Much like the world of retail, the automotive resale industry is in the midst of a tremendous shift. More and more sales each year are conducted online, sight-unseen, in large part due to the cascading of tech into a long-since grassroots, face-to-face, handshake-driven industry. No longer are consumers at the mercy of the integrity of their salesman; consumers, through reliance on various forms of media, are able to get a complete look at the product they’re interested in without ever even leaving their home. This fundamental industry shift has played out in a couple of ways; for the consumer, it’s a beautiful thing. An online-heavy purchasing experience means improved visibility for the consumer by way of simplified price comparisons, a broader selection of inventory through increased geographical reach, the opportunity to execute a review-based credibility check of the seller, and of course, the convenience of bypassing the majority of the human interaction typically required in completing a sale. But while this shift undoubtedly supports the consumer, for the old school brick-and-mortar outfits, this change of direction can, has, and will very easily spell demise. More shoppers relying on the internet translates to decreased foot traffic through dealers’ doors, less opportunity for sales staff, and in the end, a blow to the business’ bottom line. For a traditional sales staff that thrives on in-person opportunity, a bumpy transition to the media-heavy age can prove fatal. However, for those that are willing and able to step up to the plate and change with the times, this industry shift presents a phenomenal opportunity to innovate, become more efficient and effective, and above all, succeed.
If we reflect upon the evolution of the automobile through recent decades, it’s hard to grasp just how far we’ve come. We’ve seen automotive drivetrains evolve from carbureted to fuel injected to hybrid to fully electric, transmissions go from non-synchronized to synchronized manual to automatic to dual-clutch to direct drive, and safety features graduate from lap belts to shoulder belts to airbags, all the way to today’s automated accident avoidance features. Every part of the automobile has advanced tremendously. So it does seem odd then that the buying process hasn’t undergone all that much of a change, right? A handful of years ago we saw Tesla take a run at disrupting the industry by making a push to sell directly to consumers, rather than through an established network of staffed dealerships. This had never before been attempted by a major manufacturer; an innovative burst into a fairly stagnant industry, no doubt. But we’re talking about a major manufacturer here, a company valued at over $50B at the time of my writing this. So what does this mean for the rest of us, the little guys? The small, family-owned, buy/drive/tinker/sell businesses? Well, as I mentioned earlier, a fundamental change in the gearing of the industry to emphasize digital media creates an opportunity for guys like us to break out of the shadow created by the long held used-car-sales stereotypes and transition into an upmarket, online-centric boutique specifically catered to enthusiasts of fine automobiles, as opposed to being pigeonholed as the traditional used car lot on the corner.
So, bringing it home. How have we, those within the industry, positioned ourselves for success in the midst of all this change? Well, we aren’t just sellers of classic and collectible vehicles, we buy every bit as much as we sell. Having been on both sides of the deal, we know exactly what can make or break a sale. While in certain circumstances it can help, a to-the-point, quick-to-close salesperson is no longer the sole driver of sales; sales come as a result of absolute transparency and attention to detail. Transparency and well-articulated knowledge of a product inspires confidence in a would-be buyer, and a salesperson’s ability to inspire that confidence is what carries a sale to the finish and ensures a positive experience for everyone involved. A couple of years ago, in an effort to instill that confidence in our audience of would-be clientele, we made a push to put an emphasis on product videos. We began putting together brief yet thorough videos of each car we listed for sale, all structured in the same format. First, a high-resolution, slow-paced walkaround of the car, with an information-heavy narrative dubbed over the footage. Second, another walkaround, this time showing every blemish close-up and under direct sunlight. Following the walkarounds, clips of the interior, engine bay, underbody, etc. Our initial thinking was to film these videos in our showroom so that folks could see our most desirable inventory in the background, establishing some credibility as collectors and enthusiasts, but we quickly found that the relatively dim lighting of the showroom could skew colors and make certain blemishes tough to capture on video. So outdoor videos it was, regardless of Chicago’s often brutal winter temperatures. All in the pursuit of, to use the term again, transparency and overall decency.
So what has the last couple years looked like? Has anything changed? Have our efforts to pivot within the industry been substantiated by a legitimate measurable difference in business? Absolutely. A transition to a video-heavy sales methodology that encourages sight-unseen purchases has flipped the salesperson role. No longer am I, our salesperson, spending the majority of my time going back-and-forth with interested parties; rather, by concentrating efforts on the front end, the actual preparation of our listings, time is saved on the back end. There are seldom questions left unanswered, leaving the only question to be asked, “Will you take $X for it?”. Thorough, honest listings not only save us time on the back-and-forth, we’re also able to expand our reach to new markets, as buyers across the globe feel comfortable doing business with us, confident in the fact that what they’re bidding on from thousands of miles away is truly what it’s presented as. The influx of these sight-unseen, no-questions-asked deals from all around the world is changing our business for the better; less back-end input on the sales side allows for more time to focus on maintaining a quality inventory, which then fuels the sales machine. We are constantly learning through experience and seeking out ways to streamline this cycle, and as the industry evolves we will continue to seek out ways to innovate, manage our time, turn a profit, and enjoy ourselves in the process.
Written by: Jake DePierro