LaFave said he knows his vehicles are priced competitively because he uses vAuto inventory-management software to check selling prices within a 120-mile radius.
Those same computer tools also determine what vehicles are hot in his market and what purchase price to offer at auctions, he said.
To reach beyond little Pinconning, Schafer Chevrolet spends its entire $15,000 monthly marketing budget online, but with an interesting wrinkle. It spends only on third-party classified sites to list inventory and for extra advertising on the sites to feature Schafer vehicles, LaFave said.
That means no paid-search advertising on Google or any traditional media, such as cable, radio or direct mail.
LaFave said his prospects are looking for deals on the five sites he uses: Autotrader.com, Craigslist, Cars.com, CarGurus.com and KBB.com.
He said years back he tried but discontinued Google paid-search, a popular advertising medium with dealerships. It generated insufficient traffic, he said. With paid search, dealers bid for search terms and pay Google a certain amount each time a shopper clicks on a link.
"I mean how many people are going to search for 'used cars Pinconning,'" LaFave said.
LaFave said the online classified sites work great for him because he can adjust vehicle prices by watching how many people are clicking on specific car listings, known as vehicle detail pages.
He said he has boosted his spending on the third parties from about $10,000 per month in June.
Not coincidentally, that's when Gross persuaded LaFave to go in another contrarian direction: He said Schafer Chevrolet needed more used-car inventory on the ground.
So LaFave said he took the plunge and nearly doubled his inventory from 80 vehicles to about 150, mostly by buying at live auctions. That also doubled the cost of the inventory to about $2.3 million.
The tactic worked. With more cars in front of online shoppers, used-car sales have been ticking up consistently. In 2014, the store ranked 66th in used-vehicle sales in Michigan. It sold 1,020 used vehicles and 217 new for the year.
LaFave said the store is on track, at least early in 2015, to reach its goal of ranking in the top 20 stores selling used vehicles statewide. In March, Schafer Chevrolet sold 156 used vehicles vs. 17 new, a 9-to-1 ratio.
LaFave also is carrying way more non-Chevrolet used inventory than Chevy used inventory. That's by design, he said. His market, especially from Flint to Saginaw-Bay City-Midland to his south, once was lined with GM factories. Many are long since shuttered.
But many families in the area still qualify for substantial GM employee discounts. So most of his GM competitors carry lots of GM inventory, pushing down prices for new and used GM vehicles.
Consequently, 29 percent of LaFave's used inventory is Ford, and 26 percent is Chevrolet.
Back in the dark days of 2009, it was hard to see that losing franchises would be the best thing for LaFave and his employees.
He lost a Pontiac franchise when GM terminated the brand. And he lost Chrysler and Dodge franchises when Chrysler cut a quarter of its stores.
During LaFave's 2007 heyday, the franchises sold 348 new vehicles and 273 used -- about half of last year's total.
So today, he is happy to concentrate on used.
LaFave said: "I never want to be in a situation where I have to rely on new-car sales again."