The quality of products and services deployed by any company are crucial elements that determine the overall level of prosperity with its customers. Perhaps nowhere would that statement have greater meaning than in the automotive industry where quality production, sales and marketing and ongoing service are essential components of business success and sustainability.
In the auto sector, rapid and ongoing technological advancements have made owning and driving a vehicle a much more enjoyable experience than in years gone by, with so many modern luxurious amenities now at our fingertips. While the quality has been enhanced for the vehicle purchaser, so too has the work environment for the dealerships and their employees who sell those automobiles, thanks to a New Brunswick-based company called DealerMine Inc., which provides the professional expertise that allows dealerships to get to know their customers on a far more intimate level by developing and nurturing all-important one-to-one relationships.
Headquartered in St. John, DealerMine is the brainchild of Robert Quirion, a software engineer turned entrepreneur. In addition to being the founder of the company who wrote the code for the comprehensive database, he is also the president and CEO. Quirion’s enterprise provides dealership Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that caters to each and every department within an automotive dealership. The approach to CRM is simple; Quirion and his executive team believe in building meticulous, personalized relationships with each of their customers.
With well over 15 years in the industry, DealerMine has developed an excellent reputation for leveraging dealerships’ existing customer relationships to increase their service and sales. The company’s high-tech products are tightly integrated for ease of use and flexibility for employees at the dealerships.
Although the business began in the Service department, DealerMine has really evolved to be a complete solution for the progressive dealer that is serious about taking care of their customers and equipping their staff, whether it be the BDC Appointment coordinator or the Sales person on the showroom floor, with the right tools to make the customer’s experience a satisfying one and most importantly easy for the customers to do business with the dealer.
The Canadian Business Journal recently had an opportunity to speak with Robert Quirion and Karen Parmenter, VP, Sales & Marketing, North America, who joined the team in 2012 and is based out of Toronto to spearhead an aggressive push to have the company’s products and services become suitably exposed to the national marketplace and beyond. In her three years, significant growth has been recognized due to a focused commitment on sales and marketing. Prior to Parmenter’s arrival, the first 200 dealerships that came on board were mostly based on referrals.
The idea to develop such unprecedented database software first began to take hold in 1998 when Quirion was working as a young executive with Reynolds and Reynolds Automotive Solutions and was recruited by a dealership in St. John to assist them in improving their efficiencies. When he arrived in the service department he immediately realized there was a huge opportunity that was being missed and so the product design immediately came to mind.
“Within a four-month period, right away we started to see growth in the service department,” he reveals.
By 2001, Quirion officially launched DealerMine, his all-inclusive database software solution for automotive dealerships.
“We founded the company in 2001 because we saw that after using the product for about a year and a half, the dealership doubled their gross profit in the service department, and that was without changing any of the existing staff or without adding any new service bays. It was all about bringing more volume in the shop and properly booking it so they could handle the increased volume,” says Quirion.
Enticing a greater volume into the shop and properly booking appointments was the key to handling the increase in business, which made the incentive to push forward abundantly clear. If the product was able to make such a huge impact on one location, Quirion immediately began to realize just what it could do for all the other dealerships. He says the lightbulb went on to become a real company when those other dealerships in his hometown were nowhere near the volumes of his store and in fact wound up asking if Quirion would consider letting them purchase his product.
When the DealerMine product first launched it was a client-server based system. Online bandwidth was certainly a much bigger constraint in the early 2000s but the primary obstacle was that many dealerships simply did not want their sensitive data being stored outside of their physical location, especially given that the Internet was still very new to most businesspeople and by extension there was an element of timid mistrust and fear of the burgeoning cyber world.
“They were afraid to have the data offsite,” remarks Quirion. “If you said you were Web-based 15 years ago, they would have said ‘no way’ because they wanted control of their own data. It worked out well because the product we built was client-server and so it remained in the dealership. Over the course of time, we saw the trends were changing so we had to re-write the product several times to be Web-based so that we could stay in the groove and continue to compete. It has definitely helped our business model over the last five years.”
Fifteen years ago when Quirion started DealerMine it was also very foreign for any dealer in Canada to know how to proactively reach their customers and to load their service departments. The hope was to sell enough cars to generate service volume for the service department. The advisers would show up, they’d open their doors – and they’d wait.
“We built this product so we could get a handle for these customers, so we can get to know who they are, by understanding their driving habits and vehicle habits; call them and bring them in for service,” notes Quirion.
In partnering with DealerMine, a dealership recognizes they have the capability to create a unique experience for their customers where they will enjoy speaking in a personalized way, one to one. It’s the positive experiences cultivated in a service department that creates future sales in an auto showroom.
“We help them to tap into it to effectively reach out to their customers and develop a relationship from a service aspect so the customer gets used to doing business with the dealership and hopefully it’s a positive experience all the way around. When it comes time for the consumer to think about purchasing another vehicle, we hope that by having that in place, the dealership will receive another sale,” says Parmenter.
The uptake for employees learning to use the product software on the service side is quick, with typical training of about three to five days to grasp the basics. From there, it’s a matter of learning much more of what the product has to offer.
“Within that time we can have a person using DealerMine and being relatively productive but it’s the other training that we offer such as selling the services such as an oil change or transmission service.
After those types of training webinars that we do is when you really see an increase. Our average increase in the first six months when a dealer signs on with DealerMine and they use our product as it’s been designed to be used they will see an 18% increase in their labour sales. We can almost guarantee that every time,” says Quirion.
“An appointment coordinator using DealerMine from the service aspect, you can usually see $10,000 to $30,000 in additional maintenance gross profit every month by having someone dedicated to outreaching and making those calls,” adds Parmenter.
Whether it’s a small shop with three bays or a large dealership with 100 bays, DealerMine will produce results. The concepts and the principles are the same, regardless of the size of the operation.
Commitment to Excellence
When the database software was first written by Quirion, he had the vision to ensure that the product core had all the necessary components written into it for any and all possible situations. To date, no other company has been able to replicate what Quirion and DealerMine are able to do.
“We have algorithms within the system that calculate exactly when a customer is going to be due for service. We’re able to measure everything, which is where we are unique. We can tell where the business came from. If for example the Business Development Centre sells an oil change and the customer comes in for that appointment and the adviser sells a transmission service we will show that the BDC sold the oil change and the adviser sold the transmission service. We only take credit for what the BDC sold. We can show the dealer that their BDC or the person doing the job has now become a profit centre for your dealership. We only take credit for the ROI that we personally contributed to the dealership,” notes Quirion.
A major differentiator between Quirion’s company and other CRMs is that DealerMine has been developed from the ground up. It was literally assembled from first-hand knowledge by someone being in the trenches in a dealership, understanding what solutions were needed for those people on the front lines to best conduct their jobs, designed with actual user input whether from both the service and sales perspective.
Another huge benefit within the marketplace that cannot be overstated is that DealerMine is a 100% Canadian-made product. Most companies in this space tend to be from the United States and because of that, often do not comprehend the subtle nuances that are inherently different for the Canadian market.
Those subtleties can easily be the discernment between a happy, satisfied customer and a frustrated, dissatisfied customer.
“Our support is very good. It’s one of the things that will often win for us over a competitor. We have a great product but right alongside that, you can call our 1-800 line and you’ll get the person who will fix the issue. There is no calling in for tickets, or pressing 1 or 2. You speak with a human,” says Quirion.
As part of its standard core offering DealerMine includes an account management piece, which is integral because many software companies will simply offer a product, they install the program, collect the money and are gone. The account management teams are challenged with ensuring the customers use the application.
“We give very detailed reports showing how well their business is doing. Because of all the extras we provide we have a 94% customer retention ratio and have done so for 15 years. No company can do that without being completely dedicated,” says Parmenter.
Another key differentiator for DealerMine is their outsourced Business Development Centre, which has been up and running for the past eight years. It’s far more costly for DealerMine to conduct business this way, but as Quirion says, it’s the right thing to do for the dealer. Going that extra mile for their customers has also gained them tremendous respect within the industry.
Many of DealerMine’s competitors that try to offer the service tend to outsource it to a larger call centre.
In that scenario it’s virtually impossible to generate a strong enough relationship with the consumer to properly understand their needs or upsell services, especially when they are speaking to a different representative each time they call in.
“What we promote is a true one-to-one relationship for dealerships. A lot of others struggle with putting in a call centre or BDC so we have an alternative for them, which we call Outsource BDC. It is an absolute proven solution for them in that we provide consistent communication for them for their customers,” says Parmenter.
With the company’s origin being from Eastern Canada, New Brunswick still has the highest penetration of any province in Canada. However, since Parmenter’s arrival three years ago sales have pretty much been balanced out in the Ontario market, giving DealerMine a very strong foothold from Ontario and east. Growing the west coast market is another top priority. A sales executive was hired last summer to generate business in that part of the country. Quirion and Parmenter expect to see similar results in that market in the not-too-distant future. There is also already a large presence in the northeastern section of the United States, so there is a lot to build on there as well.
DealerMine’s CRM is used by about 3% of the 15,000 dealerships across North America and about 20% of all dealerships here in Canada.
“We would like to see the same percentage in North America – 20% – that we currently have here in Canada,” he says.
In addition to the core product, Parmenter says they are making a strong push to develop the ancillary products; elements that really make a BDC or a salesperson very accountable. DealerMine offers such things as telephony, which makes a BDC person’s role that much more streamlined and more efficient. It also drives accountability for the Sales Department to ensure that the interactions are taking place between the sales person and the dealerships customer.
DealerMine is also delving deeper into the social realm, which includes going out and being proactive to getting customers into the dealership. Using Twitter is one such ideal method by which to read and be a part of conversations that are taking place in the public domain. It’s no longer waiting for the customers to come in, but rather reaching out to them in a variety of methods. Social is now no longer just about reputation management.
“I would like to have 20% of the North American market and OEM recognition on both sides of the border. To me that is a goal that is very important,” says Quirion.