The automotive industry, like most industries, has been affected by this economic and health crisis. But there are still many great ways you can not only keep doing business—but thrive, even when your day-to-day has changed so drastically. Customers are much less likely to drop in, and they may not even know if they’re allowed to buy a car right now. In some states (but not all), car dealerships are still open; some with even the strictest lockdowns are classifying dealerships as essential businesses. 

The good news is that some dealerships are still doing great, thanks to some adjustments and innovative thinking. In addition to our local business guide to COVID-19, we’ve compiled a list of some of these ideas that specifically dealerships across the country have implemented. Here’s what we’ve found.

1. Let your customers know you’re still open.

Send a text or an email; update your hours online; keep offering great deals. Interest rates are low and buyers are still interested. Take advantage of social media to communicate your new hours and points of contact, and make sure your staff is all trained on responding to new lead sources. 

2. Focus on the service center.

If your dealership is struggling to move cars, shift your focus on the service drive. Not only is it considered an essential business, you’ll still be presented with sales opportunities while serving your customers. Read our auto services Covid-19 blog post for more specific tips.

3. Share what you’re doing to keep customers safe.

Disinfect high-traffic surfaces; avoid handshakes; wipe down steering wheels, turn signals, keys, and gear shifts between drives. A Facebook post or homepage update can communicate this information clearly and quickly with little effort.

4. Put your showroom online.

Whether it’s on your website, your Facebook page, Craigslist, or your local online classifieds, you can bring your whole business online. Post pictures of your inventory, and be ready to answer questions. Even financing and trade-in negotiations can be done online, especially when paired with messaging.

5. Take advantage of text.

Messaging can be a powerful and personal sales channel. Set appointments. Send pictures, videos, and attachments. Negotiate and close the deal. You can complete an entire purchase through text with the right tools and the right customer, from first pitch to purchase to completed payment. Read more about how Podium’s suite of messaging tools makes that possible.

6. Give customers space (literally).

Encourage social distancing in your showroom. Consider allowing solo test drives if you don’t already. Set up appointments over text and have the car pulled up and ready to go before test drives. Or, better yet:

7. Offer free delivery.

Whether it’s for a test drive or purchase, showing up with a car at your customers’ door will not only remove any friction from their car-buying experience, it speaks to your dedication to great customer service as well. Customers will be grateful to not have to enter a public space.

8. Take advantage of deals and incentives.

Many manufacturers, government agencies, and software solutions are offering help during this time, including relief for inventory costs and payroll. Many of these deals can help keep your dealership afloat, and many can also be passed along to your customers in the form of savings, such as extra bonuses per vehicle sold. Interest rates are also at record lows, meaning the more you can do to communicate clearly to potential customers, the less will be in their way to making a purchase.

9. Prepare for recovery.

Take this time to improve your business. NADA has put together a series of workshops, online courses, webinars, and more. Your team can use these resources and others to work on essential skills and practices so you can hit the ground running once we make it through this difficult time.

10. Make use of government relief funding.

Read through this guide to see what resources may be available to you now to keep your dealership running. Some dealerships may be forced to cut staff and hours, but Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill designed to keep businesses alive and protect your employees as well.

Dealerships have definitely taken a hit—but this is temporary. With the right tools at your disposal, you can not only survive and keep servicing vehicles but also keep selling cars. If your dealership is doing anything else to work through this crisis, or if you’ve found any other resources that can help those in the industry, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line and we’d be glad to share it.

Max Steckler
Max Steckler Head of Strategic Automotive Partnerships

Max Steckler, is an auto professional at Podium, the leading messaging platform that connects auto dealerships and businesses with their customers.

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