WILSON, N.C.Last July, David Harvey was promoted to general manager of Hubert Vester Honda in Wilson, and his first task was to get the service bays humming and increase the auto dealership's customer-pay repair business.
So in September, his service department's marketing went digital.
He bought key words and phrases for shoppers working on their mobile devices or personal computers. Those searching for general vehicle maintenance such as oil changes, batteries, tires, timing belts and water pumps for Honda cars and light trucks would see Hubert Vester Honda's name among their top three search results.
And if anything needs to be repaired or replaced during those service visits, the service department calls it to the attention of customers, Mr. Harvey said.
As a result, his customer-pay repair orders increased 35 percent in September over the year-ago month. They increased 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and that's with six or seven days lost to bad weather in February, he noted.
The digital campaign was the only thing we did that was different, he said. Before the campaign, we did very little marketing for [service] except the factory mailing on a quarterly basis that Honda does in conjunction with the dealership to its current customers and its previous customers that haven't visited the service department for the last 12 months.
Wipers, cabin air filters and things like that, probably 50 percent of the time, if you point it out to customers and it's cost effective, they'll go ahead and buy it, he added.
Hubert Vester Honda is one of five car dealerships in the Hubert Vester Auto Group in Wilson and Roanoke Rapids, N.C. The store sells about 100 to 120 vehicles a month, evenly split between new and used.
Mr. Harvey credits the service marketing campaign to Netsertive, a Morrisville, N.C.-based digital marketing intelligence company that is guiding the auto group's digital strategy and creative marketing campaigns.
Bill Nagel, Netsertive co-founder and chief marketing strategist, said auto service is a $310 billion a year business. But auto dealers are capturing just under $92 billion of that, according to NADA Data, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) annual report on dealership sales and financial trends, released in April.
There are a lot of opportunities for dealers, Mr. Nagel said. There are 70 million searches for parts and service. When you have a flat tire, you want to fix it now. It's not a purchase you research for months and months.
You need an oil change, and you're looking for a coupon, and you want it now.
Mr. Harvey's Honda store has 10 service bays and eight technicians who work 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
The goal is for consumers within 25 miles of Wilson who search for Honda vehicle service to see Hubert Vester Honda appear among the first three results 70 percent or more of the time, Mr. Harvey said, adding that the store gets about 90 service-and parts-related calls a month generated by its new digital presence.
According to its website, the dealership's services include: lube, oil and filter change; front end alignment; routine maintenance; brake replacement or adjustment; muffler/exhaust repair; coolant flush; vehicle checkup/inspection; trans-mission flush; electrical service; tire balancing and rotation; and filter replacement.
But even with the additional business Hubert Vester Honda is pulling in, we're not selling 100 percent of our inventorythe hours we have based on the number of techs we haveevery day, Mr. Harvey said. We still have some room to grow.
The other dealership general managers in the group are aware of the Honda store's success with service department digital marketing, and the Toyota store signed on for it in early May. Others in the group may do so at a later time, he said.
We do that from time to time, he said. One store will try something new. If we see a result, we'll share it, and the other stores can jump on the bandwagon. I was the guinea pig, and I was happy to do it.
This report appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.