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Canadian Auto Dealer Magazine Review of AutoCon 2013 in Las Vegas

Canadian auto dealer

AutoCon 2013: A Well-Rounded Event

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Some dealer conferences can leave you feeling a bit left out, especially if there wasn’t a workshop or keynote address that talked about your aspect of the store. At the second annual AutoCon (short for AutoConnections) conference, held at the prestigious Aria Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., there truly was something for everyone.

No matter if it was digital marketing, social media, fixed operations or remarketing, there was a workshop for it. Taking place following the Labour Day long weekend, there were perhaps fewer dealers walking the halls and sitting in on the seminars than one might have expected, but many of those in attendance told us they were happy they made the trip. Here are some of the highlights:

Jim O’Connor


The Power of One
This year’s opening keynote address speaker was Jim O’Connor, former group vice-president of marketing with Ford Motor Company. O’Connor’s speech was riveting. He talked about the “Power of One,” using an example of Ford Motor Company and current CEO Alan Mulally, who helped instill a new culture — a new way of doing business — the “One Ford” way.

O’Connor talked about leadership and the fact that leaders are made, not born. “Everybody is a leader to somebody,” O’Connor said, “all of you can be great leaders. Management might be getting things done through people but leadership is getting more out of people than the science of management says is possible.”

He talked about the need for dealers to form a winning strategy, “to build trust and respect by your actions. As you do, your people will become more comfortable.” He emphasized that good, open communication where everyone is included was key, and that in Mulally’s case — disciplined, weekly meetings have become central to Ford’s way of doing business. “Meet with your direct reports and code your metrics, red, yellow and green. Focus on the red. Great leaders need to be prepared to make mistakes, admit to them and fix them quickly.”

Geoff Bedine


On day two, workshops began in earnest, with an hour morning session and then a further two in the afternoon, following the keynote address and lunch. For the morning workshops, we chose to attend Geoff Bedine’s Maximizing Dealer Profitability in the Digital Age. Bedine, founder of DealeriQ and a senior consultant to Dealertrack Technologies, talked about the need for dealers to really embrace mobile technology and to price their vehicles “right” not “cheap.” He said dealers that keep a larger percentage of “higher core” inventory perform better and that using technology that makes people more customer and staff oriented is key to boosting the bottom line in the digital age.

The keynote session on day two consisted of a panel discussion, moderated by Brian Pasch of PCG Digital Marketing. The experts included Sean Stapleton of VinSolutions, Hugh Hathcock of ELEAD1ONE, Hunter Swift of DealerSocket and dealers Adam Barish and Darin Wade. The topic was The Future of CRM and the general consensus was that despite advancements in CRM technology, dealers are still struggling to keep up and many leads still fall through the cracks, costing stores a substantial amount of business.


Execution strategy
During the lunch session, renowned sales expert and New York Times bestselling author Grant Cardone gave an inspiring address. Cardone’s focus this time out was on execution. “Those that push and shove, are the ones that make things happen,” he said. “Ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed.”

Grant Cardone


He quoted former General Electric CEO Jack Welch Jr. who said “good business leaders create the vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.” He said that the car business represented a unique proposition and that when the economy tanks, vehicles are one of the last things people would give up. “A car is something we use every day, that’s why they are selling right now.” He said a big problem is a lack of training and communication in the industry, which is still hampering the ability for many dealers to sell more cars. “Managers are overwhelmed,” he said.

An interesting workshop was Google Wildfire — Dealer Success Stories Using Social Media Advertising. Conducted by Brian Pasch, Lisa Salabritas (content manager at PCG Digital Marketing) and Mike Shea, strategic partner manager at Wildfire by Google, the session talked about the need for dealers to consider social media as an integral part of their digital marketing and not as a separate entity.

“People are going on Facebook and asking questions about cars” said Shea. “You need to engage on social media because that’s where your customers are. The reason you are not seeing ROI is because currently, social is siloed from the rest of your marketing efforts.”

Brian Pasch noted that perhaps the biggest opportunity for social media advertising lies with fixed ops, yet he said many dealers and general managers don’t really include service as part of their digital marketing strategy. “They are left out of the digital party and I encourage you to really think about that.”

Left to right Mike Shea, Brian Pasch and Lisa Salabritas


Lisa Salabritas said a big part of delivering successful social media marketing is the idea of “I’ll be interested if you’re interesting.” She said providing contests, or coupons can be a great way to attract customers. “You need to engage with them and give them a reason to stay on your page.” The presenting team also talked about how (in the U.S. at least) Polk data is now allowing dealers to specifically target customers based on the vehicle in their driveway and that because Wildfire is mobile friendly it has the potential to allow dealers to reach more in-market shoppers than ever before.


One message, multiple platforms
Sean Wolfington, CEO of the Wolfington Companies, delivered the final keynote session of the day. In it he talked about the need to deliver a single message through multiple mediums.

“The dealer principal and general manager know less about digital than the Internet manager they hire,” he said. “We should be focusing on how we want to market and how we want to sell.”

Sean Wolfington


Wolfington noted that for most consumers, buying the car is just the beginning. “Thank the customer for buying, give them a reason to come in for service with you.”

Wolfington talked about the power to reinvent and showed the audience a recent interview he conducted with Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora. Westergren was able to turn the music business on its ear by providing consumers with a huge selection of music over the Internet and match songs to individual tastes, in the process not only wowing said consumers but also promoting new artists who create similar kinds of music.

“And that is what we’re trying to do in the car business,” Wolfington said “to shock and awe.” He said dealers really have a chance to wow customers, quite simply because expectations are so low. “They expect so little from us. If they come in and see how different the experience is from what they thought, they will tell everybody.”


Service driving sales
One of the most anticipated speakers at this year’s AutoCon was Brian Benstock, general manager at Paragon Honda, in Woodside, N.Y., who spoke during the lunch session on day three. His store is currently the number one Honda dealer in the world in terms of volume. During the recession, Benstock and his staff were looking at ways to weather the economic storm by getting the right cars at the right price. He found a solution by selling cars in the service lane.

Brian Benstock

“It occurred to me when I was sitting in the service department, that there were a lot of Hondas,” he said. Benstock came up with a strategy that if he could cherry pick the best used cars by offering those customers a better version of what they were driving at a lower monthly rate and even those who weren’t willing to buy a discount on their next service, he could drive up both his new and used car business.

“We started the buying cycle for consumers that weren’t interested,” he said. As a result of this strategy, Paragon went from selling 40 cars a month in the service lane to 191 over a 30-day period.

Look for more AutoCon 2013 coverage in the October issue ofCanadian auto dealer magazine.


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Comment by Alexander Lau on November 14, 2013 at 8:41am

Cardone was hilarious. Benstock was on point and encouraging. I think they should do a better job at informing vendors to attend open sessions, etc. Unfortunately, we generated very little business from attending and having a booth.

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