New Marketing Efforts at Phillips Toyota Drive Record-Breaking New Car Sales.
When Tony Viero took over as the general manager of Phillips Toyota in Leesburg, Florida earlier this year, he knew he had work to do. The dealership was underperforming, and its client base, made up primarily of an older demographic, didn’t respond well to modern marketing and sales practices.
The dealership, owned by Larry Phillips, is part of a group that includes a Buick/GMC store in Leesburg, as well as a Chrysler store in nearby Ocala, Florida. The family-owned and family-oriented stores enjoy wonderful reputations in the community. The Toyota store, however, wasn’t performing as well as Phillips knew it could. To move the needle, Viero had to redefine the very idea of what an auto dealership is for a senior generation and, to do that, he knew he had to make some changes both to the dealership’s staff and its message.
Those changes are now paying off. In July and August 2017, the store has set back-to-back all-time record months in its history in new car sales.
The thing Viero is proudest of, however, is the team he’s put together — a team based on honesty and integrity. “One of our customers, an 80-year-old woman, thought she had lost her $20,000 engagement ring on a trip,” Viero said. “She had no idea she had lost the ring in the car she had just traded in, until one of our detailers found it. We had her salesperson drive out to her and, after she described it to him, gave her back her ring. That’s the level of integrity expected out of every person in our building. That’s the team we’ve built here.”
The Area and It’s People
To understand the challenges Viero faced when he took over at Phillips, it’s necessary to look at its client base and its competition. “The area — The Villages and Leesburg — is a retirement community for the most part,” Viero said. “We cater to a very senior community, and that brings its own challenges and its own opportunities.”
Another challenge that Phillips faces is from other dealerships in the area. “We compete with many stores in the Metro Orlando area,” Viero said. “Some of these dealerships spend millions of dollars in television advertising alone, so it’s a very challenging market.” In addition to competing Toyota dealerships, other franchises are also vying for their share in Phillips’ market.
Seeing a change was needed, Larry Phillips brought Viero in as the general manager in January 2017, and gave him a free hand to make the changes he felt necessary. “Larry is not a micromanager,” Viero said. “He believes in his managers and allows them to lead.”
Viero came into the job with automotive sales and marketing training from Northwood University, along with experience he’d gained from several dealerships and his time spent as a district manager for Southeast Toyota. After examining the challenges facing the store, Viero quickly decided the dealership needed a nearly complete makeover — and that makeover started with the staff.
“We’ve redeveloped our entire dealership,” Viero said. “We’ve changed almost all of our managers. We kept one manager who’d always gotten the job done but hadn’t been allowed the leeway to make the changes necessary to grow, and we kept our finance department director, who has always been a rock. The rest of the management team, however, is different. There are a lot of really exceptional people now working here who get the job done every day.”
Before he arrived, the store had been on Toyota’s program for underperforming dealerships for more than two years. Viero said his store will be off that list by the end of the year. “Our people are all very focused on setting records and being at the top of the charts,” he said. “We’re working on building that. The mentality here is so much different than before. We’re a hard-charging store moving forward and trying to take everything we can get.”
Phillips Toyota also expanded its sales staff with an eye towards growth. “When I got here, there were only 16 salespeople; now we have 25.” While Viero’s team made a lot of new hires, those new employees were still held to a high accountability. “We went through some bumps in the road. We had hired some managers who are no longer here because they just weren’t the right fit culturally,” Viero said. “Now we have a team. My father and I once had a conversation about what motivates people, and I’ve found hiring people who you like to do business with and be around is so much easier. You want people with the same mentality you have. We now have that.”
Building a team may take more effort in the hiring and training stages, but Phillips Toyota is now seeing the benefits. “What these guys are able to accomplish in such a short window, with all the changes we’ve made, has been remarkable,” Viero said. “And it has to do with the level of integrity expected out of every person in the building — from the salespeople to the detailers. They understand there’s a certain respect level and they all know I won’t accept lying in a store. You’re not going to lie to me, you’re not going to lie to the customer — you’re not going to lie to anybody. I’ve terminated people on the spot. Integrity is a big piece of what I want in a car dealership, and that, unfortunately, is highly uncommon.”
A Different Kind of Marketing
Because the retired and elderly demographic makes up so much of Phillips Toyota’s client base, the store found that what works for other dealerships when it comes to marketing wouldn’t necessarily work for them.
“We use a multi-point strategy,” Viero said, “since we have to hit a lot of different facets with our marketing. Because of the age of our customers, for instance, we still run newspaper ads. So, we don’t just have one approach; we hit it on several different areas.”
One of the first things Viero did after coming to Phillips Toyota was to search for a marketing partner who could help him effectively reach his clientele — a group who wouldn’t necessarily react to ads reaching other, younger demographics. After seeing what various companies had to offer, Viero chose Team Velocity.
“The biggest element in selecting Team Velocity is trusting the people I do business with,” Viero said. “I know they’ve got my best interests at heart because I have ridden them very, very hard on the things I expect. They’ve proven to me they will do what’s right for my business instead of focusing on what they want to do. That willingness to put the needs of the client first can be difficult to find.”
In the months Team Velocity has been on the job, providing a mix of traditional and digital advertising where it makes the greatest impact, Viero has liked what he’s seen. “I was the district manager for Southeast Toyota for two different districts, and because of that background, I might have a higher digital acumen than most GMs,” he said. “I’m pretty demanding because I’m always checking and asking questions. They’ve done a great job of answering my questions and explaining their actions.”
Putting the Phone in the Right Hands
Another element Viero wanted to see implemented at Phillips Toyota was an effective BDC department — something the dealership didn’t have when he came aboard. “There was no BDC department when I took over,” Viero said, “and I knew we needed one. I’m a firm believer that most salespeople are terrible on the phones. They are built for the ‘here and now,’ and the majority lack phone skills. I needed a system put in place where my customers were getting handled effectively and we were getting a constant flow of appointments.”
Viero went one step further, and also put a service BDC in place along with the sales BDC. “We covered both fronts,” he said. “One of the best things we’ve done is take the phone calls off the service managers. Since the service BDC now handles that, they don’t have to take the time to answer phones and field status calls. It makes no sense to tie them up on the phones when they could be dealing with the customers already in their department. The BDC has been a great help our service department.”
Between the enhanced marketing strategies and the efforts of Viero’s team, the results have been encouraging, to say the least.
“The store is on a very high growth rate,” he said. “In July (2017), we sold 217 new cars, up from 150 the same month the year before. In August, we sold 239 new cars. These are huge growth leaps.”
The dealership’s digital results have been impressive, as well. In February 2017, when Team Velocity first came on board, the store had an 8 percent conversion rate, with 175 total conversions. In August, those numbers have jumped to 15.28 percent, with 609 total conversions.
“Larry Phillips has always had a good reputation in market — he’s done business here for more than 30 years,” Viero said. “We’ve tried to take that and just improve upon it. He has given us a lot of trust. We’ve been making investments in the future of our store, and built a foundation to become more profitable, both for now and into the future. He’s trusted us all the way. It’s an awesome experience to see these guys start to reap the rewards of the hard work they’ve put in. Our goal is to make the Toyota store the beacon of his group.”