Preston Auto Group is Turning Heads with This Innovative Approach to Marketing

Preston Auto Group

On today’s show, we’re pleased to welcome Dave Wilson, Chairman of Preston Auto Group, and Tim Wilson, President of iFrog Digital Marketing

Preston AutomotiveVIDEO TRANSCRIPT: 

Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi everyone, I’m Jim Fitzpatrick with CBT News. Thanks so much for joining us today. Today we’re very excited to have in our studio Mr. Dave Wilson, who’s chairman of Preston Automotive Group, and Tim Wilson, who’s president of iFrog. Thanks, gentlemen, for joining us in the studio today.

Dave Wilson: Thank you Jim.

Tim Wilson: Thanks for having us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You had quite an article here in Automotive News recently, back in November. The article basically talked about how you took your new FCA store and said, “Forget traditional. We’re going all digital.” Talk to us about that move.

Dave Wilson: It’s just not new, it was actually an open point. So, we started out at ground zero.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh great, great. Awesome.

Dave Wilson: Yeah, so it’s pretty neat. Literally, in 2015, when we were awarded the open point, it was an open point so there was no sales and there was no preconceived notion on what we should do in marketing. In 2014, we bought two Ford stores and we actually wanted to kick it off completely digital. But we had some previous people that were there, and we did a lot. We did 80% digital, 20% traditional. But that’s how…

Tim Wilson: We talked about it. You thought about it.

Dave Wilson: We thought about it and we got a lot of pushback. But here it was like a blank slate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So let’s back up a little bit. For the people that are maybe not as familiar with Preston Automotive Group, although you guys have been around a long time, tell us a bit about the group. How many stores in the chain, when did it get started, by who and all that good stuff?

Dave Wilson: Our first store was, I actually started selling there. At our first location.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s pretty cool.

Dave Wilson: The store was incorporated in 1975. I graduated high school in ’77 with all intentions of going to college and be a lawyer. The only guy who actually pulled that off was him. But that was really my full intention. Actually one of the sales people there said, “Would you be interested in selling?” And this was during the summer before I was getting ready to leave to go to college.

Jim Fitzpatrick: What kind of store is it?

Dave Wilson: It’s a Ford store. And that actually was our first store. So oddly enough, four years later at 22 years old, I became a partner in that store. So it’s pretty neat.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So that was very neat! And how has the business changed is incredible since 1977, right? I mean we didn’t even talk about digital then, obviously. Everything was full-page ads and screamer TV commercials and what have you. And so now you get this new point and you forget all of that. We’re going totally digital, right?

Dave Wilson: Yeah. One thing that we like to say and we talk about it all the time. You mentioned how things have changed. We talk about it all the time, not only within our dealer group, but with our dealer partners that we serve as clients.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Dave Wilson: The most important lot now is your virtual lot, not your physical lot.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. I totally agree. That’s right.

Dave Wilson: It’s your most important lot. Not to say that everybody can get lazy and leave the physical lot a mess.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Still straighten the line up on the front line. You still got to have your demos back.

Dave Wilson: But that part has changed. So when we, again in 2015, said, “Okay, we’re going to take this digital approach.” We knew it would work. Okay? We felt as though it would work. But we also really wanted to get validation from what we knew would work.

Tim Wilson: Yeah. Well, from our perspective on the marketing end, we were hoping these guys didn’t get cold feet and change their mind because we really can’t go to any of our client partners and say, “Hey, listen, we’d like to do an experiment with you.” But we can do that with them, and so this was an opportunity for us to do a case study, figure out what worked, what if it didn’t, what didn’t work, what went wrong. So we saw it as a real opportunity. We’re glad they stuck with their guns.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. For a dealer that’s listening to us right now, have this discussion about all digital approach to marketing, do you recommend it across the board for all dealers in all markets of all brands?

Tim Wilson: I’ll take a swing at that. I feel like it’s fair to say that every single one of these markets we approach as its own market. So we don’t come to it with any kind of preset answers. We certainly have preset solutions or working solutions that we bring to the table. But even Dave, when he started in with the Millsboro point, his idea wasn’t that he was going to start with digital and stick with it and never do traditional. He wanted to just sort of completely flip the paradigm. The normal paradigm is people have a traditional budget. They’ve got a traditional way of doing things and they’re backing digital into it. He wanted to turn that completely on its head and figure out, let’s start completely with digital. And then slowly augment some traditional into it and figure out what the proper mix is. So that was his role, genius actually, was just turning the whole thing on its head.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So talk to us a little bit about where you spend your dollars. Is it on social? Is it on Facebook? Is it on Google? What makes up the lion’s share of the digital spend?

Tim Wilson: Sure. It’s going to vary from store to store and market to market. One of the things that we try to do is get the right mix and frankly it’s never a “set it and forget it”. So you don’t have the luxury of saying, “Okay, it works now and we’ve got this set and to keep going with it.” You’re always looking, whether it’s a function of what inventory you’ve got in, what time of year it is, what campaigns the OEMs are running. So you’re always trying to take whatever paid media mix you have and optimize it to whatever the market conditions are or whatever the specials that are run on a tier-two level. So that’s always in play and we’re always looking at it. And so it’s not set, it’s not one particular thing.

Tim Wilson: But I will say that one of the things that differentiates this guy and his group from most folks is getting that right mix between having in-store localized content for social media just a mandatory, no option for the sales staff and for the managers to use social media as a selling tool and also as a paid media tool with a strategy behind it. And so it’s that mix in particular I think is, because we worked with a lot of folks now, these guys have a really nice mix there and they have bought into it. He’s gotten his people to buy into it. So you’ve got the operational structure behind it and it just works really, really well.

Jim Fitzpatrick: For the dealers that are listening right now, I’m sure they’re asking some questions. How does this work when you take a dealer or a dealership and go all digital and social marketing? Facebook is still a big part. Not still, but it plays a big role in marketing for dealers, doesn’t it?

Dave Wilson: Yes it does. And it’s not only what we do, it’s what we train. That’s one thing that’s a little bit different that iFrog brings to the table that possibly some others don’t. We actually train, which you should be doing at the grass roots level at the dealerships, and…

Jim Fitzpatrick: We, meaning iFrog.

Dave Wilson: iFrog trains, and what we do is we’ll take some best practices, not only within our dealership group, but with our dealer partners and we’ll share it with them.

Dave Wilson: Now we ask if we can do that. But that part of it, I mentioned it earlier, about being digitally active, digitally engaged. It’s something that you need to carry through, all the way through. It’s no different than television, TV, print, whatever, or radio print. In the past, you could have the best message out there, and if you didn’t carry that process all the way through the sale, it didn’t matter. So that’s another thing. And the thing about digital is we can sit down in our, we call them war rooms, monthly reviews, whatever it is. We can sit down and we can pinpoint what we did as our marketing solutions company, as iFrog, and sit down with our dealer partners, our clients and go over, “We’ve got to do a little better at this, but so do you.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: So we talk to many dealer groups here at CBT and I’ll often ask the question, “Who makes the final decision on how the marketing goes?” Is it the leadership team of the group in this case of the 14 stores? Or is it made up of the GMs of those 14 stores?

Tim Wilson: A lot of times when the dealer principal may have a complete trust in a manager and let the manager run the budget, run the store. Then at other times, particularly with larger groups, they’ve got a more structured process. They’ve got a formula that they’re going to run, they’re going to use. And what they’re really looking to us to do is give them advice on maybe tweaking the budget size, but making strong recommendations on allocations. We’ll see a lot of instances where we just came into a dealer group not too long ago and they weren’t having a lot of luck with social media advertising. We really believe in it strongly. We’ve had a great deal of success with it and we talked them into it. It worked. So it really just depends.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Yeah, it really does, doesn’t it? I don’t think there’s any right or wrong.

Dave Wilson: No, there’s not. Coming from the dealership side of it, if you shove it down the GM’s throat, there is a wrong, because you’re going to get pushback and if it fails, he’s not going to find that mirror.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. “You told me to do it. I had my suggestions.”

Dave Wilson: For some odd reason, if it goes well, he’s going to take credit for it. And so would I if I was in his shoes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s like the factory when they give $14 million away in each car and we have a hellacious weekend. “That’s because I’m such a good manager.” It has nothing to do with the incentives, of course, right?

Dave Wilson: But I can tell you, being my career got fast tracked for reasons that would take a little while…

Jim Fitzpatrick: You think at 22 years old [crosstalk 00:09:48]?

Dave Wilson: But there’s got to be collaboration and I think that word’s been you used a lot in the past three or four years, just like transparency. There’s got to be collaboration. There’s got to be buy in. There’s no doubt about that. And again, with our dealership group and with our dealer partners, we make sure that there’s a lot of dialogue back and forth. One thing that I think that’s really neat about the business structure that you all have put in place is the account managers are assigned to a dealer group, and most of the time there’s very, very little turnover unless it’s promoted, and then there’s still touching them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: At the agency or at the [crosstalk 00:10:40]?

Dave Wilson: At the agency. So it’s pretty neat the way that works out because they know. And then I was talking to a previous account manager at iFrog the other day and he knows exactly. He had, I think, nine accounts, CJ, you know, and he knows exactly what those nine accounts are still doing. You know what I mean? He still knows, even though he’s in a completely different realm, he’s still at iFrog but he’s in a whole different realm. That part of it’s neat. But it all goes back to one of the things that when we started iFrog and our COO, (Tim referenced Brent), when we started iFrog, one of the things we sat down and we discussed was we looked at not really ad agencies, but we looked at just vendors in general and what we didn’t like about vendors and what we liked about vendors. And one of the things that kept bubbling to the top was it seemed like there was always that honeymoon stage.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh yeah, for sure.

Dave Wilson: That just kept bubbling to the top. So I bet you if we were to track how many times honeymoon was said in 30 days at iFrog, it’s in the hundreds. You know what I mean? Simply because of the fact we never want the honeymoon stage to end.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I know.

Dave Wilson: We pay attention to it, because we’ve been on the other side of that fence.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure, and it typically doesn’t end until that first bad month. And then everybody puts something on the table and goes, “Okay, something happened. We fell out of number one spot. We’re now number three. Our competition ate our lunch. What happened? What did we do different in the marketing? Certainly it’s not us as car people because we run a perfect dealership.” But then that’s what happens. You know what I mean?

Tim Wilson: And that, I think, is where the maturity comes in as the agency. You’ve got to step in at that point. Even if it’s uncomfortable, and take as much ownership as you possibly can. Come up with ideas, be creative, get in there, spur them into creative thinking and do what you can.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Tim Wilson: Dig in like it’s your problem because it is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. And also to be cautious of those managers that come in and say, “I’ll take the job but I’ve got to bring my own marketing company in.” And you’re going, “Oh Jesus, is this really worth this whole deal here?” You know what I mean? Because it changes over the whole deal, and it happens all the time. It’s unfortunate.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Gentlemen, I want to thank you so much for joining us on CBT News and all the time that you’ve given us to pull the curtain back and talk about what it takes today to win that customer over. Now it’s kind of winning the click, right? Not so much the customer in the showroom. I want to have you back again on the show to talk about some other things and some other challenges that dealers are faced with every day. Here we are in 2020 and it’s going to be a good year, but dealers have got to run it right, right?

Dave Wilson: Absolutely.

Tim Wilson: Yes.

Dave Wilson: We really enjoyed being here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Great! Dave Wilson, chairman of Preston Automotive Group, and Tim Wilson, president of iFrog Marketing, thank you so much.

Dave Wilson: Thank you.

Tim Wilson: Thank you.

CBT Automotive Network. The number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media Production.