Every Friday morning, Kinny Landrum records "The Kinny Landrum Show," a weekly YouTube series in which the salesman at Toyota of Bowling Green in Kentucky answers questions from viewers in his market and across the country.
"My goal is to be a household name in Bowling Green," Landrum said. "No matter what kind of vehicle customers are looking for, I want them to think of me."
Auto salespeople increasingly are promoting themselves -- apart from their dealerships -- with personal websites, YouTube videos and social media pages as a way to sell vehicles now and down the road. It's a trend akin to one in the real-estate world, in which salespeople promote themselves rather than their agencies.
For some auto dealers, the trend is unsettling. Although dealers see the value in sales staffers raising their profiles and building strong consumer relationships, there's a concern that a dealership could lose customers if a popular salesperson leaves. Dealers also worry that they may have insufficient control of their salespeople's websites and social media content.
Consumers consider product, price and place when buying a car, DealerRater CEO Gary Tucker said. "But now," he said, "we're seeing this fourth leg: Not only which dealership am I going to go to, but who am I going to ask for when I get there?"
An Autotrader survey in March found that nearly three-fourths of more than 4,000 respondents said they were willing to drive farther for a great salesperson.
The change could affect not only "how traffic battles are won and lost, but how as an industry we attract high-caliber salespeople and stay above the fray," Tucker told Automotive News.
Landrum's website, thekinnylandrum.com, is the hub of his personal brand. Visitors to the site can view an introductory message and video, read blogs with car-buying and safety tips, watch video testimonials and access episodes of "The Kinny Landrum Show," in which a local radio personality poses viewers' questions to Landrum.
Landrum, 45, began his self-branding efforts after viewing Laura Madison's website in July. At the time, Madison, now 26, was a saleswoman at Toyota of Bozeman in Montana who had joined the dealership just as the store's inventory dried up due to production cuts after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. She launched her website that August so that when inventory levels inched back up, she would have her own customer base. Within two months of branding herself, rather than the dealership, Madison was having customers ask for her, as reported in an Automotive News article in August.
Her strategy became so effective that others in the industry, including Landrum, took note. In February Alan Ram, president of Alan Ram's Proactive Training Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz., hired Madison to train other salespeople how to market themselves.