Trade Time

Dealership’s innovative program turns loyal service customers into happy new-car buyers
by Dan Miller
Mar/Apr 2015
Trade Time
VIP Treatment - Trade Time customers receive a letter from General Manager Erik Paulson (left) and personal assistance from General Sales Manager Kevin Breault, helping them get into a new vehicle yet keep essentially the same monthly payment. “It’s about educating them, not selling,” says Breault.
Prospecting for new-vehicle customers in the service lane isn’t a revolutionary concept in automotive retailing. Dealerships have been doing that for years. But Michael’s Toyota of Bellevue believes it’s come up with a unique approach that truly resonates with repeat customers.

And the results prove it.

The Seattle metro-area store launched its “Trade Time” program in July with a single manager, some signage and a data mining tool called Auto Alert. The latter tracks all of its owners and calls out those who are making monthly payments on vehicles with positive equity. Whenever someone who fits that description returns to the dealership for maintenance or repair, the service advisor hands them a letter from General Manager Erik Paulson that presents the benefits of making a trade for a new Toyota now rather than later.

“It starts with a friendly meet and greet, and then the letter,” says General Sales Manager Kevin Breault.

“The letter introduces them to our VIP program. We explain that they could get a new car with a new warranty and a restart on ToyotaCare maintenance—many times at the same monthly payment. The hope is that while they’re waiting for their car to be serviced, they’ll have time to read the letter and think it over. It’s a very soft sell, which is very important. No one comes into service thinking they’re going to buy a new vehicle.”

Stay in Service

If the customer expresses an interest in learning more, Breault or one of his salespeople will sit down with them on barstools in a quiet corner of the service waiting area to discuss their options.

“It’s about educating the customer, not selling,” says Breault. “Everything happens in the service department. The minute you walk them over to the showroom, it becomes a traditional sales process.

The customer feels like we baited them into something and now they’ll have to go through the usual sales and F&I grind. That’s why we stay in service. The customer is comfortable here. They’re not stressed out. That makes it easier to talk. And if they decide to move forward, it makes for a seamless buying experience.”

It can also make for a fast buying experience. In keeping with the VIP theme, these customers “go to the front of the line for everything,” as Breault puts it. Often, the manager can simply pull up the customer’s prior deal and match many of the variables, such as an extended service plan and GAP insurance. Also, to reward the customer for their loyalty, Toyota of Bellevue automatically offers to buy their trade-in at full book value.

“Customers feel like VIPs and see the benefits to them,” says Paulson.

Given the running start, Breault says they can complete the transaction in about the time it takes to complete an oil change and a car wash.

“We just had a customer who bought a Corolla,” says Breault. “He was in and out of finance in 35 minutes. He said, ‘This is great. I never bought a car this fast.’ He walked away happy. That’s the key.”

Incremental Sales

It’s hard to argue with the results. When Michael’s first piloted the program, they had only one manager. Now, four additional managers have been empowered to shepherd deals from start to finish. They’re generating close to 60 sales per month, including a high point of 72 vehicles. Meanwhile, the customer satisfaction scores of buyers who come through the Trade Time program are “off the hook,” says Breault.

Also important: This business isn’t coming at the cost of sales on the showroom floor. Instead, it’s helped propel Toyota of Bellevue from No. 57 among all Toyota dealers nationwide to No. 29 over the past year.

“Initially we thought these might be folks who would have bought from us anyway,” says Paulson. “But, the fact is, these customers had no idea they were in such a good position to get into a new car until we brought it to their attention. We’ve gone from one manager in the service drive to five in the last year. The way it’s going, it feels like half of our sales force will be in the Trade Time department at some point.”
<< Back