In march of 2001 I lost my temper and quit my job. It was not that it was not a good job, indeed, my job was one of the best in the dealership: I was able to set my own hours, I got paid on hold-back and dealer incentives.
But my career of fifteen years selling for the same group of dealerships under literally five different owners, had always been a love hate relationship. They never really liked me in the auto business, they knew it, and I did. They could not get me to “T.O.” my customers; in other words I considered them to be my customers, and in my naivete and youth, I wanted to protect them form the rather brutal system that the rest of the dealership worked with.
Fortunately, by the time a certain closer who never got to close any of my deals tried to get me fired daily for five years, I had built up a customer base from mail merging my clients: first with rudimentary copy machine letters called The Rothman Letter that I sent out quarterly, (and I still do today) and, by 2001, 750 families and businesses who bought all their cars and trucks from me. If I left, the clients left with me. I sold mainly used vehicles, I could sell new: but I would always switch clients from new, to slightly used and that saved them a bundle, got them what they wanted within their budgets, and they came back to me, just like they do to californiamotors.com in San Rafael, because they have the best pre-owned gems – (like the 97 Lincoln coupe I bought for under $4000, that has 93,000 miles on it and 100,000 left in it – somebody paid a bundle to buy it new! I had teh highest gross average in the store, in spite of selling on the Internet: my clients just wanted to circumvent the usual process, and I helped them do that: ) flash forward, I bought my car and did the paperwork at California Motors.com in San Rafael in one hour!
So I became the computer and Internet guru in the dealership: they bought me any hardware, any software I wanted:
“Just don’s talk to the other guys,m you screw their heads up” my boss at the time would tell me.
But I knew that, no matter what, this was not going to last. The Internet was growing, and I was not going to be able to keep us owning every key word search on Google and Yahoo and MSN for every year, make, and model that we sold: not on my own. At the time, Google was trying to go public online, something that had never been done, and I could see the writing on the wall. The dealership was spending $50,000 per month for gigantic print ads that were not working like they once did, with the circulation dropping like a rock.
So in 2001 I had been hounding my employers for years to let me try something: I wanted to advertise free classifieds instead of cars, causing the entire used and new car markets to move through our website.
Now finally, after years, they had decided to try parts of my idea, and they wanted me to train a guy to run the department I had invented.
So I got a little angry, and quit, and instead of paying my mortgage, I went into business as oregonfreeads.com with a homemade business card.
I lost the house, but in the process we went nationwide as Adsforfree.com, did over $3,000,000 in four years mostly with Realtors, because the auto dealers were just too difficult to sell it to. And, although we eventually did have a few really good auto dealers as clients as we do now, we went nationwide selling to Real Estate professionals, and, if not for a hostile takeover from second round investors, I would have been retired by now.
If you think of it, the model is still sound, more than ever actually: Instead of building an “I am a car dealer too site”, we have built a freeautoconsignment.com site, to facilitate the collection, aggregation and distribution of user-generated, user filtered content – the only solution in the long run of you want to compete online. The free ads sites were rudimentary in comparison; and the very expensive application we custom built and maintained for hundreds of thousands then, we now build and sell for as little as $599. It is now called a blog, or what we call a social media enabled website.
The Internet has become the media. if you want to have a presence on this media, you must think like a media person, and not a car salesperson.
Think of your website as a media, because it is: your clients, contacts, visitors are your audience. If you are entertaining informative, thought provoking funny, or controversial, your audience can grow, even while you sleep at night if your website is enabled to accomplish that task:
It would always have worked for the auto dealers, they just didn’t get it: just as retailers and franchisers and every different type of business who do ot get it still now: this user-generated, user filtered content approach is the answer, actually, for anybody who wants to really compete with professionals like me, and the clients from years past who finally get it and who know what I can do, like my client: californiamoters.com.
The only ‘Diamond Certified’ new or used auto dealer in the San Francisco Bay Area according to diamondcertified.org(meaning nobody could find one unhappy customer anywhere, not so good for their business plan, but said a lot about Bill Singerman, my client) Bill gets it: it is about traffic and eyes on the inventory – is the inventory is good, all else follows; the inventory is the content.
By garnering user-generated, user-filtered consignments, Bill is creating a ‘farm’ where more and more people can find http:/freeautoconsignment.com; we create a generator of user-generated content that is search-able by Year, Make, Model, location on Google, with every set of eyes seeing the sponsors message on every page. As for the users, their stuff will instantly be search able on Google! Now you have a definition for ‘viral marketing’: advertising that develops a life of it’s own, and spread from person to person like a virus.