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Digital Dealer 24 Review with Kevin Frye #DD24

It’s Five AM on Monday morning when I get up. Between the cat meowing to be fed and the dog whining to go out, it’s time to start the day. It has been a long, cold winter, but it’s April, it can’t be that chilly outside, right? Wait, GREAT GLOBAL WARMING! I just looked out the window and there is SNOW on my truck? It’s time for me to get on a plane and head as far south as I can go in search of warmth and sunshine. Digital Dealer 24 in Orlando, here I come!

Digital Dealer 24 at the Orlando Convention Center

Orlando, home of the adult Disneyland…  Wait, am I getting confused with Las Vegas? Maybe, though after multiple WestPac tours with the US Navy, I think that might be found in either Thailand or the Phillipines. I was excited to return to Orlando which has hosted the east coast Digital Dealer show many times. All prior conferences had been hosted at the Rosen Shingle resort, while DD24 was going to be located at the Orlando Convention Center. How did that work out?

Early auto eCommerce pioneer Nick Cybela continues to lead with Flowfound

Listen up you young whipper-snappers!  If you ask me, I liked when Digital Dealer was located at the Rosen Shingle. Why? Everyone was at the same hotel/venue for the conference, and at any point in the day, you could see most of your friends in the industry. It was an easy walk to the sessions, keynotes, exhibition hall, or to several restaurants and bars in the evening, all without the hassle of traveling outside of the resort. Maybe it’s my age, but I enjoy that convenience.

Convenient covered walk from the hotel to DD24 each day

Did that make the Orlando Convention Center a bad location? Absolutely not. There were multiple hotels that attendees could stay at, and most were within walking distance to the convention center. I stayed at the Hyatt and there were covered, moving walkways between the hotel and the conference. It took about 20 minutes for the trip, but that gave me some time to have some coffee and prepare for the day.

Julie was unable to join me at DD24, but she did spoil Kate Frost during her last Wyler visit

Yes, I found some of that Florida sunshine on Monday afternoon where my great friend Kate Frost joined me as we caught up on some Wyler business, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon solving world problems like hunger, border security, and more. Did I everr share that the best part of this industry is the people you meet?

Badge pickup for Digital Dealer 24 was simple – no long lines!

Hooray! I failed to pick up my DD24 badge on Monday and dreaded the long lines that were always prevalent for those folks picking up their badges on the first day of the conference. Great news, this was the smoothest badge pickup yet. There were greeters pointing you to multiple computer screens where you entered either your last name or badge number, and a couple minutes later it was printed up and being handed to you. No lines, little wait, friendly service – well done!

Preaching about auto subscription at DD24

Subscribe and Drive with Wyler FastLane!  Day one, first session of Digital Dealer 24 started with my session on “Everything You Need to Know about Auto Subscription”. This is certainly a topic near and dear to my heart as the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family recently launched the first auto subscription service in our market, Wyler FastLane. With Wyler FastLane, subscribers have one monthly payment that includes access to an entire fleet of cars. That payment also includes their auto insurance, maintenance, service, and taxes. The big question I looked to address as I talked about auto subscription services like ours and others offered by the OEMs and more was “WHY?”

Matt Murray and Bryce Forbush with Podium

The average car buyer today is tied into a long term finance or lease term and is locked into one car, one that fits many of their needs, but not all of their needs. With auto subscription, we can provide an affordable and flexible mobility solution that allows the subscriber to have the perfect car for every occasion without a long term commitment. There are few players involved this early into the auto subscription market, and each of us is approaching the business model a bit differently. We all have one common factor – we are looking to test, refine, and perfect a sustainable business model that provides an exceptional experience for our customers, while giving us a profitable model that allows us to grow.

Subi Ghosh and Ali Amirrezvani at the DD cocktail hour

How is auto subscription being received by our customers? Our subscribers LOVE the service. The common theme among them is simple – auto subscription makes driving FUN again. They have no worries about having the right car or getting it into the shop to be serviced. In fact, it is like having a new car every couple of weeks as they flip into their next car which is clean, detailed, and has a full tank of gas. Unfortunately, the biggest resistance we have seen is from other dealers and vendors.

I was saddened to hear that R Lee Ermey passed away April 15th. Here he is at DD11

Fake News! Fake News!  There were another 3 sessions that talked about auto subscription and other services that I chose to sit in and attend. One of these focused on how to “defend” your dealership from these new solutions. Is “defending” the right answer during this time of disruption in our market? In a time where our customers are demanding a better experience from us, should we be resisting new, better consumer-facing solutions? I was also discouraged to hear some of the “facts” about auto subscription that were completely wrong. One example – we “force” subscribers to switch every couple of weeks to ensure they are never in a car more than 28 days, and “most” subscribers start exchanging cars but then choose to stay in the same vehicle for years and therefore the subscription model makes no sense.

Real facts – our subscribers CHOOSE to exchange their vehicles ~2.5 times per month on average and they have no desire to be locked into one car for five plus years. I can understand a lack of understanding as we launch new solutions, but I am frustrated when folks distort the truth about how they actually work. If we want to improve as an industry, we must be progressive and open-minded as we test new solutions.

Christi Olson with Microsoft

As my English teacher rolls over in her grave…  “Write like humans speak” was the advice given by Christi Olson, head of evangelism with Microsoft, as she talked about “Unchatted Territory: Trends and Tips for Driving Traffic through Voice Search”. I remember writing “like I spoke” for my English homework in high school and let’s just say that was not warmly received by my teacher, Ms. Beadle, at Walnut Grove High School (for the very few who got that, you ARE old!).

Well, dammit, I was right! Or perhaps, I was a voice SEO guru well before my time. As voice search is growing exponentially, it is important that you update your websites with voice search friendly content, while working to have featured snippets of the information being searched for. Hint: Early birds will get the worm in this key area.

Who is this “Chris Bro-man” and his Men in Automotive movement?

“They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!”  Was this a quote from William Wallace of Braveheart fame when I entered the exhibit hall? Why no, this was from the incredibly inspiring Chris Bro-man of Men in Automotive.

His message was that the Women in Automotive movement will not be met without resistance from the traditionally male-dominated auto industry. Men, we must arise and fight! (Editorial note: Christy Roman – you should NEVER have trusted me to hold onto your Digital Dealer badge the night before). Ah, the joys of Photoshop. Sorry Christy, I could not resist – and may I share that Christy and the Women in Automotive team hosted a wonderful reception the previous night. And from myself and so many others, we support Women in Automotive – and don’t forget they have their next conference coming up June 24-26 in Orlando.

Loved the huge projected advertisements when you entered exhibit hall

HELLO… Hello… hello…  ECHO… Echo… echo…  Did I share that the Orlando Convention center is huge? Without question it is a first class facility, however the sheer size seemed to dwarf the size of DD24. Let me share first that one of the key strengths of Digital Dealer is the tremendous amount of educational sessions, as well as the multiple skill levels available in each educational category. However, I feel that this is almost diluting the conference.

What do I mean?

It seems that there are so many sessions that there are many that have few attendees, and even when we entered exhibit hall, it almost seemed that it had less exhibitors due to the large size of the hall. Would it make sense to scale back how many sessions are available? Is it just me? I would love your feedback.

Great to see early auto digital pioneer Joe Pistell and his daughter Katie Gridley

What’s new pussycat? Meow!  So my 20 year old son bought a record player and is now buying vinyl and guess what one of the first albums he buys is? Yep, Tom Jones Greatest Hits. Hence this brilliant segue into “what’s new” in exhibit hall (did I mention that my writing style was not very popular with my English teachers???). I found most of my value at Digital Dealer 24 in exhibit hall, and let me share my top picks…

Visiting Sean Brown with Fair with Ceren Isildak, and Alex Jefferson

Fair? Life is not FAIR!  Love him or hate him, Scott Painter of TrueCar fame has raised up to one Billion (yes, that’s a capital B) in debt and equity funding for Fair, a car leasing app that should be getting your attention. I encouraged folks to visit this booth during my session as Fair is raising the bar to meet higher consumer expectations with a simple app that allows consumers to get instantly pre-qualified to acquire a vehicle with no long-term commitments. Once your are pre-approved, Fair acquires the car from the dealership it belongs to (that’s right, our inventory that we have agreed to list and at a price which we are willing to accept from Fair). Consumers can return the car at any point with 5 days notice, and then Fair gives the dealer first choice to buy the car back.

Simply put – Fair is looking to provide an affordable and flexible mobility solution which is more consumer facing. Hmmm, wasn’t that the same thing I shared about auto subscription? I suppose that is also why I talked about Fair during my session. Lots of folks were stopping by Fair and learning more as this continues to expand into more markets across the country.

Alex Miles with VinChain, the only blockchain exhibitor at DD24

Please! Would someone just give me some attention…  Let’s just say that there was one exhibitor that nobody was paying attention to, though they might have been the one which should have made everyone think. Last year I spoke about disruption in our industry, and one of the areas that I specifically talked about was blockchain. I ventured a guess on how this could directly impact automotive and my thoughts were vehicle history.

Ladies and gentlemen – let me introduce Vinchain, the first blockchain solution I have seen at a Digital Dealer conference. Vinchain is looking to leverage vehicle history information by monetizing the data in your car. This makes a lot of sense as acquiring the vehicle data and building the database will be the biggest barrier to entry into this market. Without getting into a huge debate about who owns the data, Vinchain looks to install a device into the OVD port of your vehicle which would then transmit your driving data back to them. This can then be used for marketing solutions and much more.

Ironically, this booth was right across from CarFax. I asked Alex Miles if CarFax had any idea what he was doing and the answer was “no”. Wake up folks – you should be watching this area closely.

Chris Hill continues to excel with OverTake Digital Marketing with a great show at DD24

Did you hear the carnival barker crying “Free wifi! Free popcorn! We have cable TV!”  Of course, free amenities like this bring cars to a screeching stop and hordes of crazed customers pouring into your showroom for these exclusive benefits that cannot be found anywhere else. I did find one brilliant solution, Spacee, that should enhance your showroom experience. Please check out this video demonstrating Space Spatial Experiences.

Think of it this way, this is a deviceless mixed reality solution that you can provide in your showroom that not only further educates your customer on the benefits of the vehicle you are trying to sell, it also provides that much desired “wow” factor that they will likely share on social media. We have been creating and testing augmented reality tools to enhance the showroom experience at the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family and I can share this highly impressed me.

Jon and Brent Williams with SnapCell

Hey Alex, meet me at the SnapChat booth…  When Alex finally found me, he made sure to let me know that I was at the SnapCell booth (doh!). There are now multiple video solutions for dealers to choose from in providing a simple and high quality tool for sending video from our sales reps to our customers. SnapCell is providing a solution which will not only leverage SMS technology, but will also integrate with some CRM tools like VinSolutions. Well done!

Patrick Min and Azarias Reda with Carma

Is there a lot of competition for auto subscription software? “Not much” said Clutch. Watch out folks, I had a great conversation with Azarias Reda and Patrick Min of Carma. They are looking to enter this innovative market with their competing solution. Best of luck to both of them (and well done to Azarias who entered the tech panel competition).

With Jeff Clark as he joins the team at Activengage, Todd Smith and celebrating Jennifer Sanford’s birthday

Moved by Millennial Money…  Matt Cragin, Director of Corporate Strategy for Fair, talked about the emerging new car ownership models in his session “Defend Your Dealership – Understand the Powerful Forces that are Fighting for your Customers’ Mobility Dollars”. Matt shared some great examples as each generation has moved the market with the sheer amount of dollars they bring to the table. Guess who is the fastest growing segment of your customer base? That would be the millennials, and the sheer amount of their dollars will change our market with their spending power.

I was a bit disappointed as the facts shared about auto subscription were not accurate, and further, I was confused by what I felt was a mixed message. It seemed like the only new car ownership model that was not threatening dealerships was Fair, while any others should be “defended” against. As for me? I choose to be open minded to all, including Fair, doesn’t that sound fair?

Look who just ran the Spartan Race? Meet your warriors Yago Paramo and Joe Gillespie (missing Brian Pasch who also ran with them)

And the best session takeaway was…  This one belongs to Kelly McNearney, senior strategist on Automotive Retail Google. While Kelly talked about last click attribution in her session “Beyond the Last Click”, Kelly shared that Google has activated Store Visit Conversions. If you are spending a lot of money on Google AdWords (which most of you are), you definitely need to look for this. You will need to have your Google My Business pages linked to Adwords, and ensure you have location extensions turned on. If you go to Adwords and go to conversions, all conversions, there should now be a column for store conversions. If there is no data showing, you are not eligible at this time.

Enjoying the Blue Martini reception c/o DealerOn with Ilana Zur of AutoLeadStar  and Brian Rydell

This is very powerful. Every dealer wants to track actual store visits from their digital marketing efforts. While this is not perfect, Google has a lot of data that allows them to track the customer from your Adwords marketing directly to your dealership. Think about it. The customer might check into your dealership’s GMB page when they arrive. Or more likely, they have their phone reporting its geo-location back to Google. The bottom line is that this data is slowly becoming more available to dealers and we can start to get a better picture of direct results.

On a side note, the Google presentation also won the best analogy contest with their “hangover” story as it relates to last click attribution. While you may have had a beer, then some wine, followed by a martini, and then a tequila shot, why is it that the last thing you drank got all of the credit for that hangover? Wow, that explains so much from previous Digital Dealer evenings…

Jeff Wyler dinner at Rocco’s Tacos

Margaritas and mayhem or 5 Star Steakhouse solitude? Team Wyler chose Rocco’s Tacos where we enjoyed pitchers of margaritas, some great Mexican food, and we were joined by Kate Frost and Alex Jefferson. After a great dinner, we were off to see Karaoke with Joe Webb and Arnold Tijerina. For many, the pitchers of liquid courage gave new belief that their voices were only surpassed by Celine Dion or Whitney Houston.

In full disclosure, some of these folks can really sing – and I was certainly intimidated to compete with that talent. And while there were many great performances, my hat goes off to Mat Koenig who dominated with “Get By with a Little Help from my Friends”. Mat, if you would have done the John Belushi version, I would have replaced this entire review with a glowing approval of your performance.

Joe Webb welcomes Shaun Raines to the DealerKnows team at DD24

I started Wednesday morning with a great session on online merchandising. Yes, this has been a topic of discussion and study for a long time and guess what – it is still relevant. Unfortunately I could not stay the entire session as I was taking part in a panel in keynote hall with “The Future of Automotive Retail”.

Mark Tewart put together a great panel to discuss some of the most relevant issues that we as dealers face in today’s market. Here is the one word summary of this entire panel – people. Regardless of the technology solutions we are leveraging for our future and the disruptive third parties entering our industry, the bottom line is that our future success hinges on people. By that, I mean how we treat our people, and how we treat our customers. Is it any coincidence that the most successful companies today excel at being consumer facing?

First class panel with Frank Lopes, Donald Hall, JC Baker, Mark Tewart (missing Erich Gail)

What’s the key to a successful keynote?  While Digital Dealer brought in some great keynote speakers, the sessions did not appear to be well attended, and I cannot figure this out. The Disney keynote on Wednesday afternoon took place in a room that was less than half full. The following morning was better attended, but this is likely because they were also serving breakfast.

Kudos to Dan Waldschmidt who lead the Thursday morning session. He brought an immense amount of energy to his presentation and spent the entire time roaming the tables where people were listening (and eating). Dan shared his million dollar idea that helped his success. Each day, he looks at his calendar from the previous day and then sends a personal follow-up email to each person he interacted with. Time spent is about fifteen minutes, but the return is enormous in the long run.

CJ Depasquale and Erin Williams – 2 faves at DD24

Russell Lemmer talked about “The Connected Fleet” where he shared that loaners are the third largest expense for most dealers. While meeting with one of largest venture capital firms in the nation, he walked away with a valuable nugget of advice. Companies that reduce friction tend to add value. Hmmm, if you could do that, could you find success? Russell then shared how better managing your fleet with digital solutions could not only reduce friction, but also save you a lot of money while creating better satisfied customers. Win!

Great job by Frank Lopes who took on the tall task of being the emcee of DD24

Closing remarks…  When I entered exhibit hall, Cox Automotive dominated with the largest booth right at the entrance. When I looked at VinSolutions, I recognized one person. That evening, at Karaoke, I realized that I did not recognize half of the people. Is this bad? Of course not – but it is an indication that there is a new, large amount of talent entering our industry every year. The challenge for me is how I can give back to this industry that has given so much to me and my family. Perhaps better worded, how can WE give back to those that are rising behind us?

Disruption in our industry should not be feared, it should be viewed as an opportunity to grow and become better. Just as many of us that were the early pioneers in automotive eCommerce were helped and encouraged by those who worked before us, we need to empower our next generation. Women in Automotive is doing a great job with young women starting in automotive, and Digital Dealer continues to be a platform which empowers all participants in the automotive industry.

Super fun dinner with Ceren Isildak, Melissa Green, Alex Jefferson, Megan Mulhall, and Kenny Calhoun

Did I mention that Digital Dealer 25 will be back at The Mirage in Las Vegas? Mark your calendars for October 16th – 18th. Great seeing everyone in Orlando and I look forward to seeing you this fall. And let me close with this great pic of Mat and Shaun…

Shaun Raines and Mat Koenig say farewell until DD25

If you have a question for Kevin or anyone from the DR Community that attended Digital Dealer 24, head over to the forums and ask away – we put together a designated thread just for this…  https://dlrfr.sh/DD24questionscomments

 

Be sure to check out some of Kevin’s previous Digital Dealer reviews from the archives:

ENJOY!!