Lynnes Auto Group operates three rooftops — Hyundai, Nissan, and Subaru stores — located on the same New Jersey street. Jose Dios, the group’s used car director, has tried multiple inventory management systems throughout his tenure, including Inventory+ for about 12-plus years.

When Dios took over as used car director, he decided to switch from vAuto to Inventory+. “There were a few obstacles in other systems that weren’t present in Inventory+. There was a lag in data, and the analysis of data wasn’t as in-depth. To complete one task, you’d have to move between multiple screens in the system. With Inventory+, we can make changes on the fly.”

Dios worked with his dedicated strategic growth manager (SGM), Darren Militscher, to get all three of his stores onto Inventory+. “Our implementation has gone extremely well,” he says. “Darren, our strategic growth manager, always picks up the phone. He’s on it. Even after hours or on Sundays.”

Militscher not only helped onboard the group to Inventory+, he helped train general sales managers on best practices. “The managers have taken to Inventory+ extremely well. It’s easy to use and not complicated,” Dios says.

"There were a few obstacles in other systems that weren’t present in Inventory+. There was a lag in data, and the analysis of data wasn’t as in-depth. To complete one task, you’d have to move between multiple screens in the system. With Inventory+, we can make changes on the fly."

Jose Dios, Used Car Director

Lynnes Auto Group

The GSMs at each store use Inventory +'s mobile app to start appraisals at a customer's vehicle on the lot, then book out potential trades using the tool on their desktop. “Inventory+ is extremely well thought out and user friendly,” Dios says. “The managers use Inventory+ when they’re working a deal to start an appraisal and then look at the appraisal details when I’ve completed my valuation.”

Dios, on the other hand, uses Inventory+ throughout the day. “I’m in and out of the system from the beginning of the day until the end of the day. It’s the only platform I use,” he says. “I used to have to jump between Reynolds & Reynolds, CarGurus, vAuto, and more. Now, I only live within Inventory+.”

Aside from using Inventory+ for appraisals, the Lynnes stores use the tool to price their used-car inventory competitively. “Inventory+ definitely has more competitive intel on how my competitors are pricing in my market, giving me a strong edge when it comes to my inventory,” Dios says, referring to the system’s TrueTarget pricing tool.

For example, if one of his stores adds a Nissan Altima, he uses TrueTarget to more strategically price his unit to drive traffic to his store.

Since moving to Inventory+, the Lynnes stores have realized a 30% increase in their used-car volume. “Compared to other inventory providers, you get more tools for what you’re paying for,” Dios says. “They mention that Inventory+ is a stronger, quicker inventory tool that gives them an easier way to market online. When asked if they’d recommend DealerSocket to their peers, Dios says, “You’d be stupid not to look at it. It’s better than other inventory providers out there.”

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Will Robertson, used-car manager for Pasco, Wash.-based Bill Robertson Nissan, was convinced that pricing a vehicle to sell was the right strategy — that was until his phone rang. It was his DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager (SGM).

“He called me to suggest raising the price on the car I was going to sell below market ,” he recalls, adding that his SGM’s suggestion resulted in $2,000 incrimental gross profit. It’s just one of the many examples of when Robertson leveraged  DealerSocket and its Inventory+ solution to maximize profit despite compressed margins resulting from e-commerce in the auto industry.

 

Customer service is where DealerSocket differentiates itself. My Strategic Growth Manager cares about my business and is proactive with his consultations. He forces us to be strategic and use Inventory+ to our advantage.

Will Robertson, Used Car Manager

Bill Robertson Nissan

“Customer service is where DealerSocket differentiates itself,” he adds. “My Strategic Growth Manager cares about my business and is proactive with his consultations. He forces us to be strategic and use Inventory+ to our advantage.”

Inventory+’s TrueTarget pricing tool is just one of the features Robertson uses to his advantage. “TrueTarget makes it easy to look at the market supply and price to target,” he says, noting that the tool’s ability to work on a desktop and a mobile device is especially helpful.

“I’ll use Inventory+’s mobile app for an appraisal — start to finish,” he says. “I can make all my evaluations and determine ACV through the mobile app. When it comes to repricing and merchandising, I’ll work in Inventory+ desktop.”

Robertson can list a host of scenarios in which Inventory+ has delivered — stories that usually end with a note about the support he receives from his SGM. “I once called him after 10:00 on a Saturday night with a problem,” he says. “He did not have access to his work computer , but he  connected me with a  team that immediately helped me to solve the problem. I was very appreciative.”

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Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+TM team reveals profitable opportunities for dealers who stayed the course.

Field reports in May confirm what DealerSocket’s April snapshot of appraisal trends seemed to indicate — that a high degree of pent-up consumer demand could create a small window of opportunity for dealers to generate higher gross profits on the sale of used inventory.

May Appraisal Trends

Retail Demand Resets Market

Purchase appraisals, or wholesale/auction vehicles evaluated by dealers, fell to their lowest level the week of April 6. Since then, appraisal counts for this category have increased by 114.7%. In May alone, purchase appraisals rose 135%.

The pick-up in activity reveals that retail demand is once again setting the market, with the guidebooks in catch-up mode due to auction closures in March and Apil and dealers on the hunt for pre-owned vehicles core to their dealership and available at the right wholesale price.
of their core inventory,” Black Book stated in a recent report, adding that dealers are hesitant to get stuck with vehicles they don’t traditionally stock in a depreciating market.

Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team shows a 20% week- over-week decline in total appraisals the week of March 16, when most stay-at-home orders took effect. Trade appraisals, or appraisals that occur on a customer’s trade-in, were down 26% during the same period, while “Purchase Appraisals” on wholesale and auction units plunged by 35%, according to the data.

Overall, appraisals were down 34.4% from the first week of March to the first week of April. However, activity has trended up since.

Window of Opportunity

Inventory+ users in the Northeast, where some markets remain limited to appointment-only sales as of early June, are reporting either record-setting months for April and May or year-over-year increases in terms of pre-owned sales counts and gross profits. And that momentum seems to be carrying over into June.

Trade appraisal counts appear to confirm strong consumer demand, with the number of trade appraisals (evaluation of consumer trade-ins at the dealership) increasing 27.8% in May after bottoming out in early April due to the impact of shelter-in-place orders. Since April 6, trade appraisals have risen 97.9%.

Consumer appraisal counts offer an even brighter outlook, as consumers continued to initiate vehicle evaluations through online lead forms during the height of shelter-in-place orders.

The apparent retail demand is now rewarding dealers who resisted the urge to offload aging units, as inventory shortages are allowing them to get higher asking prices with little to no negotiation. Some dealers, according to field reports, are even pricing units they’ve had since March like it was Day 1 on the lot.

The going theory is consumers camped out on vehicles of interest through the COVID-19 period between March and April, hoping for a price cut that never materialized.

Conclusion

As the old saying goes, make hay while the sun shines, and the sun is still shining in terms of a dealer’s opportunity to generate higher front-end gross profit. However, that window of opportunity won’t stay open for long, with wholesale value normalization expected in the next three to four weeks. The guidebooks, by some estimates, are about a month to a month and a half behind.

For now, dealers need to hit the reset button on their aging strategies and pump up retail prices, especially on three-, four-, and five-year-old vehicles. The exception is late-model units, which should be priced and advertised around factory new-vehicle incentives. Lease returns and the expected flood of rental units should refuel inventory levels, but not until the wholesale prices for those market-returning units fall to a more reasonable level.

It happens at every dealership. You’ve invested time and money reconditioning a vehicle that seemed perfect for your lot. Thirty days becomes 45, 45 days becomes 60, and, finally, it becomes clear this car has to go.

Do you sell the vehicle at auction and incur transportation costs, auction fees, and possibly wholesale losses? What if your frontline-ready car is purchased by a competitor and sold at a profit?

If your store is part of a dealership group, the best and most profitable solution is to give that aged or unwanted unit another run at a sister store’s lot. By trading within your dealership group — a process known as group trade — you’re able to reduce wholesale loss, save on auction fees, keep core inventory within your group, and drive additional overall group revenue. In this article, we’ll outline best practices for running group trade for operations of all sizes.

Select a Moderator

There are multiple ways to set up group trade. We recommend a model that organizes all your group’s used-car managers and general managers weekly. Having this regular cadence keeps your trade desks at one to two hours. We suggest scheduling them on Mondays at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., so trading ends before the dealerships get busy.

We recommend you assign a nonbiased individual, such as the group’s used-car director, to manage and moderate the bidding. This person will also need the authority to make decisions, especially when it comes to settling disputes. Think of this individual as your group trade project manager, because you need someone to keep all your managers and GMs on track.

Trade Desk Preparation

Each week, managers must compile a list of vehicles they plan to make available during the trade desk. Every group has its standards, but we recommend sending any unit that’s been on the lot for 45 days or longer.

Vehicles listed should be reconditioned and priced correctly before the trade desk. Cosmetic and mechanical problems are often the reason frontline-ready vehicles go to auction. Requiring that vehicles listed for trade are in good condition also helps instill trust. We’ve seen it happen before: A vehicle traded to a sister store requires reconditioning that wasn’t disclosed. The point here is you need to set ground rules to which all participants are held accountable.

As for pricing, vehicles should be priced to current market conditions. That means vehicles that haven’t received a recent price update shouldn’t be offered for trade.

Also make sure vehicles listed for trade have clear, detailed interior and exterior photos, as well as full book-out information. Remember, transparency is key. Like customers, your fellow manager at a sister store won’t purchase a car without photos, as vehicle images often help identify problems or explain why a vehicle didn’t sell.

Knowing that aged vehicles will be offered to sister stores encourages used-car managers to be more vigilant during trade walks, and when monitoring and adjusting retail prices to market fluctuations, and making sure vehicles have been booked out accurately.

Make sure your moderator diligently manages the trade desk timeline. By Saturday night, all vehicle lists should be submitted to the moderator. By Sunday, have your moderator compile all vehicles available in trade desk. Managers can look at the list Sunday and prepare to bid by Monday’s call.

Key Strategies

Used-car folks love to bargain. That’s why they’re in the business. Help managers understand they will get great vehicles if they give great vehicles — i.e., “You give me a break on this car, and I’ll give you a break on that car.” That’s a win-win for the group. Encourage managers to collaborate and cut deals, but make sure every deal goes through the group trade desk.

The following are other trade desk strategies you can implement:

  • To keep all managers engaged until the sale ends, sell vehicles based on age, not by store. That disburses each dealership’s vehicles throughout the sale, making it easier to keep managers engaged as they wait to bid on or sell a vehicle.
  • Make faster decisions about a vehicle’s fate; they don’t get better with age.
  • Used-car managers should be prepared to talk up their vehicles — via conference call — when they are featured.
  • The bidding should be done in increments of $250 and limited to one minute per vehicle.
  • Keep things moving and discourage managers from getting attached to off-brand vehicles. That’s especially important if the vehicle is valued at $10,000 or more, or a sister store of the same franchise brand can sell it as a certified or noncertified pre-owned vehicle.
  • A vehicle should only be traded once within the group. A vehicle that sits 60 days at one dealership and another 60 days at a sister store needs to go.
  • Urge managers to be proactive and search for group trade desk opportunities. For example, take notice whenever a sister store appraises a trade. DealerSocket’s Inventory+ software has a feature called Group Trade, which will notify you by email or text whenever a store within the group takes in a trade. If that vehicle fits your core inventory profile, monitor it. If it hits the 45-day mark, let the store’s used-car manager know you’d like to have it. Conversely, if you have a car that isn’t right for your store, contact a sister store’s used-car manager to see if he or she is interested.
  • Group Trade enables dealerships to run weekly reports that show data such as the trade desk’s closing ratio, pending appraisals, preliminary photos taken, book outs, and percentage of core vehicles in inventory. It can also track the age of units in inventory.

Above the obvious benefits, group trade promotes camaraderie among colleagues who work for the same company but may not know one another. Our team has seen group trade foster brainstorming, collaboration, and increased morale, and decreased turnover.

This session has ended, please view the recording below. Looking for the Inventory Checklist we shared? Click here.

 

Session Description:

As local governments make decisions, businesses are starting to re-open and car buying will begin to resume. Is your dealership ready for the changes ahead? We’ve put together a BIG checklist for re-opening your dealership, and we’ll cover everything from getting your sales reps back into the swing to pricing strategies.

Whether it feels like you’re starting from scratch or you just need a few extra tips to get things moving, this is the webinar for you! Register now and hear DealerSocket’s industry experts Darren Militscher. Judy Greeby, and Nick Oakley lay out the inventory & CRM re-opening checklist you need to get ready.

About the Presenters:

Darren Militscher, a Senior Dealer Results Manager at DealerSocket, has over 14 years of deep automotive experience and started his career with Dealertrack working on what would later be Inventory+ by DealerSocket. Darren is an indispensable part of his dealers’ workflow, providing valuable consultative advice and insight into their business strategies.

Judy Greeby, a Strategic Growth Manager at DealerSocket, has 25+ years of experience in automotive and has played a vital role in helping our customers accelerate their operations through her hands-on consulting.

Nick Oakley is also a key member of DealerSocket’s Strategic Growth Management team, delivering high-value business & product insights to our customers. With over 7 years of automotive experience, Nick is able to help his dealers drive results with their CRM and ensure business efficiency.

DealerSocket’s new report provides a snapshot of inventory and web traffic trends

DALLAS, May 12, 2020 — DealerSocket, Inc., a leading SaaS provider to the automotive industry, today released new insights based on aggregated Inventory+ data that shows positive signs for the automotive market. Contained in the company’s new “DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report,” the aggregated data set of insights will be updated on a bimonthly basis. The first edition reveals a 34.3% increase in consumer trade appraisals between the weeks of April 6 and April 20 this year.

The report’s first edition also provides a deeper dive into inventory management trends during the COVID-19 period between the weeks of March 2 and April 20. Aside from insights from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team, the report includes online shopping trends from DealerFire (DealerSocket’s digital and websites business), and regional lists outlining the top 10 pre-owned vehicles based on sales count, average turn, front-end gross, and average sales price.

“Dealers are optimistic by nature, and the data outlines trends pointing to potential recovery signs for the industry from the COVID-19 pandemic, with activity spiking since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deemed auto sales essential on April 17,” said Brad Kokesh, general manager of DealerSocket’s Inventory+ business unit. “The report also outlines a pick-up in activity among consumers. What’s interesting is consumers continued to initiate appraisals through online lead forms throughout the month of March, and consumer trade appraisals have jumped more than 30% since the first full week of April.“

Here are key findings from the DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report:

To access the DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report, click here.

New data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team reveals that dealers are betting on a high degree of pent-up demand when markets open up.

By Gregory Arroyo

Field reports from DealerSocket’s team of Strategic Growth Managers reveal that dealers haven’t pushed the panic button just yet. Their focus is on the high degree of pent-up demand they believe rests on the other side of the industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the chance to pick up market share when markets begin to open up.

A Strategic Growth Manager operating in the Sacramento, Calif., area noted that dealers benefited from the way things came to a halt quickly vs. a slow drip. That allowed them to make inventory and staffing decisions through March, as well as seek expense relief from their floorplan finance sources and technology vendors.

For dealers with closed showrooms or stores operating with limited staff due to strict social distancing guidelines, there was little time to delve into emerging sales trends they had not experimented with before the pandemic. In a lot of cases, management teams handled appointments and sales in the absence of sales staff.

DealerSocket’s Strategic Growth Managers report many learnings and process refinements at dealerships, especially for operations that had tested remote sales and digital retailing.

By the Numbers (National):

Appraisals Fall

In terms of pre-owned inventory, Strategic Growth Managers operating in the Northeast report that some dealer groups were able to squeeze in trade desks just before stay-at-home orders took effect. Multi-state dealers on the East Coast were also able to reshuffle inventory out of areas with strict sales guidelines.

Beyond that, there’s wasn’t much to do with respect to managing inventory, aside from updating vehicle listing and other merchandising activities.

Virtual auctions reported strong attendance in March. The problem was, dealers weren’t buying, with KAR Auction Services reporting an 84% decline in volume for virtual sales nationwide. And with the physical auctions closed and big dealer groups not buying, the firm reported a 12% decline in wholesale values — 15% if adjusted for fewer lower-priced trade-ins.

“We have heard repeatedly from dealers … about their hesitancy to put a value on a trade-in that is not part of their core inventory,” Black Book stated in a recent report, adding that dealers are hesitant to get stuck with vehicles they don’t traditionally stock in a depreciating market.

Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team shows a 20% week-over-week decline in total appraisals the week of March 16, when most stay-at-home orders took effect. Trade appraisals, or appraisals that occur on a customer’s trade-in, were down 26% during the same period, while “Purchase Appraisals” on wholesale and auction units plunged by 35%, according to the data.

Overall, appraisals were down 34.4% from the first week of March to the first week of April. However, activity has trended up since.

Markets In Recovery

As of the week of April 19, according to J.D. Power, nearly all markets are in recovery or exhibiting growth, as dealers adapt and selling regulations are clarified.

DealerSocket data also reveals a pick-up in activity, with appraisals spiking the Monday following April 17. That’s when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deemed auto sales an essential service. Much of that lift, however, was from dealers appraising wholesale and auction vehicles, which increased 182% from the week prior.

DealerSocket’s data also revealed an uptick in consumer activity, with appraisals on consumer trade-ins increasing 34.3% during the first three weeks of April. Even more compelling is appraisals initiated by consumers through online lead forms remained steady throughout the period after inching down 2% on a week-over-week basis the week of March 16.

A snapshot of website traffic by DealerSocket’s DealerFire team also reveals a normalization of online consumer behavior, with organic traffic climbing 15% to 20% over the 10-day period ending on April 24. Dealerships located in states that allowed showrooms to remain open saw a sharper overall rebound. In contrast, dealers in states with a high number of COVID-19 cases continued to experience significant declines in site traffic.

However, those dealers are now starting to see increases, with consumers returning to more normal browsing behavior. “In both cases, traffic has rebounded in the past week,” read DealerFire’s April 24 Digital Marketing blog. “But in Texas, the traffic has already come back to very near pre-COVID numbers.”

Leads have also been trending upward, with DealerFire data revealing that dealers in areas less affected by COVID-19 are now seeing numbers equal or within striking distance of pre-COVID-19 trends. Even dealers in heavily impacted areas are seeing an uptick in lead submissions.

Late Models a Concern

On the retail side, dealers continue to hold the line in terms of their asking price for the Top 50 makes and models, which inched down 3% from the week of Feb. 16-29 to the week of April 14-20, according to DealerSocket data. However, there is evidence dealers are willing to meet customer demands, with the data revealing some front-end gross erosion. Still, dealers have lowered their selling price just 1% during the period. Days’ supply, however, was up 718%.

The immediate concern is aging, especially if the expected feeding frenzy never materializes. If it does, throw aging out the window, said on Strategic Growth Manager in the Northeast, as dealers will be able to demand higher gross profits. There are exceptions, however.

Current model-year and one-year-old pre-owned vehicles could be problematic, as automakers continue throwing big rebates, deferred payment programs, and other incentives on the hoods of new models. So far, according to J.D. Power, incentives remained at a record level of $4,700 per unit during the week of April 19, which could be enough to pull pre-owned buyers to new-vehicle lots.

Lease extensions permitted in March could also hamper the values of late-model units, with many of those off-lease vehicles expected to hit the market by the end of April.

As for profit drivers, the belief is the potential lies in three-, four-, and five-year-old vehicles, especially with the deadline for filing federal income taxes extended to July 15 and the IRS drowning in unopened tax refund requests.

That’s why dealers are holding onto inventory, as they know availability will be critical. The big question is just how quickly things will come back, especially given that the used-car guides typically take 14 to 30 days to adjust.

Positive Signs

The good news is many of the challenges dealers experienced during the Great Recession have yet to materialize. For instance, the national average for a gallon of gas, according to the latest data from AAA, has dropped 48 cents in the last month to $1.883 — the cheapest in more than four years. During the height of the Great Recession, the national average peaked at $4.10 a gallon.

That might explain why trucks and SUVs dominate DealerSocket’s Top 10 pre-owned sales lists for all regions except the South (See Charts). In fact, J.D. Power called the pickup segment the most resilient in the industry in a recent report. Recovery in the SUV segments is also gaining steam.

Also absent is the credit tightening seen during the last recession, with J.D. Power noting that finance sources have greeted record transaction prices — the average reaching a new high of $35,800 during the week of April 15 — by approving higher loan-to-value ratios across the full spectrum.

“Consumers in all credit categories are purchasing and financing more expensive vehicles,” the firm stated in its report, adding that a higher percentage of buyers are also financing “more than the value of their vehicles relative to historical levels.”

There are looming signs on the horizon, however. As reported by Automotive News, Ally Financial Inc. told investors during a recent call that 15% of its auto-loan customers have asked for payment deferrals. And of the 1.1 million borrowers who requested forbearance, 70% had never had a late payment.

Automotive News also reported on April 21 that Credit Acceptance Corp., which specializes in financing credit-challenged buyers, warned of a sharp drop in payments. The firm was among the first to report an uptick in delinquencies, the publication noted.

Conclusion

In terms of most-likely and worst-case scenarios, Black Book projects a 25% drop in new-vehicle sales if unemployment jumps to 10%, as well as a 17% drop in wholesale values compared to pre-COVID projections, with some recovery in the fall. The firm’s worst-case scenario has new-vehicle sales and wholesale values falling by 40% and 25%, respectively.

Consumer confidence and unemployment filings will be critical indicators in the weeks and months ahead, with KAR Chief Economist Tom Kontos noting that values should improve once new filings dip from the millions to pre-pandemic averages of about 250,000 claims per week. While he doesn’t expect wholesale values to fall 20% below seasonal averages, he warns it could be close.

J.D. Power put 2020 retail sales at between 11.3 and 12.5 million and total sales at between 12.7 and 14.5 million vs. its baseline of 16.8 million. The firm also projects that the virus could eliminate between one million and 1.7 million sales between March and July.

As for dealers, the big unknown is pricing, which means transactional data will be a critical guide as they navigate the recovery. Their physical inventory should be their No. 1 priority, as well as their virtual showrooms. Vehicles need to be cleaned, and merchandising activities need to be kicked into high gear. That means updating photos and vehicle descriptions, as well as refining their digital marketing and data mining strategies to get eyes on their inventory.