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String Automotive Emerges as a Leading Dealer Website Supplier

String Automotive Grows to Become a Significant Source of Innovation and Competitive Advantage for Car Dealers using their Dealership Website Platform 
 
Recently, I have made several statements and published comments expressing my appreciation for the unique approach and innovation that String Automotive has brought to the dealer website supplier segment.  I stand by those statements and would like to point out that my experience with String Automotive goes back several years.
 
I would also like to point out that my perspective in observing String's activities has been at the request of several dealer clients, and not always something that myself, or the team at Tier10 Marketing was necessarily happy about. While I was at Tier10 Marketing, because of being the dealer's creative design shop, we worked directly with String Automotive and a major dealer group which was a mutual client at the time.  This work resulted in my team getting involved with the people at String Automotive (which was called "Captive Lead" at the time). 
 
As a qualifier to expressing my opinion about dealer website suppliers (Brian Pasch in NOT the only person qualified to form an opinion about dealer website suppliers!), I have been intimately involved with several dealer website supplier start-ups over the past 15 years, and I was fortunate enough to participate in their success... At one point, I reported to a retired US Army General who was running the Automark Dealer Website Company and my job was to gather competitive intelligence.  In that capacity I became very familiar with dozens of dealer website suppliers and what features and services they offered.
 
I also worked on a project for Toyota Motor Sales where we researched the impact of online form modifications on completion rates... Most dealership lead forms have in excess of an 80% abandonment rate. We learned that certain changes to specific lead generating forms resulted in dramatic increases in leads generated without any increase in site traffic.  A lot of what I have learned seems to have been forgotten by our industry as website suppliers have been bought by larger companies and much of the intellectual property disappears as employees that were key drivers of that company's success jump ship.
 
While serving ADP Dealer Services as an executive in their newly launched Digital Marketing Group, I was privileged to be assigned the job of reconciling capabilities and assets that ADP had acquired during their purchase of two dealer website suppliers; Autofuze and BZ Results... That was a real eye opener from me and as it turned out, any preconceived ideas I had going into the project were completely overturned once the team got going.  But, throughout the assignment, I learned a lot about the "behind the scenes" factors that help determine a dealer's success with a website supplier's products.
 
You could even make a case that my last two years of entrepreneurial activity has been funded by the sale of a certain Coventry, RI dealer website supplier to ADP.  So, it is fair to say I am familiar with the pros and cons, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to dealer website suppliers.
Although... Like any other dealer website supplier, String Automotive is far from perfect, and they have some idiosyncrasies I find more amusing than harmful to the work they do for dealers. The following is a partial list of what I have seen after participating FROM THE DEALER'S AD AGENCY PERSPECTIVE, and as an (almost) competitor to String Automotive, during the changeover from other dealer website suppliers to String Automotive.
 
My involvement has varied from being annoyed by the extra work my team had to do, to assisting in the design requirements sent to String for over 50 dealerships since January 2011:
 
  • 1. WEBSITE DESIGN SERVICES - So far, String Automotive has not used design templates, ever time they create a website platform for a new dealer client, it is designed from scratch by Alan Ezzati, who is one of the more advanced web designers in the country and was famous for his work in web design before he ever thought of designing websites for car dealers. There is one skill String has that some would call good, and others would wince at... These people are the best at copying somebody else's design over to the auto industry! When it comes to creating virtually perfect duplicate "knock off" dealer website designs, String is exceptionally talented... For example, they duplicated the Nordstrom Department Store's website, but made it into a car dealer's website!  If a dealer sees a website he/she really likes, these people will mimic every aspect of that site's design and functionality, adapted over to a car dealership's functional requirements.  Considering the sheer vacuum of actual web designers in our industry, a dealer website supplier that is OWNED by formally trained web designers that are creative and highly skilled, is an exception.

  • 2. GOOGLE BUSINESS PARTNER - I started out this comment by stating that I have worked with several dealer website suppliers since 1998... What has mystified me since around 2005 when SEO emerged as a Top Of Mind issue with car dealers, is that whenever I would suggest taking our website platform architecture team to Mountain View for meetings with Google's own engineers so that we (ie: Reynolds Web Solutions, AutoMark, AutoFuze, BZ Results, ADP Web Solutions, etc.) could build in close integration with Google Webmaster and Analytics, and you know, actually get some help in making sure the dealer websites were going to work well with Google's indexing systems and stuff... The developers would glare at me like I was some kind of Judas turning traitor and belch out something like "Google does not know anything about what car dealers need in a website" or "It is none of Google's business and WE ARE the people responsible for designing the new website platform so inviting Google to interfere is an insult to our capabilities..." Yada, yada, yada... It drove me nuts that over and over again I would listen to all these website developers from several different companies get all up in a huff and act like I called them idiots when I offered to set up meetings with Google's engineers.  Well, so apparently the people at String Automotive seem to have escaped this specific form of delirium that seems to effect most of the dealer website suppliers.  Without any shame or bruising of egos, they went to Google's facilities in Mountain View and built their website platform architecture in conjunction with as much assistance as they could squeeze out of Google.  They went so far as to build their entire platform to be complaint with Google Webmaster and Google Analytics Certification standards... Now, everybody who hates to see anyone do something different and better than in the past in this business is going to say the same thing that they said when I insisted that ADP Digital Marketing Consultants get Google Adwords Certified... "It doesn't really matter if you are Google Certified, we can do anything they can without going through Google's Certification nonsense..." OK, maybe yes, maybe no... But in my expert opinion GOOGLE CERTIFICATION AND WEBSITE DESIGN STANDARDS COMPLIANCE MATTERS!

    You know, you can drive a car without car insurance and probably do just fine... However, when it matters, IT REALLY MATTERS!!!

  • 3. CUSTOMER RESPONSIVENESS - Having lived through many life-cycles of starting with excellent customer service for our dealer website clients, and then making dealer support "Scalable" by making it suck, I am acutely aware and appreciative of fast and personalized customer support for dealers where you call the person who managed the initial website design and launch project, so he/she makes the requested changes while you are on the phone and the conversation sounds more like two business partners collaborating then taking a number at the supermarket deli.  So far, and all bets are off if these people sell String Automotive to some big conglomerate (that hardly ever happens, right?), String Automotive provides such personalized and direct support to the dealers (and me) that i work with, I think they simply do not know any better... so PLEASE do not tell these people what the other website suppliers do! For right now, they are my favorite dealer website company to work with because when you call and ask the account manager to make a change or fix something, it happens right away and you speak to the same person every time you call... I like that.

  • 4. DATA EXTRACTION AND INVENTORY DISPLAY - Somebody forgot to tell the founders of String Automotive that you do not need to build your own data extraction and inventory display page generating application, that you can just buy it from one of the major suppliers of these services... Because they built their own inventory system! Now, this is actually kind of a scary thing for me, and I do not recommend you kids try this at home.  This stunt is performed by highly trained professionals on a closed circuit course... Anyways, I watched the brain damage the people at String went through to get their inventory system built and working right for a major dealer group that was a mutual client at the time.  I saw these characters actually do their own "Customer Focus Group"... yeah, for real... Just like you see in TV shows like Mad Men.  They brought in groups of in market auto shoppers and observed them using different dealer websites, tracking and recording what the customer liked, did not like and what compelled customers to come to the dealership, call on the phone, engage in a chat session or complete a lead form.  I know that sounds really goofy, and a lot of us were kind of chuckling at the money they spent behind their backs, but darn if all that first hand customer research did not result in one of the best Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) designs in the business.  Go figure!
 
So, do I like the people, products and service at String Automotive? Yes, I certainly do at this point in time... They recently brought in one of Toyota Motor Sales best and brightest marketing and sales executives who has spent a good portion of the last 12 years inside many of the most successful Toyota dealerships, Mr. Chris Cento.  Chris is String Automotive's Chief Marketing Officer....
 
PLUS, String Automotive hired three of my favorite people in the auto industry that I recommended to them so they could launch an actual sales team (Yeah, they never had a salesperson prior to 2012):
  • Charlie Bass
  • Steve Botello
  • Terry Gibson
 
I have worked with Charlie and Steve on a "shoulder to shoulder" basis for several years and from over 300 sales team members at ADP, I have cited their integrity and dealer focus on many occasions...
Then there is Terry Gibson, who was my room mate at NADA conventions, so he has a lot of dirt on me... I have to say good things about him (just kidding! No conspiracy theories, please).
 
As for the history of me and String Automotive: Back when they called themselves "Captive Lead" (they seem to have a problem with names), I met the owners, Alan and Ken through a mutual client... My initial impression is that I did not like the way their websites were making my company's websites look bad.
 
I wanted to put them out of business, my competitive instincts told me to do everything possible to crush them.  Over time, as I got to know the people at String, we became friends.  When they started to recommend that their dealer clients use my team at Tier10 Marketing for digital advertising, our friendship became stronger and we worked together via phone and email on a daily basis.
 
Today, I find myself helping them by referring employees, making advertising recommendations and pushing their team to write and publish articles like the one about Google Analytics making a radical change in how they treat visitor tracking to Google Analytics certified sites, like those created by String Automotive. The String Automotive Team are my friends. Ask anyone in the car business who is my friend, if I am willing to help them be more successful. 
  
As for recommending any website supplier, it is not that I care very much about which website supplier a dealer buys their sites from. Previously, I cared a lot when I worked for companies whose business was selling dealer websites, but I don't any more. I have plenty of friends working at ADP, Cobalt, Dealer.com, Naked Lime, DealerFire and several other website suppliers. 
 
But, when it comes to the handful of dealers I work directly with, I do care what website supplier I have to work with... I care a lot! So, when I discovered that the Rick Case Auto Group was using a VERY lame dealer website supplier (who I will not name because they have an accessory sales application that I like a lot), my recommendation was to take a look at String Automotive.
 
When their IT Director (Naz), who is EXTREMELY knowledgeable, a veteran of Toyota (SET) and is no easy IT professional to impress, looked at String Automotive's technology, site architecture, and the custom work they do, she bypassed all the other big name website suppliers and selected String Automotive.  She said the decision was actually very easy to make.
 
As for those who like to disparage suppliers and show a penchant for repeatedly questioning my motives, I believe their statements to be self-serving and not focused on what is best for dealers and the automotive industry as a whole... BUT, since the critics seem to be recommending this sort of financial connection, I approached Chris Cento, Charlie Bass and Alan Ezzati about String Automotive  sponsoring advertising on the ADM Professional Community and dealerELITE.net. 

I am very pleased to announce that String Automotive has become our newest advertiser, because I like their products and believe dealers who use them receive a substantial competitive advantage. 

Plus, I am more than willing to defend their capabilities when people question yet another company entering into the automotive website supplier space. It makes sense that String Automotive should support ADM and dealerELITE with an advertising sponsorship like several other suppliers are doing. We are appreciative of their decision to become a sponsor. 

Many thanks to the String Automotive team and Mr. Chris Cento for becoming an ADM Professional Community sponsor!
 
Examples of String Automotive Dealer Websites:
 

Views: 773

Tags: Automotive, Paglia, Ralph, Response, String, String Automotive, dealer website

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Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 7, 2012 at 8:20pm

Brian Pasch, I agree with your points and especially the nature and competitiveness of the dealer website business.  In fact, one of the top account executives that i worked with at Tier10 Marketing recently left the company to take a role as VP of Marketing for a fairly large (19 stores) dealer group in New England.  He was asking me my recommendations for selecting a single website supplier for the entire group.  My response was to identify two very different strategies; one was based on leveraging the OEM mandated website suppliers, such as Cobalt, Dealer.com and Clickmotive.  The other strategy is to find the company that will create the type of differentiation from the OEM mandated programs that has the POTENTIAL of providing a competitive advantage.  For that strategy, I recommended he get proposals and presentations from String Automotive, Wildfire and DealerOn.

I especially agree with your statement that you cannot judge the competency of a dealer website company based on the quality or reputation of the dealer or group who uses it... To this day I am amazed at what I discover when looking at the website suppliers used by some very successful dealer groups.  However, with that said, when an IT Director is involved in the website supplier selection process, and I know that person has a strong technical analysis background, I will always pay attention to that person's analysis of what each supplier offers to dealers.  Such is the case with Rick Case Automotive where Naz comes from a formal educational background and years of experience in website design and development while working at Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET).

Having many suppliers in such an important category is essentially beneficial to car dealers, when compared to the alternative of no choice.  Talk to any dealer about DMS and we soon see that a relative lack of very many choices, long contracts and the difficulty of switching from one to the next has created a hugely expensive proposition for the industry.  Like I said, providing dealers with multiple competent website providers is definitely preferable for such an important component than letting the car companies solely control that supplier decision.

I don't imagine too many people remember this, but there are blog posts and images that show my own selection of website providers when I last worked in a dealership.  At any moment in time I had websites used for various marketing, advertising and customer segmentation purposes from:

  • BZ Results
  • Cobalt
  • Reynolds Web Solutions
  • Clickmotive
  • DealerImpact
  • FreshStart Microsites
  • Home made Wordpress sites

The reason I used these various suppliers was because they were each very good at certain things and so I negotiated the rates that made sense to me and purchased from the dealer website supplier that did that thing the best... An example would be Reynolds Web Solutions (now NakedLime) for our Spanish language websites... I believed them to be the best and we wanted to have a very focused approach to the Latino market, which was over half our business at the time.  Each supplier was selected based on the project, their specific capabilities and our ability to reach a cost level that allowed the ROI to be unencumbered.

I think Brian knows that I am an avid user of each year's Automotive Website Awards (AWA) book which catalogs the majority of dealer website providers in the business.  brian, as you know, my first advice to Chris Cento when he joined String Automotive as Chief Marketing Officer was to ensure that String is evaluated and included in your AWA book.

Comment by Brian Pasch on December 7, 2012 at 7:43pm

Ralph,

Thank you for the mention and of course you are well qualified to recommend website companies based on your years of experience in this field.   Chip, thank you for standing up for your team!

In all fairness, any single personal recommendation pales in comparison to the due diligence that the Automotive Website Awards (AWA) conduct each year on every website company. PCG invests hundreds of hours each year to pick the best website platforms for dealers.

Who has the best website platform?  There is no single answer, and my advice is only given after a series of questions to dealer.

It is worthy to note that last year String Automotive won the 27+ rooftop Herb Chambers website account away from ADP/BZ.  This was a big win that String and they touted it as a big win for their company.  Herb Chambers is a lighthouse account that many industry watchers monitor.

However, String Automotive only held the prestigious account for a year. Why?  I have no answer.

Herb Chambers has now moved off String Automotive to Dealer.com.  Selling website technology is not for the faint of heart.   If you are in the industry, you know what I mean.

I bring this up only because the automotive website industry is a fickle business.  It is often difficult to judge the "best" companies based on who  is using the website technology.  

Dealers can change their mind on a whim; often after a 20 Group meeting!  That often confuses the discussion on what is the best website platform for a dealer.  The irony is that often the dealer controls more of the success than the website provider! 

Think about how DealerSkins was so hot when Adobe Flash technology was the vogue design style only to be bashed by Google and Apple later. In one instant the Flash websites were King and soon afterwards they were the sacrificial lamb. 

PCG has evaluated website providers independently for the last 4 years and each year the top 10 vendors do change.  I love the passion that String Automotive has for Google Analytics and providing dealers with insights to dealership website traffic.

With that said, it is important to be careful how industry influencers, like Ralph and PCG, promote any company that are also advertisers or directly compensating a business.

I know Ralph that you always have the best intentions in mind for dealers, and it is an interesting time that we live in.    Transparency requires all industry thought leaders to measure all that we say. 

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 7, 2012 at 1:59pm

Bryan Mull - Great point! I should have included links in the article. Time to go find them!

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 7, 2012 at 1:57pm

Chip Dorman, You may have a valid point there... I am going to go to New Jersey and meet with Brian Pasch in person and beg forgiveness.

Comment by Chip Dorman on December 7, 2012 at 11:12am

Ralph,

That shall not take the name of Brian Pasch in vain! Brian Pasch IS the only person qualified to form an opinion about dealer website suppliers!

The rest of us are mere mortals.

Comment by Bryan Mull on December 7, 2012 at 9:09am

It would be great to see live examples of auto dealer websites produced by String. With so many providers producing terrible websites (Cobalt, Dominion, etc), it would be a breath of fresh air to see a company produce clean, non-busy (non-shouting) website design that actually look appealing and give the shopper what they want. 

Comment by Timothy Martell on December 7, 2012 at 9:03am

Ralph, when motivations are clear and transparency exists, questioning is not necessary. That is, after all, what truth in advertising is all about.

It sounds like this company has come a long way. When I worked with Alan briefly a few years ago (when it was captive lead) he didn't seem to think SEO was even an important part of a car dealer's strategy. Clearly a lot has changed. 

In an economy like this, I am glad to hear about any small business succeeding wether or not they are a competitor. 

Comment by Dan Fontaine on December 6, 2012 at 9:30pm

I have been with String since 2009 and I am thrilled to see their new GA Partnership. All things will be onward and upward in the future. When we reviewed the providers back in 2008 while trying to replace another local Boston based company( Dataone Software) for inventory and sites, String's technology and platform beat out some heavy hitters. I was so impressed that I single handedly fought to get them to be our provider. It took some back and forth with our think-tank but in the end we began our relationship with String.  The results have been better than we could have hoped. They are on the leading edge, accessible, listened to ideas we had, implemented them, at this point, I would be lying if I didn't say that I felt like at times I was a part of their team. Colonial looks at our relationship with String as a partnership more than a Business to Business relationship. Truthfully I can't say that about too many vendors that we have dealt with over the 10 years I have been with Colonial. 

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