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In The Trenches During The AutoTrader Acquisition Of VinSolutions

Originally published May 20, 2011 [LINK]

As I’m sure you’re probably aware by now, AutoTrader announced Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to acquire VinSolutions.

 

I was in the unique position to actually be with most of the executive leadership and employees of VinSolutions when the news broke. I was also with HomeNet Automotive when the rumors started that AutoTrader was working to acquire HomeNet Automotive. I also came really close to working directly for AutoTrader as they attempted to recruit me and, ironically, I was actually at an event in Colorado that Chip Perry was in attendance when I was informed by the Autotrader recruiter that I was “not worthy” (their loss). I like to think that AutoTrader is following me around acquiring companies I work for simply because they actually want to “acquire” me. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

 

After my initial shock passed, as an employee of a media company, the investigative part of me started paying attention. What I expected to see was executive management in a celebratory mode making plans to roll around in the pile of money they must have just made. I expected phone calls being made and Internet leads being submitted for new Ferraris. I expected VinSolutions employees to be anxious about their future employment and having a feeling that this company, that they all were very proud to be a part of, was at an end. I saw none of that.

 

What I saw was quite the opposite. Executive management and VinSolutions employees were still talking to dealers. VinSolutions employees were excited. The entire team was customer focused, not acquisition focused. In fact, it really seemed as if VinSolutions had acquired AutoTrader rather than the opposite. They weren’t feeling as if this was the end, quite the contrary. They felt like this was the beginning. They were excited about the incredible resources and value now available to VinSolutions to make their product(s) bigger, better and faster than they ever were able to before.

 

What makes this acquisition a historic moment is that this is the first time in our industry’s history that a non-DMS company has acquired a company that does what VinSolutions does. VinSolutions wasn’t interested in being acquired by a DMS, because several trends inevitably happen: the acquired company immediately loses half their market share, but they also fall into this virtual black hole eventually disappearing never to be heard from again.  AutoTrader “could” make VinSolutions the hub of their operation powering and integrating with ALL of the AutoTrader/Cox owned properties acquired in recent history.

 

With all of the properties that AutoTrader owns, they are in the unique position to dominate the automotive market. All of these properties, prior to their AutoTrader acquisition, had stellar reputations within the industry and with their customers. AutoTrader “could” leverage these properties to offer an unprecedented value to their customers. Whether (and how) they do this is still up in the air.

 

Not discounting the incredible value and loyalty that current VinSolutions customers have, ultimately VinSolutions is more than just another company. In fact, the people DEFINE VinSolutions. Yes, they have innovative solutions and offer the power and convenience of a completely integrated solution to dealers. VinSolutions could easily be named “Mike-Sean-Matt-Kendall-Solutions,” but that would certainly be hard to create a marketing campaign for. Why? The reason is simple. Mike Dullea, Sean Stapleton, Kendall Billman and Matt Watson ARE VinSolutions. Without them, AutoTrader would now own air. I sincerely hope that AutoTrader recognizes this (if they don’t already) and just like a NFL team, these people were signed to 20-year contracts. If you buy the Colts, you make sure Peyton Manning is included in the deal. Yes, VinSolutions’ integrated dealer solution offers great value to their customers. They are continuously looking to improve the value VinSolutions offers to their customers. The dedication and passion that these people, along with the entire VinSolutions team define VinSolutions.

 

As I talked to VinSolutions’ dealers that are attending this event, their concern had nothing to do with money/price increases, etc. It was completely focused on how AutoTrader would change WHO VinSolutions IS, and who they are is the key to their success. Yes, there are other people who can be a CEO. Yes, there are other people that can run a sales team. Yes, there are other programmers. Yes, there are other people who can be the “website” guy. The fact is that there is NOBODY that can replace these people, perform with the passion, dedication and experience that they have and perform at the level that they do. Disregarding the standard “business as usual” statement, VinSolutions truly has a culture of family. That family makes them who they are.

 

In my eyes, AutoTrader didn’t acquire a company; they acquired the equivalent of the Justice League of America. Take away any member of that team; the Justice League ceases to exist. JLA without Superman isn’t the Justice League of America. What made the JLA the powerhouse that they were was the collective power that they all brought to the table.

 

Does the competition need to be worried, absolutely, but not because all of a sudden VinSolutions is now owned by AutoTrader, but because AutoTrader acquired Superman, Batman, the Flash and the Green Lantern and, most importantly, a family.

Views: 258

Tags: acquisition, arnold, autotrader, dealer, magazine, tijerina, vinsolutions

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Comment by Thomas A. Kelly on May 25, 2011 at 4:39am
Andrea, I have never worked with VinSolutions nor have I ever met anyone personally from their group. I am an independent observer. I have read much about them from several sources, including some of their customers. I have also read much of what they have said about themselves. I have read nearly everything that Matt Watson has said on here and other forums. I am just an observer from a distance. Let me start with Matt. He has demonstrated to me that he is fair and balanced in the help he offers this community. Every topic he involves himself in does not end with a Vin commercial. As a group they strike me as rather humble. Quietly moving forward with real integration. The word integration suggests that there be stumbles along the way. The impression I have gotten from observing is that they listen carefully to their customers and dedicate a good amount of their developers time to solving, creating solutions for problems that their clients have determined they have. Opposite to this would be a vendor deciding what is needed and using their resources to develop what they percieve as a problem needing a solution. When you break new ground, by nature the path to success may not be clear and development means failure. If you are not prepared to fail then you would be wise to not go there in the first place. Perhaps their biggest failure if any, may be not making sure their clients understand well the time, effort and expense it can take to go where others have not gone. Innovation comes with expense and perhaps some of their clients got cold feet and could not see it to the end?? From a distance I get an entirely different picture of VinSolutions and their team than you have gotten. I have grown to like Matt Watson so much on here that decided that I would adopt him if he ever needed a home....but it's looking like that will never happen now.....Congrats to Vin and company!
Comment by Ralph Paglia on May 24, 2011 at 6:26pm

Andrea - Wow... Tell us how you REALLY feel! I do not work for VIN, they do not buy any advertising on ADM and my employer, Tier 10 Marketing does not do business with VIN. On the contrary, some of my coworkers see VIN as an erstwhile competitor (go figure?).  However, my friend Jim Ziegler receives advertising dollars from VIN as a sponsor of the Internet Battle Plan training seminars that I speak at and use as a means of attracting dealer clients... With all that said, it is pretty clear that i do not have "skin in the game" as you describe it... Although, about 6 years ago Sean Stapleton did offer me a job :-). Anyways, there has NEVER been a check issued by VinSolutions made payable to "Ralph Paglia" (hint, hint, Christmas is just around the corner). 

 

So, say what you will about VinSolutions and AutoTrader, I am not on their payroll, never have been and my opinions are my own and not those of a PR agency or any of the people I know at VinSolutions, who I have found to be decent hard working human beings, much like most of the people in the car business.

 

One more thing, in the interest of full disclosure... In the early days of the ADM Professional Community we had problems with multiple domains resolving correctly for this website.  Matt Watson wrote some code for me to use as a means of stabilizing the ADM Community site's domain resolve function, which worked exactly as we needed it to work.  Matt did not receive any payment, nor did he ask for any, either in the form of endorsement or money... HARDLY the act of generosity one would expect from an "ego-centric asshole"!  So, we are all entitled to our own opinion, and ADM is designed to be a place to express those opinions.  In my opinion, VinSolutions has a leadership team that does a very impressive job of delivering valuable products and services to their intended customer segment, car dealers.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on May 24, 2011 at 9:06am
Arnold - I was agreeing with you... Just using a little facetiousness to give my friend Sean Stapleton some bonus kudos.  Great article, thank you!
Comment by Arnold Tijerina on May 24, 2011 at 8:51am
Ralph - I thought I made the point that none of those four people are replaceable. In title, yes. In performance, passion and production, no. Sean is certainly not replaceable, I agree.
Comment by Ralph Paglia on May 24, 2011 at 8:42am

Arnold - Nice article, thank you for publishing it within the Automotive Marketing Community... One thing I would like to comment on that you referred to; NO, I disagree about there being other people that could run the VinSolutions Sales Team! Nobody that I have ever seen in the auto industry is as dynamic a leader in running a sales team as Sean Stapleton... So, in my not-so-humble opinion NO, AutoTrader could not hire another sales manager and achieve what the VinSolutions sales team has achieved under the direct leadership of Mr. Stapleton.

 

Although... Amassing over a billion dollars a year in revenue from dealers for online advertising is no small feat either... hmmmm...

Comment by Jason Manning on May 23, 2011 at 5:55pm
We're still in the people business...employees and customers, all the same.  I've witnessed personnel changes that have dealt hard blows to progress.  I'm sure AT will handle this properly.  I also hope the managers of Vinsolutions handle is just as well.  Sometimes the existing managers begin to change and deal the blow.  We're in the people business.

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