Car dealer brings it home

The McGeorge @ Home team, from left: Alexanne Rahimi, Whit Bryant, Chris McDonald and Courtney Taylor.

The McGeorge @ Home team, from left: Alexanne Rahimi, Whit Bryant, Chris McDonald and Courtney Taylor. Photos courtesy The King Agency.

In an age of online ordering and home delivery apps, a local auto dealership is adding another shop-at-home service to the mix: car buying.

Henrico-based McGeorge Toyota has launched “McGeorge @ Home,” a new program in which customers can shop for cars online, have their selection delivered to their home or office, and test drive and purchase it without ever having to step foot into the dealership.

Aimed at Millennials and others who prefer to do their shopping remotely, McGeorge @ Home is one of a small but growing number of programs across the country that provide at-home car buying.

While home delivery is not a new service for the industry, and online sites like Carvana already allow for car buying from home, brick-and-mortar dealerships completing purchases and trade-ins remotely is a newer phenomenon – particularly in the Richmond market, where McGeorge Toyota appears to be in the driver’s seat of the new trend.

“We see this as the future, and we just wanted to jump out ahead to take the lead on it,” said sales manager Chris McDonald, who was part of the team that developed McGeorge @ Home with local marketing firm The King Agency.

“We’ve seen the business change so much in the past 10 years with the Internet. A customer can pretty much do everything on the Internet, aside from coming in and driving a car and buying it,” he said.

The dealership launched the program just after Thanksgiving with a webpage and videos produced by the agency. They include a two-minute video that explains McGeorge @ Home as a simple, five-step process. A 30-second version is also airing on local television stations, though promotion for the program has been minimal thus far.

A mock-up of the program on iPad McGeorge hopes to refine over time.

McGeorge hopes to refine the iPad-based program over time.

The agency and dealership developed a website that sales associates can use remotely on an iPad. While the site is not yet a transactional platform, meaning purchases cannot be made directly through it, purchases and trade-ins can still be accomplished remotely with assistance from a sales manager at the dealership, who is communicated with via programs such as Skype.

If a buyer has a trade-in, the associate in the field – currently Whit Bryant – drives the traded-in vehicle back to the dealership. If it’s a new car that’s delivered, Bryant hops a ride back to the dealership via Uber or other ridesharing services.

Since the program launched Dec. 1, Bryant said he has delivered cars and completed transactions with four or five customers, including one as far away as Baltimore, Maryland. Another was a company CEO who required a second trip from Bryant – for a change in the car’s color.

“He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this,’” Bryant recalled. “He was a busy man; he didn’t have a lot of time.”

The King Agency's Dave King and Jeff Erickson, from left.

The King Agency’s Dave King and Jeff Erickson, from left.

Creative director Dave King said the concept for the program evolved out of discussions about how to bring the car buying process directly to customers, many of whom – Millennials in particular, he said – are already perusing inventories online before arriving at a dealership.

“Millennials are a different animal,” King said. “They want to do everything on their own terms, and that’s how this conversation started. They want to eat on their own terms; they want to text” instead of talk on the phone, “because they can control the communication.”

“(We asked) is it possible to make a program where you can take the car to them, get it all done there and just move the car buying out of the dealership and onto their terms,” he said. “Millennials don’t want to be sold to; they just want to be informed. That’s what this whole process is.”

Senior account director Jeff Erickson, who led the project for The King Agency, said the program was prompted in part by a desire to reduce the amount of time – hours in most cases – customers can spend at a dealership. Dealership sales were not an issue, he said, but the car buying experience was.

“It’s definitely a low-pressure kind of process,” Erickson said, noting a perception that dealerships come with pushy salespeople. “It’s meant to be streamlined, and I think it’s meant to be the anti-sales process to some extent, or at least the anti to their perception of the sales process.”

“We knew we had to do something,” said Courtney Taylor, McGeorge Toyota’s digital marketing manager. “We knew we had to come up with a faster way or an easier way for people to buy a car.”

The site was developed over several months and launched about a year after the idea was conceived. With input from the dealership, The King Agency developed the site in-house through its existing contract as McGeorge’s marketing agency.

King said the program could signal a shift in how local car buyers shop for their next ride.

“This is where the industry is going, and McGeorge agreed – once we could look at ‘the how’ and got past the physical barriers – this is a much more eccentric way to go to market,” King said. “This is something that can really change the way cars are purchased – not just here, but it could really be a wave of change.”

Erickson said a next step is to make the site transactional, to the point that a customer could swipe a bank or credit card on the side of Bryant’s iPad. The dealership also expects to grow the program with more technology and staff as demand grows. McDonald said the dealership is projecting 5 percent of all sales this year to be at-home sales, with that percentage doubling every year thereafter.

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