small business owner, small business tips, differentiation, Brooke Hubler, Hubler Automotive Group, competitive advantage, business branding, competitive strategy, community engagement, personalization, customer services
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Growing Your Business

How auto dealers can rise above the competition

Business owners explain how they've gained an advantage

Imagine: You've worked around the clock to get your auto dealership off the ground. Then, the competition sets up shop next door—literally or virtually—and they're selling the same cars, or offering the same services as you do.

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With fierce competition from brick-and-mortar businesses as well as e-commerce companies, it's more important than ever to check out the competition and then strategize how to distinguish yourself. Here are some insights from car dealers who run high-touch businesses that have built loyal followings.

1. Consciously curate your inventory

Scope out the competition's inventory and consider how you can tweak yours. Make your offering different enough in terms of quality or type, or see if you can improve how a customer gets access to your inventory.

Brooke Hubler, general manager of Hubler Automotive Group, looked at her business's 3,500 vehicles and realized the company could instantly scale each of its 14 locations in and around Indianapolis by allowing them to share one another's inventory.

"Our new inventories are shared by vehicle make, so our smaller locations have the advantage of a larger inventory," she explains. Plus, the added benefit is a far better experience for customers as they don't have to drive around to different locations to find exactly what they want.

2. Personalize your customer service

Delighting customers is the business battleground of the 21st Century, now that so much business is done through mobile apps and online. The greater the personal connection, the stronger the bond between your business and the customer. But personalizing your customer service doesn't have to be complicated. It just needs to "distinguish you from everyone else," says Hubler. It could be as simple as curating suggested products in advance of a client's visit, or showing a customer how to use a product before they walk out the door.

3. Offer purchase protection

Another way to get a leg up on the competition is improving warranty and return policies.

Consider ramping up your policies and then display them clearly in your store or online. Showing that you're doing one better than the competition on purchase protection is especially appreciated by online shoppers, who don't have the luxury of holding or trying on items.

Hubler Automotive offers a 10-year, 200,000-mile warranty on all 'powertrain' vehicle parts, which helps to differentiate it from other dealers on the strip.

"Our goal was to offer something that no other dealer in our market is offering," says Hubler.

If changing warranties and returns don't fit your business model, the principle behind the suggestion should still pertain to your company: Find out what your competition offers and do one better.

"Going the extra mile to make every customer completely satisfied," is, in fact, Hubler Automotive's motto.

4. Connect with your community

OK, so what if the competition is as wily as you are when it comes to delighting customers? Make kindness and compassion part of your business plan, says Mason McCurley, president of McCurley Integrity Dealerships in Tri-Cities, Wash.

McCurley sees community engagement as a major competitive advantage for his business. The company incorporates fundraisers for local non-profits into its marketing plans, and benefits from the decades of local recognition and loyalty it's built as a result.

"It's our responsibility to take care of and help grow the community that supports us," says McCurley. "Each year, we give back hundreds of thousands of dollars to non-profits that feed the homeless, offer at-risk youth safe places and make dreams come true for those with life-threatening illnesses."

The work became such an integral part of their business that McCurley re-branded the company in the 1990s, to add "Integrity" to the name. His company's values are now spelled out for all to see, leaving an impression on customers long after they drive away.

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