FT. LAUDERDALE, FL — There is a noticeable difference between the people who plan and oversee AutoNation's Internet strategy and those at the retail level. The headquarters folks are laid back while the dealership operatives are intense.
Stepping off the elevator onto the 24th floor in the AutoNation building (this city's tallest), one might expect to find a space-age type of office environment with a bunch of NASA controller-like techno geeks running around.
Actually it looks like an average office, with everyone looking like normal, everyday 21st century corporate workers, quietly going about their business. Watching them, it is hard to fathom that the department is responsible for the Internet infrastructure of nearly 300 dealerships, and that they keep track of thousands of Internet transactions a day.
A stroll into the Internet department of an AutoNation dealership, however, is much different. While AutoNation dealerships are distinguishable because of their corporate environment, back in their Internet departments you see a different mentality.
What's plainly visible is an intensity among the personnel; an attitude necessary in today's automotive retail environment.
C.P. Horn, director of e-commerce at Maroone Honda in Hollywood, FL, is a hard-driving manager, one whose sole professional goal in life appears to be pleasing the customer. He's found his niche with the Internet department.
Mr. Horn has been known to rent a U-Haul trailer, hitch it to the back of a pickup truck and tow a vehicle 300 miles to deliver it to a customer. Not only does he produce a satisfied customer, he saves money in the process.
After spending eight years in finance and insurance he agreed to do the Internet thing part-time about a year ago. After a month or so, his general manager asked if he would consider managing the store's Internet department full-time.
“I wasn't too crazy about the idea,” recalls Mr. Horn. But the general manager kindly reminded him that he had met his wife on line, and that selling cars couldn't be all that much different.
Nine months later, Maroone Honda is one of AutoNation's top Internet dealerships. Mr. Horn has done everything from wiring the computers himself, to developing an in-store process that produces response times of six minutes or less.
“Many of the Internet managers in the stores are like C.P. Horn,” says one of the company's e-commerce district managers. “They have pride in what they do. They work hard to be the best.”