To date, the dealership group, with 25 rooftops in Minnesota and Wichita, Kan., has picked up and delivered vehicles for service more than 3,000 times, Walser said. More than 500 purchased vehicles were delivered to customers outside of the dealership.
Walser Automotive Group also is working on the fifth iteration of Fuse, the proprietary software it developed and that will become its digital retailing platform.
"The future is now," Walser said. "These aren't initiatives that are just here for COVID. These are initiatives that are going to be here to stay."
Walser, 52, talked to Staff Reporter Lindsay VanHulle about the dealership group's move toward e-commerce, its Walser To You initiative and how video resonates with customers. Here are edited excerpts.
On Walser To You:
Walser To You was an initiative that we had talked about last fall, pre-COVID, which was: How do customers today want to ... buy and sell cars, and also how would they like to service cars in the future? Because time is everyone's greatest asset today, so how do we make this as easy as a customer would like?
If that's really something where people are actually in a way having a better experience by not coming in, should we be talking about an initiative where we're picking up and delivering cars for service and doing the same thing for test drives and completing a transaction, especially for repeat customers? And at the time, it was an initiative that we hadn't started. That's a really good concept. Let's think about how we could roll that out. Well, COVID hits and it just was timed perfectly, and so we rolled that out. We actually had already done the homework and sort of had it loaded up from the commercials to the narrative to what we were going to say.
On its proprietary digital retailing software, Fuse:
In terms of a transaction completely online, Fuse will be able to do that within the next year, but just by the nature of [it], a salesperson can do quotes and can do all the desking of their own deal in our software without having to go back and forth to the manager, so it just collapses time and makes the process much simpler when you're doing it digitally vs. in person.
It does the whole transaction in store. We just haven't put it online yet.
We're going to be soon selling it to other dealerships that have been interested in it for a long time. We just have resisted only because it wasn't ready for prime time. But we're now sort of re-architecting, rebuilding it, to be able to live outside of Walser and serve other dealership groups.
On getting into software development:
The problem with this industry, and why it takes so long to complete a car deal, is that all of us dealers have to work in 10 to 15 different softwares. ... How do you create one system that integrates them all and pushes and pulls and does all the work behind the scenes, the heavy lifting, so that it's only one single entry point?
That started out as sort of a powerful integration tool and now has evolved into what we believe is a tool that a customer could use, a salesperson could use, a manager could use to do the entire transaction.
On using video in sales and service:
[My car is] at the dealership. All of a sudden I get a text with a video of the technician walking around my car, showing me all the things that are good, things that might need service, and then they send me a quote. First of all, I was talking to the doctor, not the service adviser, the person who was working on my car, so that's tons of transparency and trust built in right there. You're seeing your car and they're showing you the brake pads need replacing, and those are the types of things that I think, whether it's COVID or not, really do differentiate from the competition.
It's the salespeople that do the walkarounds. They introduce themselves and then they walk around the vehicle and they do a kind of quick 1-minute or 2-minute [video], more of a detailed look inside the car, and then they send it to the customer right away. The closing rates on those customers that get a video are much higher than if you're just responding to them with email or even a phone conversation. And I would say it's even more powerful in service, because who do customers really want to talk to? They really want to talk to the technician.