instead of all at once.
"It's just too much for one store to take on at one time," Dyke said.
One Sonic-One Experience prom-ises no-haggle pricing and completion of a purchase in 45 minutes or less with one sales rep using an iPad. Sonic is betting that by eliminating car-buying pain points, it will become a preferred place to shop and thereby gain market share.
This spring, possibly in May, Sonic will start expanding the initiative to the second market: Chattanooga. The first step will be introducing new customer relationship management and showroom tools to its stores there. "The operators in those stores are ready," Dyke said. Adapting to a new CRM can be disruptive, so it's better to teach employees how to use it before they switch to the new approach, he said.
But the Chattanooga stores won't adopt the new customer experience process "until we're comfortable with share and profitability gains in Charlotte," Dyke said. Those metrics are improving and Sonic hopes they will strengthen through March and April, he said.
"What I'm really excited about is what's happening at Toyota," Dyke said. Town and Country Toyota in Charlotte launched the process last summer. "What we see there is now starting to happen in the other stores."
The Charlotte launch has surpassed expectations in some areas, such as market share gains, Dyke said. "And in others, it hasn't. But there's nothing that has surprised us."
In February, Town and Country Toyota's local market share was 22 percent, up from 14 percent a year earlier, Dyke said. It also rose sharply from 16 percent in January when Sonic abandoned a new store website that had been malfunctioning since an October launch.