After getting a chemistry and physics degree from Ball State University, Tony Rimas six years later graduated from the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s Dealer Academy, class of 2008.
The latter schooling helped train him for his job as operations director at Red McCombs Automotive Group, No.57 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100 with revenue of more than $1 billion in 2015.
But it’s his scientific bent that has him looking at greater uses of technology and innovation for the San Antonio-based dealership group’s Texas megastores, many of them former Kmart stores converted into dealership facilities.
“We’ve invested in a lot of technology to run those stores,” Rimas says at a recent Automotive Social and Innovative Tech Summit.
Those investments range from inventory-control software to customer-relationship management systems to digital tools that benefit car shoppers.
“We all realize customers want faster transactions, more transparency and the ability to see actual inventory (online),” he says, adding, “I love that OEMS are embracing the digital customer experience.”
Although on the cutting edge, Rimas takes a methodical approach to potentially game-changing technology. “As disrupters, we need to be thoughtful. In retail, it’s carefully done.”
Some things he sees in the works for dealerships include:
- Selling “never-own” subscriptions. Those would allow consumers, with changing vehicle needs, to swap in and out of different ones, such as pickups, SUVs, sedans and convertibles. “But I don’t think it would work everywhere,” Rimas says.
- Connected vehicles that allow dealerships to send service notifications to drivers. “This excites me,” he says, noting fixed-operation profit margins exceed those for variable operations. But the idea isn’t to pester customers, he adds. “Sending a message saying, ‘You have received two recall notifications and haven’t been back’ is thoughtful and not pushing to sell service.”
Today’s vehicles are modern marvels containing technology that originally was developed for the military, he notes. “There is incredible content in cars. Our techs who fix them are incredible, and they require more special tools.”
Today’s cars also are more expensive to fix.
“The average RO (repair order) is going up at a rapid rate,” says Rimas, who is considering a consumer financing plan centering on vehicle repairs. In addition to his operational work, he also is a partner in an investment-management unit of the McCombs enterprise.
Company founder Red McCombs is 89 and still goes to the office on a weekly basis, Rimas reports. McCombs has the distinction of having owned three National Basketball Assn. teams at one time or another. He became a car dealer at age 25.
Although technology plays a bigger role in dealership operations, there’s still plenty of room for using good old common sense. That includes knowing whom to target with a marketing message – and when.
“We are near some of the largest military bases in the country,” Rimas says. “Why wouldn’t you on the Fourth of July target veterans and service people? Send them a message saying, ‘Thanks for your service to the country. Come and buy that Ford F-150 from me.’”