Keys To the Survival of Used Car Dealerships

February 5, 2010

As I reluctantly headed back towards work after my lunch break, to finish out the day, I passed several small used car dealerships and wondered, "how much longer will places like this survive?" It seems that the key to the success of many modern businesses has been internet sales and marketing. Does the local used car dealership still have a chance against the likes of Autotrader, eBay, and craigslist, or will it begin to fade from existence altogether? I don't think they are ready to give up the ghost quite yet, and here are a few reasons behind my prediction.

Choosing a used (or new) car is one of those things you just need to do in person. You should, of course, do your homework before before strolling into the showroom, but that's only the first step. I've browsed plenty of new and used car websites, looked at photos, lists of specifications, and reviews, but those sources still lack a tangible connection to the product. For example, I would consider myself a bit of an audiophile, or at least an enthusiast. I could compare a set of speakers on paper and make a decision based purely on specs, but I prefer to sit down in front of them and experience them. I want them to sound so good that I get goosebumps. At that point, the specs don't really matter. People want that feeling when they get into a car. A used car has the potential to deliver that, a website doesn't.

Interacting with the cars in person makes it easier to makes comparisons. This builds on the idea of connecting with the car in a tangible way. You can look at photos and specs of two or three different cars on the web, but have no idea how they match up in terms of size or comfort. Head and leg room are critical for a tall fellow like myself. Good luck getting a feel for that from a website. You may only realize how awful a particular driver's seat feels when you're able to compare it to another one within very short period of time. Even better - you can go back and forth several times if it's a really close call.

The choice is one of the final steps, and before you get there it is especially important when buying a used car to know exactly what you are paying for. This is the main reason I would shy away from purchasing a used car online. The condition of the car is a big deal, in my opinion, and should be carefully investigated. A physical car dealership gives shoppers the opportunity to "kick the tires", so to speak. You've go to get your hands a little dirty. Take a look underneath the chassis, and under the hood.  Sit in the driver's seat. Push buttons, move things around. Open all the doors and windows. Listen for squeaks, look for coffee stains, rust spots, broken switches and knobs, scratches. I've seen eBay ads with probably close to 100 photos of the car being sold, but it's tough to capture everything with a camera. A smart buyer will want to really see the car and make his own determination of its condition before he commits to purchasing it.

A dealership provides the shopper with a face, a handshake, a relationship. While a car salesman may be a major turn-off for many people, I see them as a real benefit for others. A dealership owner or salesman has a great opportunity to develop a community with, and even beyond, his customers. If a particular dealership has a reputation for honesty, experience and friendliness, more potential buyers are going to give it a try. My father-in-law owns a few restaurants in the town where he grew up. He's been doing business there for years, and has become a positive part of the community. He knows basically everyone, and they all know him. As a result, his business has been extremely successful. A smart salesman will take advantage of the local community to give himself an edge over the online dealers.

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