Bert Hodge has commanded minesweepers and guided missile frigates, including the U.S.S. Halyburton, which in 2009 helped rescue Capt. Richard Phillips and crew of the Maersk Alabama merchant ship from pirates off the coast of Somalia.
Naval command and dangerous seas are a long way from Heritage Ford in Corydon, IN, where Hodge is in charge today. In a town of 3,100 in the greater Louisville, KY, market, the dealership was started by his father about 30 years ago.
Running a dealership in some respects resembles running a warship, Hodge says. He explains: “Whether managing a naval vessel and crew or a car dealership and staff, leadership focuses on providing the tools and the training for individuals to do their job, and my responsibility is to follow up and manage their performance.”
When he joined his father James two years ago, he learned even a demanding military career had not equipped him for the complexities of running a modern car dealership, particularly the used-car department.
Used-car consultant and AutoProfit founder Ed French says that partly due to lack of expertise in metrics-based inventory analysis, small and midsize dealerships often struggle in the following areas:
- Understanding what mangers must do to increase search results and vehicle detail page views.
- Staying tuned to current market conditions to realize vehicles with certain options might draw greater consumer interest on third-party websites listing dealer inventory.
- Streamlining reconditioning processes to cut time from acquisition to lot-ready.
Hodge credits LotPop, an outsourced digital inventory-management firm, in helping him build staff competency and confidence in marketing and selling used cars.
LotPop offers virtual- and real-lot metrics-based services to help smaller dealerships with accurate vehicle-listings, merchandising and competitive pricing.
The company was started three years ago by Jasen Rice, a former manager for vAuto, a pioneer in inventory-management software.
Jeff Viner, managing partner of Gastonia Nissan in Gastonia, SC, last year sought to improve his store’s performance. He made personnel changes, started to advertise aggressively and retained LotPop.
“We’ve reduced our days’ inventory from 75 days to 55 and we’ve increased turn from 10 or 11 to 14 or 15 times a year,” he says. The dealership went from selling around 55 used vehicles a month to 75.
“It is hard to find used-car managers who are tech-driven and grasp the whole digital marketing concept for used cars,” Vinter says, explaining his decision to retain outside services.
Inventory-management software helps dealerships stock “without emotions or bias,” Vinter says. The systems analyze local market data to help dealers decide what to stock and how much to charge.
Viner calls it “right 97% of the time.”