Ashley Cavazos, 37
Director of digital performance, Walser Automotive Group
Growing up, Ashley Cavazos’ goal was to help to run the family business one day.
Not auto dealerships. Radio stations. Her grandfather started one of the first Spanish-language radio stations in Texas, and Cavazos, who grew up outside of Corpus Christi, recalls helping with station events and artist promotions as a child.
But a temporary job at a dealership in college sidelined Cavazos’ plan to go into radio.
While studying marketing, she applied for a job as a temporary receptionist at a Ford-Lincoln store in Corpus Christi, thinking it would be a useful experience to put toward her future career. A few months into the job, Cavazos moved into an Internet marketing role and “fell in love” with the work.
When an opportunity came along to help launch a business development center at a Morrie’s Auto Group Mazda dealership in Minnetonka, Minn., Cavazos turned it down.
“I grew up in South Texas on the beach. What was there to do in Minnesota other than it be cold?” she said. But then “I was at church one day, and I literally just felt called to call Morrie back and tell them yes. And I did.”
It turned out to be a good move — geographically and professionally. After nearly seven years with Morrie’s, Cavazos got a call from Andrew Walser, CEO of Walser Automotive Group in Edina, Minn., to help with the group’s digital operations.
A few months later, just as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning in the U.S., Cavazos was asked to temporarily relocate to Wichita, Kan., to help Walser’s stores there with their digital processes.
Cavazos started that role working to get sales employees in the mindset of providing online shoppers the same great experience they would strive to deliver to in-person customers. Among her first focus areas were introducing personalized videos at the Wichita stores and measuring sales employees’ individual performance on following up on leads.
“What they tend to forget is there is a person on the other side of that screen. And that person gave us their contact info and that person asked about a car,” Cavazos said.
“Customers were responding and wanting to keep the process going,” she added. “By the time you know it, they were setting up more appointments than they’d ever set up before and closing higher than they’ve ever set before, and broke records on the campus as far as how many cars they sold.”
In fall 2020, Cavazos was called back to Minnesota, with the goal of replicating the success she’d fostered at the Kansas operation.
She worked to increase the number of videos sent to consumers — personalized clips, not generic footage. It began to resonate with staffers, she said, when customers began to come in asking for the employee they saw in their videos.
In October 2021, more than 34,000 videos were sent — up from 3,200 sent the previous October, Cavazos said. And 160 percent of consumers who submitted a lead received a video, up from just 22 percent a year earlier. That measurement topping 100 percent means some customers got multiple videos at different stages of the purchase process.
Cavazos began to measure response times in May 2021, when it took more than 13 minutes on average to respond to leads. Response times have since dropped to less than 10 minutes, and fewer are “fumbled,” a designation that means it took an employee more than an hour to respond.
That has led to more customers setting appointments and later buying vehicles, Cavazos said. The stores’ appointment close rate has jumped from 35 percent in October 2020 to 54 percent in March of this year.
Cavazos is getting involved in the industry outside of Walser, too. This year, she became membership engagement advisory chair for the Women of Color Automotive Network, a networking and support organization for minority women working in automotive.
“I have a huge passion for lifting other women up in automotive,” she said.
Her other passion?
“For me, it’s making sure that I am constantly staying on top and ahead of what our customers want,” Cavazos said. “What are customers doing outside of buying a car? What does it look like for them? We have to make sure that we deliver that experience when they buy a car, as well.”
— Lindsay VanHulle