Automotive News 40 Under 40

Craig Waikem

AGE: 28

POSITION: Business development center director, Waikem Auto Group, Massillon, Ohio

Craig Waikem and his team

At a dealership where he works alongside his dad, two uncles and two cousins, Craig Waikem is making a name for himself.

Waikem runs the e-commerce operations of Waikem Auto Group, his family's seven-franchise dealership group in Massillon, Ohio. In the past two years, he has expanded the group's online presence to include a Web site for each dealership, a blog, a YouTube channel with hundreds of video walk-arounds of used vehicles and other online efforts to boost the group's business.

Waikem oversees a team of eight Internet sales managers that handles more than 800 new-car and 700 used-car online leads every month. His team converts about 20 percent of leads from the group's Web sites into sales, compared with 11 percent for third-party leads.

The difference, Waikem says, is original content. For instance, Waikem hired a journalism graduate from nearby Ashland University to pen original reviews of every new model the dealerships sell.

"I started adding as much content to our Web sites as possible," Waikem said. "I want the customer to be on my Web site. I don't want them going to Yahoo or AutoTrader or Edmunds and becoming a lead for someone else."

The writer and two other young hires make up Waikem's digital marketing team, which handles the group's pay-per-click and online display advertising, search engine marketing, social media and online reputation management in-house.

The digital marketing team also shoots video walk-arounds of vehicles in inventory.

Less than two years into the online blitz, Waikem's efforts are delivering for the group. Leads handled by Waikem's business development center generated nearly 1,900 new- and used-vehicle sales last year, or 38 percent of the nearly 5,000 vehicles the group sold in 2012. So far this year, the business development center has accounted for about 40 percent of the group's volume, Waikem says.

"You're only as good as the people around you," Waikem said. "I'm very blessed and proud of my team. Our team has stayed intact for about two years with little turnover."

-- Ryan Beene