Auto Dealer Tries Mobile Apps To Drive Sales

Can iOS and Android mobile apps sell cars? A dealership for Hondas and Toyotas explores that question and learns some surprising lessons.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

October 27, 2011

3 Min Read

10 Top iOS 5 Apps

10 Top iOS 5 Apps

10 Top iOS 5 Apps (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Businesses are using mobile apps to sell all sorts of things, from clothes to real estate to coffee. Even car dealers are looking to speed up sales with mobile apps.

Take the Glockner Family of Dealerships: The Portsmouth, Ohio company has around 320 employees across three new-car dealerships, six used lots, and other businesses. Tim Glockner--who sports the title "Head Coach" in his email signature--said his first smartphone purchase some time back got him thinking about how an app might work for a car dealership.

"My little girl was looking for games on the App Store," Glockner said in an interview. "I'm a Honda and Toyota dealer, so I typed in Honda and Toyota."

The search produced a couple of fellow dealerships in California with apps--both were early customers of MobileAppLoader, which ultimately built Glockner's app for iOS and Android devices. Costs were relatively low--today, MobileAppLoader charges about $13 a month for hosting and a $150 set-up fee--so Glockner decided to launch a customer-facing app. That's a drop in the budget bucket for Glockner: The company spends some $650,000 a year on advertising--down from more than a $1 million annually three years ago.

[ Mobile apps can do a lot of things. Check out 10 Epic Android Apps. ]

"[The app] was cheap enough. We're spending a fortune on advertising, so I thought if nothing else we'll advertise it in our conventional marketing and it sounds cool--it might portray us as cutting edge," Glockner said. That fits the general Glockner culture: The company is paperless, quick to adopt new tools, and everyone on the sales floor sports a smartphone or iPad.

Sure, mobile apps are popping up everywhere, but for many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) they're a nice add-on rather than a core channel for connecting with prospects and customers. (And, in some industries, they can be conspicuous in their absence these days.) That's come true at Glockner: It's a relatively low-cost way to keep up with customers--and with the times--but it's not necessarily a rainmaker.

"I wish it would generate more leads than it actually does," Glockner said. "What it's been good for is a convenient way for customers to schedule service, and for all of our salespeople to have our inventory in their pocket."

The latter was an unintended internal benefit of an external app: one of the core features is a full inventory search, so both customers and staff can find out exactly what's on the lot at any given time from their device.

"A customer calls and instead of flipping through pages of inventory like we used to, [salespeople] can just go to their smartphone and search by price range, payment range, year/make/model--whatever," Glockner said. "If you're out to eat, a lot of people know you're in the business and will ask you if you've got X, Y, or Z and you can pull it up and show it to them on your phone. That just makes life a lot easier."

While the app is not necessarily moving cars off the lot, Glockner does find value in the ability to send mobile messages to opt-in users. Typically, the dealership either sends special offers on service or information about new vehicles available. Close to 2,000 people have downloaded the dealership's app. Glockner has noticed a trend, though, one that's not necessarily restricted to his company's offering.

"With any new app, you use it a lot at first and then you get tired of it," Glockner said. "Usage goes way down over time."

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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