Industry News & Trends

Dealerflow – Car Dealers First Ever ERM (Employee Relations Management) Software

Is it time for dealers to have an ERM and could synergy between your employees reduces turnover?

NADA 2009 was of course not what most had hoped. Dealer attendance was down and it was obvious that many vendors scaled back (their booths and the parties made that apparent). At times I thought a tumbleweed was going to roll by my ankles as I was walking the floor (OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad).

I wish I had additional time to visit more booths and get introduced to more products. But time seemed limited this year, so I wasn’t able to make the most of it like I usually do, hence the lack of my NADA 2009 review post (you can always read last years NADA 2008 review or even my NADA 2007 review if you like).

However, there was one product that really stuck out this year, AND no I wasn’t trying to calculate the ROI of a booth model. I guess booth models were cut out this year due to the economy and wilting budgets 🙁 .

So what was this one product that stuck out?

It was Edward Brown and his teams Dealerflow ERM (Employee Relation Management) software for car dealers.

There’s an interesting story behind this. Ed contacted me a little over 2 years ago and introduced himself via email through DealerRefresh. I committed to meeting with him at NADA in 2007 to take a look at what he had going on. I admit, at first I was like “not another CRM…and a huge “GOOD LUCK with that!“. But once Ed showed me what he wanted to bring to the dealer industry, my abrupt judgment quickly turned the other way. This was SOMETHING DIFFERENT and Ed quickly gained my full attention.

Two years later, Dealerflow is LIVE and Edward and his team are pumped about bringing car dealers the very first Employee Relations Management software. This is cutting edge for our industry and as far as I’m concerned only the beginning of something huge!!

I asked Ed if he would answer a few questions for DealerRefresh readers and explain in more detail on what Dealerflow is all about. Of course he said YES!

Jeff – What exactly is Dealerflow?

Edward – Dealerflow is an ERM — an Employee Relationship Management system for car dealers. Sort of like your CRM is for customer facing interactions, Dealerflow is for communicating and collaborating internally. It includes Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, instant messaging, text messaging, photo directories and calendars. Many issues you communicate today in meetings or face-to-face or over the phone can be communicated and discussed online through Dealerflow more effectively — not to mention issues that aren’t communicated at all, but could be or should be. The best thing about it is the way it elegantly integrates so many useful tools into one seamless application. We made simplicity a primary design goal, and people love that about it.

Jeff How is it different from what’s already out there?

Edward – Most dealer software focuses on two of the primary data elements: customers or cars. Dealerflow is the first comprehensive software to focus on the third primary element: employees. Other softwares tend to be point solutions, where each application serves a rather narrow purpose. Dealerflow, on the other hand, is intended for broad use. I would compare it to your telephone in the sense that you could use your telephone to discuss any topic. So it is with Dealerflow — think of it as a general internal communication and collaboration platform. In combination with this, Dealerflow has a fully-featured employee management piece.

Jeff So would you call Dealerflow an HR solution?

Edward – It’s sort of a light-weight HR solution, but it also has the collaboration (announcements, blogboards, file upload, web links, calendars) and messaging pieces (instant messaging, text messaging, InMail). There’s enough HR functionality to make life much easier for whoever handles HR at the dealership. That’s the beauty of Dealerflow — the HR admin can keep the system up to date with current employees and their jobs, departments, etc. and then the system just works. Employees can update their own information such as name, address, phone numbers, emergency contact, etc. and can optionally share background information on themselves. Photo directories are a mainstay of the app, and kind of resemble a high school year book. Birthdays and anniversaries of hire appear automatically on the calendar. Seniority terms are readily available and users can quickly sort people by newest or longest seniority. Dealerflow helps tie departments together and makes it easy to learn something about people you work with, and find something in common with them that you may have never know otherwise.

Jeff Why did you start Dealerflow?

Edward – I worked several years in a large dealership as an IT manager. While there, I noticed that available software targeted specific areas like inventory control or lead management, and that was good and necessary. But there was limited technology for internal workers to communicate electronically. The interesting realization was that inside the walls of a dealership it’s not too different from the large corporations I had worked for earlier: just a bunch of people working together trying to get a job done, but without the tools that corporate America had. So I decided to build something that would bring the power of the latest collaboration technology in a simple presentation, at the right price, and customized to suit dealer companies.

Jeff What is your hottest feature?

Edward – Text messaging probably. That along with instant messaging. It took us a long time and a lot of determination with some of the top IM developers in the world, but we created the sweetest mashup of text messaging and instant messaging. The solution is entirely web-based with no need to install anything — just run Dealerflow out of your web browser and everything just works. You can chat with anyone in your organization from either a computer or a cell phone, and you can switch easily between the two as you come and go from your desk. All messages are logged, so you can share stock numbers, prices, names, VINs, whatever with the confidence that you can pull them up later. Any user can opt-in their cell phone and use Dealerflow’s texting features without revealing their cell number. Another hot feature is statuses (think business version of Twitter for inside dealerships). Statuses answer questions like “who’s here” or “where’s Joe right now.” You can set your status from a computer or cell phone. For example, a salesperson might head out on a demo drive and text “AWAY on a dd”. Statuses can be used in a many different ways. Every status update is date and time stamped in a permanent log, so you can use them to track any kind of activity.

Jeff Does Dealerflow support dealer groups?

Edward – Absolutely. Unlike most software in the market that has no consideration of multi-location or considered it as an afterthought, Dealerflow was designed from inception for dealer groups. We support any number of regional levels. A key feature is what we call syndication, which is just a fancy word that means to post information at an upper level and have it flow downward into the dealerships. For example, you could post a new blogboard (internal blog) topic titled “EOY Physical Inventory” into the parts department at the highest dealer group level and it would flow down to the parts departments of all dealerships in the organization. Any commentary would result in a dialogue across all parts departments. This mechanism provides a way to post items once and have them appear everywhere you want, while allowing workers in dealerships to easily see information pertinent to them without having to hunt for it. This same mechanism works for any content type, such as announcements, file uploads, web links, etc. Dealerflow enables groups to centralize operations by providing communication tools to tie the centralize op back to the dealerships it supports. Workers can also use the photo directories to see who does their job at other stores and then share ideas and best practices with them.

Jeff How does it save or make dealers money?

Edward – Using Dealerflow, Dealers can operate with fewer people because they are more efficient. They can consolidate operations. They can run leaner in HR. They can super-charge employees with better mentoring, better direction, and better followup. They can cut out layers of human-based, manual communication. Each percentage point of workforce reduction pays about a 300% ROI on the solution. In addition, Dealerflow helps reduce unwanted turnover. Most dealerships turnover about 40% annually. When you consider the costs of recruiting and training a replacement, lost business, disruption to operations, benefit admin, unemployment, legal risks and so on, $10,000 per turnover instance is a minimum figure. Dealerflow reduces turnover by helping to build an engaging culture. It makes it easy to keep people informed and allows them to give their own input. With Dealerflow it’s easy to give people a quick online thank you or pat on the back. It enables everyone to know each other better and put faces with names. New people can come up to speed rapidly on the organization. When the dealer or GM knows people by name — even new people and people at other locations — that makes a bigger difference than you’ll ever know. This all works to retain people, driving down the turnover rate and all that cash pouring out the door. Dealerflow increases sales by providing an entirely new, non-verbal communication channel in instant messaging and text messaging. This provides people with new options to take advantage of opportunities in real-time.  Whether it’s a salesperson to sales manager or cross department, Dealerflow gives people new tools to close more business.  Finally, for companies running Microsoft Exchange, Sharepoint or similar systems, there may be the opportunity to discontinue those systems, saving on software, hardware and IT administration costs.

Jeff How is the software offered and how do dealers use it?

Edward – Dealerflow is a hosted, pay-as-you-go service that is supported on Windows PCs (Internet Explorer and Firefox) and Apple Macs (Firefox and Safari). Users can access it from work, home, or wherever they have an internet connection. Extensive use of the system can be made via text messaging using a cell phone.

Jeff What’s in the future? How do you plan to enhance the solution?

Edward – On deck are vacation scheduling and Outlook integration. We think it would be really powerful to allow users to request vacation, let managers approve or disapprove it, display days-off on shared calendars, and track people’s remaining vacation time. We’re committed to an easy process that syncs calendars between Dealerflow and Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail. By early next year, we plan to release an HR module and a website interface module. Dealerflow has a solid foundation with the ability to be very flexible. We want to leave all options open while staying sharply focused on the core ERM. By its nature Dealerflow is an all-employees-participating application, so it will be interesting to see where customers want us to take it in the future.

Jeff – Edward, thanks so much for your time while introducing us to DealerFlow. I think it’s an extraordinary product and something many dealers could benefit from.

Like I mentioned above, I have been following Ed and Dealerflow for over 2 years now. I’m more excited about this product than ever. One thing that I have realized (especially now working for a larger dealer group) that there is nothing more important than having synergy between EVERYONE. Everyone from fixed opts, variable opts to the corporate office (if you have one) to the IT and HR department. We all benefit from being on the same page and keeping the lines of communication open.

“Dealerflow allows dealer employees to synergize with absolute ease”. – Jeff Kershner

There you go Ed. A quote for ya..not sure if it’s worth anything but feel free to use it!! 🙂

I have asked Ed to keep a close eye on this thread and to answer any questions.

How do you see Dealerflow fitting into the daily operations at your dealership?

Questions anyone??

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
Sounds like an interesting solution I haven't seen before for car dealers. This software could probably be applied to any industry.
Wow from the Dealer Flow picture, above, it looks like there is nobody at the convention... was this taken before the doors opened.

Looks like an excellent product... from reading, the status feature looks very handy. Like the 37 signal skin on the admin too... nice interface. Wondering if there be an API so I can build an online staff directory for dealers... something like...
@umer, it was towards the end of the day. Also love the professional photos on that site you linked to. Having an API from Dealerflow to your dealers employee page on your dealer website would cut out some maintenance and keep the page updated. I like that!
I really love this idea and hope the dealers embrace it sooner than later. All of our websites currently have the ability to do things similar to some of the dealerflow features. We create a meet the staff page and each staff member has full control of their page. It's specific to their contact info, hours of operation, personal biography, etc. Dealers love using it because it helps build that relationship with the customers before they enter the showroom. Or if they have already visited the dealer but forgot their salesperson's name they could use this directory to find them. Check it out:
Even with the reduced exposure you had this year at NADA, could you write a smaller review than normal? You have a good take on things and I'm sure others would like to hear your musings on the subject.
Jeff, thanks so much for covering Dealerflow on DealerRefresh. Good point about synergy... we'll put the quote to good use.

Umer, we'd like to do a website API later this year. Would be glad to collaborate with you on it.
I wonder if Twitter itself ( instead of dealerflow ) could be used effectively for communication within a dealership. It seems to be a pretty useful tool for keep groups informed and communication flowing. Might have to give that a shot one of these days.
I was wondering the same thing (about Twitter). There's also another service called Yammer (I have no association with them.) that does this on an enterprise level.

I really like the innovation Dealerflow has demonstrated with this product, but I wonder how many dealers like the idea of another software system.

Dealerflow clearly has some very sharp guys on board and have probably already those of these issues prior to launch though.
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    Scott Sigman
  • February 27, 2009
I have been more of a supply chain practitioner, though I spent 18 months learning sales and business development at the start of my career on a dealer showroom floor. Leading supply chain notions of interactivity such as this have attracted real attention. Working with vendors, getting inventory, A/P, A/R, BHPH, parts, service maintenance, customer service, F&I, sales, (new & used) and even detailing (the wash rack) into collaboration in real time, could even be done on the demo drive with a tool like this.
This looks like a great value for the application, where it seems to be especially practical in multi-store operations.
While this does not appear to be quite XBOX Live for dealership management, it does appear to deliver fantastic improved professionalism for dealers, so often maligned by buyers, and brings commercial efficiencies. Keeping up productivity of employees, it could be a step toward active business interaction. Including VOIP and text is a long way forward from Nextel and calling for another staff member (sales reps over loudspeakers) could save any industry in a physical environment with tens of thousands of sq. ft.
The current challenge to the industry is dire. Those who invest today in such improvements will be well positioned when pent up demand and consumer confidence brings a rebound.
Llama and Roland, we felt a literal business implementation of Twitter (Yammer) would be too disruptive for dealerships. We don’t have a “following” aspect. Dealerflow asks, “where are you?” You set yourself to IN, AWAY, or OUT, and optionally enter details on your whereabouts or what you’re working on. Then anyone in the company can check your status from a computer or cell phone when they need to find you. Every day at midnight all statuses are reset.

We integrated statuses tightly with lots of other features in Dealerflow to give you tons of functionality in one system. If you use something like Twitter or Yammer, that’s one more app that just does one thing and that’s how dealers end up with lots of systems.
Great concept! Could this product be introduced to the members of the Pennsylvania Independant Automobile Dealer Association on our website or in our monthly magazine?

Scotty Bisciotti
Secretary, PIADA
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    Michael A. McCarville
  • February 5, 2010
Can you tell me what dealers or groups are using your system ?