Gary Swartz, General Manager, Freeman Toyota
March 2016 Autobytel Dealer of the Month
We'd like to congratulate Gary Swartz, General Manager at Freeman Toyota, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for March 2016
The Autobytel Dealer Awards Program honors exceptional dealers from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers who employ the highest standards in customer service, Internet automotive retail sales and lead management processes, and mobile and emerging technologies.
We recently spoke with Gary about the importance of being customer-centric, having good people on your team, and utilizing new and emerging technologies, and how these business tactics have helped this award-winning dealership outdistance the competition.
Tell us about yourself and your store. What is your official title, what brands do you sell and what are your primary markets?
Our dealership has been in business since 1963. Our Toyota store is located in Santa Rosa, CA and we also have a Lexus store across the street. We are very established in the community and we're rooted in the wine country of Northern California, serving customers from Petaluma to the Ukiah area. We sell new and used vehicles, we have about 300 used cars in stock, we sell about 450 cars per month across both of our stores, and we service between 250 and 300 vehicles per day. We even have customers come in from out of state.
How long have you been an Autobytel dealer and what do you think are the primary benefits of being on the Autobytel program?
We have been on the Autobytel program here at this dealership for about 4 years. We are having some success with it, and part of that success is due to quality of the leads, and the other part is that we have very good, high quality people in our Internet department who are dedicated to handling those leads.
What do you think makes you so successful at meeting the needs of today's Internet consumers? Please share a few of your best practices in terms of managing Internet leads.
We believe we have a leg up on the competition because we are a Toyota store, which is a popular brand. We are successful at meeting Internet customers' needs because we do everything we can to facilitate our customers' requests. We receive a lot of leads from many sources, and we do our best to try to keep the transaction time down, and not put customers through an arduous process. I think they appreciate that. We are very transparent as a dealership, we don't haggle, and we price as aggressively as we can. That's the world we live in today.
What are your thoughts about being named an Autobytel Dealer of the Month?
Our focal point is continuous improvements and always trying to be better, so we are honored to be recognized.
What are some tips or advice you would give other retailers when it comes to effectively managing Internet customers?
I think the most effective thing you can do is make sure that the follow up is sound, and that you have a safety net. Our safety net is our BDC department, which we feel is important. What happens with Internet leads, in general, is that people express interest, communication happens, and it can fall apart very easily, but we have many follow up points and great people to work those leads.
What are your general thoughts about the auto industry right now? How are sales? Any interesting things happening at your dealership or with your brands that you'd like to share?
I think we're in the throes of working in the best industry over the last 20 years. The industry experienced very good car sales last year, and we're seeing strong sales again this year. We're also seeing a strong pre-owned market with many lease returns coming back into the market. Much of the public is embracing pre-owned, and as a dealer, we are trying to enhance our pre-owned business.
What are your thoughts on the new / emerging technologies coming out of Autobytel? For instance, receiving leads via text and texting with customers? Web based chat?
Both text, and web based chat, and other emerging technologies are helping dealers sell more cars. We use the mobile technology not just in our sales process, but in our service department, too. We're all in with these technologies because if you're customer-centric, you will do what your customers gravitate towards.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself...what do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests of note?
I have been in this business for 35 years. I was a part owner in a dealership group for 20 years and I've been here at Freeman Toyota for 3 years. This is a great industry to be in, with good people. Personally, I enjoy golf. I have two sons and we enjoy golfing and fishing together!
Each month, Autobytel's sales and dealer operations teams evaluate prospective candidates from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers in the Autobytel network, with a monthly finalist selected based on key online automotive best practices, including conversion rates, lead management processes, customer service principles, customer and brand retention analytics and Internet department practices, among others.