Eighteen months after #1 Cochran Automotive launched a customer experience initiative centered on market-based pricing and transparency, the dealership group says its market share and customer satisfaction ratings are up. Employee turnover is down, and the company is hiring more people with experience outside the auto industry.
The effort is still a work in progress, CEO Rob Cochran said, but results so far validate the hard work and years of research that went into the approach launched in late 2013. Central tenets of the Cochran initiative, dubbed Clearly Better Car Buying, include:
- Pricing vehicles at transaction prices for the market, as supported by third-party data.
- Limiting negotiations to a couple of hundred dollars.
- Paying the higher of Autotrader's or Cochran's own trade-in evaluations.
- Offering a three-day, no-questions-asked return.
"We do feel good about it," said Cochran, whose dealership group has 16 stores in western Pennsylvania and is ranked by Pittsburgh Business Times as the largest Pittsburgh-area auto retailer based on 2013 new-vehicle sales and total revenue. "We think that's where the industry is going anyway. We'd rather be a leader in the evolution and the transition than get pulled kicking and screaming."
Since adopting the initiative, the dealership group's new-vehicle sales have risen 15 percent, he said, higher than the increase in the market. Market share is up around 10 percent, Cochran said. For instance, a #1 Cochran store that might have had a 20 percent share of same-brand sales in the Pittsburgh market before now has around 22 percent, he said. Used-vehicle sales also are up significantly.
Average transaction time has moved down modestly, but it's still about two hours. "That's an area where we can get better," Cochran said. "And we're going to more specifically track that."