Best PracticesIndustry EventsIndustry News & Trends

Digital Dealer 23 Review with Kevin Frye #DD23

Kevin Frye at Valley of Fire
Contemplating the future of automotive at the Valley of Fire

I thought it might be a great idea to take some peyote, spend some time in the desert, and meditate on the future of our industry before starting Digital Dealer 23. As my mind wandered in the desert heat, a vision overtook me…

I should work to create a conference where dealers and vendors in the automotive industry can gather together to share the latest and greatest on how to be the best digital dealer in automotive. And I should have them gather in a city in the middle of a desert with bright neon lights, dazzling entertainment, and fantastic food and service. Wait? What? Holy hallucination! Someone already has done this and it is called Digital Dealer?

Time for me to straighten up and begin my recap of Digital Dealer 23 in lovely Las Vegas!

Joining Kevin Gordon and Alex Jefferson at Digital Dealer 23

Who remembers the Chevy Vega? I am convinced that auto dealers gave the name “Las Vegas” as a tribute to the city they love to gather in the most. I think it is fair to say that most of us in the industry are in Las Vegas at least once a year. Julie and I love it as well, but we are always looking for something different to do. Many thanks to Peyton “Peyote” Hoffman who recommended the Valley of Fire as a place to visit. We signed up for a hiking excursion on and they picked us up early on Sunday morning to take us on an “intense hike” in the Valley of Fire.

We spent a beautiful morning hiking, jumping crevasses, climbing some peaks and enjoying the beauty of the desert. Thanks Peyton for the heads up, and I highly recommend it for all who visit Vegas (and you can pick the level of hiking you would like, everything is provided). You can see some video of our Valley of Fire hike here.

Smooth registration badge pickup at DD23

Smooth as a summer drawl…  Went down for early registration on Sunday afternoon and had my badge within minutes. Do you remember the log-jams we used to have for registration? It has only become better every conference and this was the quickest and easiest registration pick up yet. I also ran into Mike Roscoe who shared that after every Digital Dealer conference, they would sit down, wipe a clean slate, and ask “how can we do this better.” Without giving away my entire recap – this was the smoothest run conference I have attended. Congrats to Mike and his team with the efforts to improve across all of these years – and welcome to Emerald Expositions who look to continue this legacy.

Lots of fun seeing Raiding the Rock Vault at Hard Rock Casino

Listen here whipper snapper, today’s music is lame! Of course we had to take in a show. This year we went to the Hard Rock Casino and saw “Raiding the Rock Vault” where they assemble a band made up of rock stars from the past to cover songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Great times listening to classic rock. Did I say “classic”, oh boy…  Sitting in the second row made us very susceptible to some “power stances” from some 60+ year old guitarists with what appeared to be some impressive hair weaves. Who knew that leather pants go so well with leathery skin? Show was great, though Julie might have been a bit traumatized by this AARP lineup.

Video killed the car radio star… I started early on Monday morning to setup for my session “Why Bass-ackwards Will Take You Forward” and was pleased to find that Digital Dealer had sent over one of their best AV folks to help ensure my videos played correctly. Remember the issues several presenters had at #DD22? We were able to replicate the problem and fix it – THANK YOU!

Great to see Hunter Hale, Chad Worrel and Tony Rhoades with Gunn Automotive before my session

Conjunction junction, what’s that disruption?  The 2 buzzwords of Digital Dealer 23 were “disruption” and “attribution”, and my session addressed the first. Ladies and gentlemen – our industry is under attack. I shared how, and more important, why, our industry is at the forefront of retail disruption by several outside companies, to include Carvana and many others. Our shoppers have never liked the process of how they buy a car, and removing the friction points, such as negotiating, the lengthy process at the dealership, and more, is what our disruptors are bringing to the table.

Will Carvana make it? This is the most common question I have received in the last year. My answer is this – Carvana has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, they have never been profitable, and their advertising cost per car is over $4000. Yet when you look at the brokerage firms on Wall Street they still rate Carvana as a “buy” vs. a “sell”, why? The reality is that the disruption of auto retail as we know it is considered a top growth opportunity for investors. I don’t know whether Carvana will make it, but I do know that there is a line of vendors a mile long behind them that will take their place if they fail. So what do we do? Do we sit back and continue to do business as normal while one or more of these disruptors moves in to take the business from us?

Don’t Jessica Ruth and Steve Stauning look thrilled to see me?

Bass-ackwards will take you forward. Our industry needs to fight back. That includes doing things completely different than we have in the past in many cases to provide the consumer-facing experience our shoppers are looking for. Even the Internet as we know it is facing significant disruption. If you have not heard about blockchain technology, I highly recommend you start taking some time to learn about it. Blockchain stands to eliminate many of the current solutions we currently contract with today as information goes from fee to free. That’s right, even the Internet is faced with doing things 180 degrees different. From serving and charging for information to sharing information for free via Blockchain technology. The upcoming years will be an even bigger transition time for automotive than what the Internet has done to us already. Will you be prepared?

Demo with Dealer Science at Digital Dealer 23

Thank you! I have asked for years that Digital Dealer would set aside some dedicated time slots for exhibit hall during the conferences. In the past, our team from Jeff Wyler would pick a time slot(s) to skip a session so that we could meet with our current partners in exhibit hall while checking out new solutions. Digital Dealer 23 featured several dedicated time slots, to include one on Monday to kickoff exhibit hall.

Uber for Business at Digital Dealer 23

It’s none of your business! One of the unique solutions I saw in exhibit hall was Uber for Business. It took only a few minutes to demo, but the idea bears value for dealers. Rather than have a shuttle van at your dealership, you utilize Uber to take customers to work after they drop off their car, and then use Uber to bring them back when their car is finished. The dealership gets to utilize a “digital headquarters” software platform from Uber to get a clear view of trip activity and billing, and the dealer pays for the fare with a small surcharge.

With such a great focus by dealers on fixed ops as a primary profit center in this market of compressing margins, many dealers are extending hours of service. Would it be more cost effective to use Uber for Business with these extended hours, or even overnight hours, and only when needed compared to keeping a full time shuttle bus driver on staff? Great idea.

Yago Paramo inspires me with all of the races and obstacle runs he competes in

Why get married in Vegas when you can get engaged? Monday afternoon began with a visit with Kent Wilson, the new Director of Digital Marketing at Dan Cummins Chevrolet. Kent has spent his first 6-7  months at  Dan Cummins with an internal focus on their website layout and looking how to improve its performance. While he measured the traditional conversion metrics, he spent more time on how to better ENGAGE their online shoppers. Not sure how to best do that? Check out the deck from Kent as well as from Brian Pasch and myself from DD22 for a wealth of information on setting up to best engage and measure engagement with your site.

Joining Subi Ghosh and Ryan Gerardi for a DealerRefresh panel

SubiRyan – sounds like a Dealer-refreshing cocktail… Next up was the DealerRefresh panel moderated by Subi Ghosh and Ryan Gerardi in keynote hall. There was a lot of discussion about attribution (2nd buzzword!) and how best to measure it. Brad Paschal might have had the best quote with “Dealers don’t really care about attribution as long as they are selling cars”. Speaking of which,  I could insert several words to replace “attribution” and that quote would still be applicable. I was a bit discouraged to hear near the end of this panel that many dealers still believe “last click” attribution is the best model. Uh – no. Our industry is much better than this. There are many assists in the shoppers journey to purchase and we must continue to work on best measuring this. And for me, I lean towards the time decay model and I would love to hear your input.

Did you know that Brian Benstock was conceived at Woodstock? Just some more fake news for you folks – now my guess is that half of you believed that without question because of your political leanings, but let’s move forward… Brian brought us back to “disruption”  and shared many of the same thoughts I had in my session – our industry is under attack, how do we best respond? In what was my favorite session of DD23, Brian shared how dealers should always focus on  their current return on investment (ROI) while constantly testing new ideas to maximize  their return on learning (ROL). Sounds like a great recipe on how to maintain profitability while getting best positioned for the future. Paragon Honda’s challenge to our industry is that we must disrupt ourselves with leadership! I could not agree more Brian, well done!

LOVE these two, joining Eliana Raggio and Brent Wees

Me thinks with drinks…  Time for the networking hour in exhibit hall which was shortened from 2 hours to one hour for DD23. Another good idea as many folks are scrambling to freshen up for dinner plans after a long day at the conference. I completed some more demos with Podium and Friendemic, while speaking with other current partners like Dealer Teamwork and the great folks at Pasch Consulting Group.

The Jeff Wyler team dinner at Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio

A prime dinner with a prime view… The Jeff Wyler Automotive team had a fantastic dinner at The Prime steakhouse at the Bellagio. It was a beautiful evening outside on the patio to enjoy great food, better company, and the infamous water show in front of the Bellagio. We welcomed Katie Richter with Cuneo Advertising to join us for dinner and lots of fun followed. Many thanks to Jeff Wyler Co-President Scott Bristow for hosting this wonderful evening.

Hot, tasty, and convenient breakfast to start off the day at Digital Dealer 23

Cars and eggs, yum… C’mon,  you know I am always up early for breakfast, where I sat with several great folks, to include my main man Alex Jefferson, Veronica Dunford, Frank Lopes, Brian Armstrong, and more. Our discussion centered on one topic. It’s not the actual car deal that we should focus on, but rather the shopping experience for our customer.  That is what will bring them back in the future. Timeless advice (and breakfast was pretty good as well :).

Do we need more coffee for this breakfast of champions?

Beatles make the best dessert for breakfast… I am trying to remember the first time I saw Shaun Raines speak (was it Digital Dealer 3???), however I do know that he never disappoints. Shaun used the Beatles music as a great theme for some sound digital marketing advice for dealers today. Did you realize that you can place an ad for your dealership in the map listings with Google? That is a prime opportunity when you consider that the number one inbound source of traffic to your dealership website comes from these map listings.

Shaun Raines literally rocks the house with the Beatles

Go ahead and test this, what is faster, typing in a search query or just saying it? If voice search is 3x faster than typing it in, do you think that being best positioned for voice searches makes sense? More sound advice. Shaun closed his session by getting all of us to sing along to a Beatles song – Hey Jude! Great job Shaun!

Erich Gail inspires at Digital Dealer 23

Let’s have a meeting about having meetings… Erich Gail was next, sharing how to lead a world class meeting at your dealership. Erich shared that your dealership should have a 5 year target with a 3 year picture with attainable goals, and a one year plan. Everything you do needs to be specific, measurable, and achievable. The goal is to have one 90 minute meeting each week that is thorough and effective and keeps your team on track to achieve your targets. Erich, I love how you end your session with a personal call for each one of us to improve – I am with you friend.

Would you question my answer??? Ian Cruickshank led a session on attribution which gave good detail on the different models available to dealers today, and had a nice question/answer discussion that I found very useful. While I attended  several sessions that spoke about attribution, I could sense that many dealers wanted more. By more, I mean they want detailed examples of applying attribution modeling to our dealer budgets today. Here’s a challenge for those applying to speak at Digital Dealer 24 – dealers want more “hands-on” advice and real life examples to learn from.

Frank Lopes and Josh Mitchell enjoy the Digital Dealer party

It’s always good to see grace before dinner…  See, say, I guess I meant it is great to see James Grace, who is one of the smartest folks in our industry today, and is someone I admire and respect for his insight. What was James talking about? ATTRIBUTION. Here is what I loved about James’ session. He gave this simple advice to dealers. If you are just starting to optimize your digital marketing, focus on getting quantity of traffic to quality of traffic. If you already there, then focus on taking your quality traffic and look to identify the assists with that traffic. And if you have advanced that far, now focus on establishing attribution value for each of those assists. Have you ever noticed that the smartest people know how to take something very complex and break  it down into something very simple to understand and apply?

Joining Brandon Boyd, Matthew Warren and Mark Boyd with Vin Voyager

A little bit of Vegas goes a long way… First stop was a great happy hour hosted by Mark Boyd. Mark has been a long time leader in our industry, with a focus on connecting the auto industry’s top talent, startups, thought leaders and innovators. I will be keeping an eye on his next startup, Vin Voyager with CEO Brandon Boyd, with whom I had the pleasure to meet with at Mark’s event. Brandon is a USMC veteran with several tours under his belt. Thank you for your service and sacrifice Brandon, and I look forward to following up with you. My hint on Vin Voyager? Watch out vAuto…

And the night begins for the Digital Dealer parties

Fresh air and fresh friends – the perfect party atmosphere… The after hours Digital Dealer party was packed and it was a great time. The weather was great for this outdoor party and I enjoyed seeing more friends while sharing some cocktails and enjoying some good music. Took a quick break for some 5 star cuisine and then  headed to the Aria for the next party.

Some 5-star pizza between parties

Boom boom boom boom… That is the sound of the bass with the music so loud you can feel it. Or is that the sound of my heart as I haven’t slept in several days and my heart is pumping 5-hour energy drink. While I had a lot of fun, this guy was starting to slow down. Was great to say hello to Below Deck Mediterranean reality star Jerry Thibeau before Julie and I made the long trek back to our room to call it a night.

Clint Burns and April Rain bringing on the fun

A Honda dealer, Google expert, and Facebook leader sit down at a bar… After some strict instructions about “do not live stream this event”, I mean, can you imagine Facebook and Google sharing a stage? Wednesday’s keynote began with a panel talking about – disruption!  Kelli McNearney shared a great quote with dealers – “Do you look  at your Google  Analytics like you look at your financials?” I am pleased to share that when I look back at our earliest Digital Dealer conferences compared to today, dealers are much better with Google Analytics than ever before. Think about this for a second. If Google and Facebook are sharing a stage with one of our leading dealers to discuss how we can work together to address disruption in automotive retail, should this be a wake-up call? (hint – YES).

Digital Dealer 23 keynotes were well attended

From hill-billy to the hill-top… Preston Ford shared how they took their rural location and broke into Ford’s top 100 dealer list. I liked how they branded “Why go to your local dealer when we can come to you”. Their 3 core values were marketing, branding, and consistency. Great core values that are timeless. More important, in today’s market, successful businesses are taking themselves to the consumer via the Internet – are you doing the same? I thought it was also interesting to see a common theme with these small dealerships that are achieving exceptional performance. They cannot afford to get regional and national coverage with their marketing efforts via traditional channels like TV or radio,  but digital marketing has given them that opportunity. We live in a great era with effective, targeted digital marketing that is affordable.

Two Men with huge hearts, Ryan Leslie and Brad Paschal

I wrote this on PURPOSE… And finally,  the most meaningful session, the Case for a Cause with Ryan Leslie. Ryan shared the common marketing values that we all learn – product, price, placement, and promotion. However he challenged that there was one additional “P” missing – purpose. Did you know that 73% of millennials have made an online friend because they have a shared passion? Is there an opportunity for dealers today to SHARE their passions with their consumers and capitalize on this. I don’t mean this selfishly. Dealers are often one of, it not the biggest contributors in their local communities with charity, but do we share our efforts well enough?

Subi Ghosh, the lovely Julie Frye, and Brent Wees at the DD party

There is another, bigger picture. And that is how the automotive industry supports itself. You might know it better as #autofam. I can think of so many examples of how our great people have gathered together to support each other. Loving and caring for Ryan Leslie and his family. For Paul Jimenez and his family. For myself and my brother’s battle with leukemia. While “car guys” often get a bum rap in today’s market, these same “car guys” are some of the most caring and generous people I know.

My last photo with AJ Maida, from Digital Dealer 22

An “Admiral’s” farewell… I must share that I stopped several times during the conference to think about AJ Maida. I could always count on hearing “Hey Admiral” while walking on the exhibit hall during Digital Dealer, only to turn around and see AJ coming up with a cheery hello, and “where is Julie?”  Autofam lost one of its favorite people this year and this DD seemed a bit incomplete without his presence. Losing AJ made me think how much I respect and love so many of you – even as I write these Digital Dealer reviews that mix a lot of my offbeat humor and my recap remarks. For those of you who helped lead the way, folks like Jeff Kershner, Alex Snyder, Joe Webb, Shaun Raines, Brian Pasch, and so many more, to those younger folks taking us to the next level, I am proud to be part of #autofam. Or should I say, Julie and I are proud to be part of #autofam. God bless each and every one of you, you have my admiration and respect.

Looking forward to seeing you in Orlando at Digital Dealer 24

Survey says… My final summary of Digital Dealer 23 is this. From beginning to end, this was the smoothest show I have attended. I did not walk away with any groundbreaking content – but in fairness I have not seen that at any other shows I have attended this year. I think we are getting ready for another huge transition in our industry. Get ready folks. Change is challenge, and challenge is the fuel for performance-driven folks like those in automotive. Staying on top of our market is more important than ever, and Digital Dealer continues to deliver. And it’s back to Orlando for Digital Dealer 24, April 10 – 12 at the Orange County Convention Center – look forward to seeing you there.

As a former Naval officer I am driven to produce results & to lead people to reach their full abilit Aviation, outdoors, tennis, running, weighli...