By Maureen Condon
Automotive Avenues in Denver, CO may look like a typical automotive dealership franchise, but its mission and orientation as a business entity is something far more fascinating.
Automotive Avenues was created in 1987 as an alternative business model to the automotive franchise dealership model.
Automotive Avenues’ mission is to generate a steady, reliable flow of automotive loans for its partners -- 33 Denver area credit unions. And, it’s no accident that Automotive Avenues’ new and used car-buying customers reap the benefits of this unusual approach.
In contrast, the average automotive franchise has no particular relationship with or loyalty to local banks or credit unions; its focus is on selling cars to consumers.
“With Automotive Avenues, our focus is about building trusting relationships with our credit union partners. That in turn builds long-term repeat auto loan and new and used car sales business all around,” says Bill Green, Automotive Avenues President/General Manager.
Bill Green, President/General Manager of Automotive Avenues
“There are a few companies like us, in this market, but none of them are as “pure” in this business model as we are,” notes Green.
“Our partner credit unions refer their customers to us – many of them exclusively - after they have approved their applications for loans for new and used cars. And they trust us to protect their loans, their members, and their relationships with their customers and we do so.”
“In contrast, if a credit union were to send its clients out to shop at a typical car dealership, that dealership might talk the customer into working with another financial institution and the credit union loses that member and possibly their future business.”
“We operate differently. When a credit union sends us a member, we protect and honor their relationship with that client,” says Green.
“Especially in today's economy, consumers need to maximize their buying dollar. Our credit union partners have a history for providing excellent customer service, better rates and lower fees that make them a welcome alternative to typical banks. As Denver's largest credit union endorsed dealership, we work closely with our local credit union partners to help their members find and finance vehicles that fit their lifestyle and budget.”
Business Steady, Despite Economy
“In the last couple of years -- which have been the worst in the car business since the Great Depression -- we have made conscious decisions to upgrade our marketing efforts. We’ve hired a VP of Sales and Marketing, Candace Taylor, who comes to us with a wealth of experience and depth of knowledge, and she brought a whole department with her. This is an investment in our future. We believe the economy is beginning to turn in the right direction now and we are ready to capture an even bigger share of the new and used car market than we already have,” says Green.
Candace Taylor, VP of Sales and Marketing
With that in mind, Automotive Avenues is now launching initiatives in the latest Internet phenomenon: Social Media Marketing.
“We’ve launched our Automotive-Avenues Community www.automotive-avenues.com powered by ADP BZ Results which provides a place online for our customers, employees and suppliers to meet, communicate and share experiences about anything automotive,” says Candace Taylor, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
“On the community web site, we have discussion forums, blogs, and member profiles. Visitors and members alike can interact with our sales people and other customers. They can post opinions and learn about fun events that we have at the dealership, such as our recent Eggstravaganza. They can share tweets, videos, and photos. And, they can get “How To” info on a wide variety of topics and also chat online on our community site.”
Launching Automotive Avenues’ online community is a natural extension of the Denver area community-based activities that Automotive Avenues already engages in.
Like the community-based credit unions it has for partners, Automotive Avenues actively supports fundraising events for local charities, such as Community Shares.
Automotive Avenues also offers, quarterly, a free educational Service Clinic, where anyone that is interested, can learn how to change a tire, and learn about exterior car care and important preventative maintenance measures.
Different Approach to Sales & Marketing
Automotive Avenues’ unusual business model affects every aspect of its operations, including sales recruiting as well as marketing.
“On the sales side, we’re constantly looking for just the right sales consultants, because we are not a traditional dealership. We want our sales consultants to cultivate relationships with credit unions. This is not about selling cars. It’s about relationships with credit unions.”
Bill Green recalls when he first came onboard 12 years ago, “Our Chairman and CEO Steve Bentley had recruited me from Dallas. When I got here, he told me ‘We’re in the business of creating auto loans.’ I thought I better get back on the bus and go back to Dallas, because I thought I was here to sell cars. It’s a different perspective.”
But, Bill didn’t get back on the bus. He stayed and adopted that different perspective and strengthened it in the dealership over the ensuing years – building relationships with the credit unions and growing car sales revenues in tandem.
“Our affinity marketing and affinity positioning with the credit unions is inherently different from the marketing and positioning that a traditional dealership would do. Traditional dealerships market strictly to consumers. We have business development managers here whose sole focus is to work with certain credit unions and help them develop marketing campaigns, both traditional and web-based, to develop referrals.”
“While the majority of our referrals come from credit unions, even credit union members are now shopping over the Internet first, before coming into our retail facility. So naturally, we have developed a large Internet marketing footprint as well,” says Taylor.
“We do direct marketing via the Internet. We have an email database of some 40,000 customers who have already bought cars from us and with whom we stay in contact.”
“We have a strong online presence with our web site www.autoaves.com . Here consumers can use our Virtual Test Drive tool to evaluate 36 different makes of vehicles and all their models and years from 2003 to 2011.”
“Consumers can also use our “Personal Auto Shopper,” another online tool, to quickly specify the make, model, year, and features of cars they might be interested in, and they’ll receive a phone call or email – whichever they specify – from our sales consultants when we’ve found cars matching their criteria.”
“They can also look directly on our web site at approximately 1,500 pre-owned cars we have in aggregated inventory and can also view thousands of new vehicles we have access to as well. Customers can view used vehicles at http://www.autoaves.com/ou/denver-used/console.do?page=n_pre_inventory and new at http://www.autoaves.com/ou/denver-used/console.do?page=new2a“And because life is mobile, our customers can use our Text2Drive tool to get notification of special incentives, to set up an appointment, have photos of cars sent directly to their phones, or chat live with us. This tool virtually puts our entire inventory on the 3-G phone in the consumer’s pocket.”
Car-buying Customers Benefit – Rock-Solid Assets
“Specifically, our partner credit unions rely on us to help their customers buy the cars best suited to their individual needs and budgets. Customers, referred by our partners, trust us because we sell good cars and provide reliable, affordable service. Both the credit unions and the car-buying customers we jointly serve can depend on Automotive Avenues to provide new and used cars. The used cars we sell are relatively newer cars and we perform an inspection on each that is one of the highest in the industry. Our customers know these cars have been thoroughly inspected for optimum performance and durability. In addition, we have access to thousands of new cars through our relationship with local franchise dealerships," says Green.
“We also have a lot of credibility with our customers, because our sales consultants are non-commissioned and we are non-franchise specific. Our sales consultants get paid the same commission whether they sell a moderately priced Honda Civic or a Cadillac. Their mission is to help our customers get the right car for their needs regardless of price or brand.”
“As a result of our quality service and credibility, we draw our customers from a larger geographic area than most dealerships. The traditional dealership has a 5-mile radius where most of its customers come from. Automotive manufacturers set up their franchises with this radius in mind – depending on the density of the population.”
“In our situation, only 25% of our customers live within the 5 miles radius. Another 25% live 5 to 10 miles out, 25% live 10 to 15 miles out and 25% live 15 miles or more away. “
“People are willing to drive a longer distance to be taken care of by people they know upfront they can trust. It’s a handoff from the credit union to us and there’s trust associated with that. People know the credit union holding their loan is not going to send them to a car dealer who is unreliable.”
And their faith is justified. Automotive Avenues enjoys an impeccable reputation in the marketplace for quality and service.
“Our customers rave about our cars and our service on the Internet and on our internal comment cards which we also post on our social sites and in our credit union partner lobbies,” says Taylor.
“An example of a site that really gets utilized by our customers is www.DealerRater.com . DealerRater.com ranks dealerships on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best ranking, based on customer testimonials. Automotive Avenues has a DealerRater rating of 4.9,” says Taylor.
“If you Google our name, you can also see what good things customers are saying about us elsewhere online,” adds Green.
What it all adds up to is this: Automotive Avenues is a good and trusted neighbor -- a member of the community providing valuable services to its customers and business partners and sharing in the growth and development of the larger Denver community, --- and doing it all in its own unique way.