Baxter Auto Group is raising the bar when it comes to supporting the customer during their car-buying journey. The brand has launched a new program that puts consumers in the driver’s seat and offers them a personalized car-buying or service experience. The initiative includes four new operational tenets, including At-Home Test Drives, Simplified Buying Process, Hassle-Free Delivery, and a 7-day Return Policy on pre-owned vehicles. The group introduced the new tenets internally in March of 2020, and unknowingly, launched a new way of doing business that would help the organization work through some of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After more than 60 years in business, the idea of doing business differently for Baxter came about in 2018. The privately-owned auto group now operated 20 dealerships across Omaha, Lincoln, Kansas City, and Colorado Springs, but the automotive landscape was rapidly changing and new disruptors were entering the market. CEO and President Mickey Anderson challenged the executive team to revisit the company’s core values and strategic priorities and reimagine the current way of doing business.
“We challenged our team to identify new, tangible changes we could commit to. The four tenets represent our commitment to providing radical service to our customers and doing right by our employees,” said Anderson. “Little did we know that as we were imagining what was next for our business, we would be helping prepare the entire company for an effective response to a global pandemic.”
Easy Adjustment to Pandemic
Fast forward to March of 2020, and the Baxter team was on the verge of launching the new program in Nebraska. An aggressive internal rollout was planned, and the external brand launch was set for June, just in time for the summer selling season. But as the pandemic threat became more severe, the leadership team realized the company needed to make adjustments to the planned approach.
“When we realized that there would be a new ‘normal’ ushered in, we quickly shifted our operations to prioritize the health and safety of our guests and employees,” said Julia Doria, Chief Marketing Officer. “It was one of the most dynamic situations we have ever encountered as a group and we were making adjustments by the hour. However, because we had already detailed exactly how to make these new offerings work operationally, we were able to quickly implement a majority of the new operational enhancements across all of our 20 stores—and do so from a position of strength rather than panic.”
Enhanced Virtual Experience
As social distancing and staying at home became the new normal, Baxter began morphing their in-store experience to a virtual one, allowing customers to complete a transaction 100% remotely—including digital signatures, over-the-phone consultations regarding protection plans and financing, and live-service consultations.
“We focused initially on the safety precautions that had been implemented and also began offering to do business the way that was most convenient for our guests—especially in a time of crisis. The best part of it was that our customers loved it, and so did our people,” said partner Shawn Arkfeld. “There is new energy, and the new ways of doing business have provided a clear focus and motivation for our teams.”
Baxter quickly saw success in the first few months of offering at-home test drives with a nearly 40% close rate during April and May, and 7% of all lead submissions (881) requested an at-home test drive. As the brand continued to evolve their operations for a post-pandemic world, they decided to go ahead with a full campaign launch in September, when the group projects inventory levels will return to more stable levels.
“When faced with immense adversity, our teams did what was needed to help us sustain our operations, keep each other safe and help our guests,” Anderson said. “It’s been very empowering and enlightening. Encouraging all of us to try something new is perhaps the most valuable impact on the group. Our renewed commitment to adaptability brings an incredible sense of pride for all of us.”
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