Monday morning was a “surreal” moment for Cars.com chief executive officer Alex Vetter and company.
Cars.com leadership and a handful of dealerships were on hand at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the Opening Bell, in what Vetter calls a “defining day for our company.”
Cars.com wrapped up its spinoff from TEGNA on Thursday and its shares began trading on the NYSE that same day. Shortly after Monday’s Opening Bell, Auto Remarketing caught up with Vetter, who talked by phone from New York.
“It was surreal because we were able to share the day with five of our longest-standing dealer partners. We flew in our longest-standing dealers who have been advertising with us since 1998,” Vetter said.
“And our dealer partners are a huge part of this success, so we wanted to share it with them as a representative sample of our 20,000-dealer network that’s strong, and we’re very grateful and thankful for their support,” he said. “It is a defining day for our company, for sure.”
Those dealers joining Cars.com at NYSE were:
— Todd Cahan, managing partner of Max Madsen Mitsubishi
— Michael Najdzin, president of Park Ave BMW/Acura
— Robert Ourisman, general manager of Ourisman Volkswagen Mazda of Rockville
— Mark Tysinger, president of Tysinger Motor Co.
— Jeff Wood, president of Tom Wood Automotive Group
Their presence with the company for the ceremony was certainly symbolic of the work Cars.com has done and has planned for its dealer partners, said Vetter, a Cars.com founder who has been with the company from the outset and served as its chief executive since November 2014.
“If you look at the stock market today and all the headlines coming out of a Wall Street, it’s about how technology is destroying local retail jobs, local retail economy and you’re seeing many big-box retailers go out of business,” Vetter said.
“We are proud and humbled to be a business that cares deeply about helping local retailers survive and thrive in a digitally driven world,” he said. “And we brought our oldest, longest-standing dealers as a symbol to our commitment that we’re here to help them succeed digitally.”
In fact, the mobile aspect of that digital environment is where Cars.com plans to put a great deal of focus. Over half of the site’s traffic is from mobile, Vetter said.
Asked about the growth opportunities for Cars.com and what the company might look like going forward, Vetter said Cars.com continues to “invest aggressively in our mobile technology,” as mobile is the “best source of sales.”
“If you look at the lead-provider industry,” Vetter said, “Internet leads across our auto industry are closing at anywhere from 5 to 10 percent, yet when people walk into dealerships armed and ready-to-go, dealerships are reporting closing ratios at nearly 40 percent.
“And so we know the highest-quality source of traffic that we can drive our dealer partners is by bringing people physically to their showroom. And we do that using mobile-first technology to help them locate the car they want, the dealer who has it and bring them physically to the store.
“So you can expect a lot more investment there.”
‘The way to sell a car is to show them the car’
Mobile has been a focal point for Cars.com for some time.
At the 2016 NADA Convention & Expo, Cars.com launched its Lot Insights report, which is designed to give dealers a better picture of what consumers are doing on their mobile phones while they are at or near their dealership.
At NADA this year, Cars.com launched new features to Lot Insights, including a VDP Details function. The aim is to show not only the specific vehicle details pages that consumers are view on your lot, but what they’re viewing on the competition’s lot, as well.
Asked, in general, how dealers are utilizing the various mobile offerings of Cars.com, Vetter said: “I think most dealers turn to their CRMs to inform their marketing decisions, but what we’re seeing is progressive dealers are realizing that people are showing up to their showroom using mobile technology. And so we actually are talking to the dealers that we brought here to the New York Stock Exchange about the changing nature of consumer-shopping patterns and how they’re embracing mobile.”
He added: “We’re just now starting to report on same-day delivery of people to the stores. So, now Cars.com can tell a dealership every day how many walk-in shoppers that we’re bringing to their lot who are using Cars.com on their mobile phone when they arrive.
“It’s different. And so it’s going to be a change in how dealers measure and evaluate marketing effectiveness. But again, there’s no better quality than bringing someone physically to test-drive a car to the store.
“I had a great dealer say to me once, ‘the way to sell a car is to show them the car.’ And we’re helping show more cars at the store than ever before.”
Board members a ‘world-class talented team’
Last week, Cars.com also announced a seven-member board of directors, its first as a public company.
That board will be led by Scott Forbes, who is chairman of U.K. online home advertiser company Rightmove and global B2B media company Ascential.
Along with Vetter, also on the board are independent directors Jerri DeVard, Jill Greenthal, Tom Hale, Don McGovern Jr. and Greg Revelle.
“First and foremost, we’re ecstatic to have a world-class talented team of executives helping us set and drive strategy for the company,” Vetter said Monday.
Asked about Forbes, in particular, Vetter pointed to his experience in the travel and real-estate industries, which, like the world of Cars.com, are “two-sided marketplace businesses.”
He also lauded Forbes’ M&A experience, having headed up more than 200 acquisitions and integrations.
“As we look out at our future opportunity, certainly accelerating the growth inorganically is definitely part of our plan,” Vetter said. “And having Scott on the board to help us singularly focus on our business and position in the market, I think only accelerates our growth.”
Growth going forward
That growth, undoubtedly, will involve dealers, as it has for the two decades Cars.com has existed.
In addition to inviting them to stand alongside Cars.com leadership at the NYSE, the company was spending time Monday with the dealers to learn more about how it can help them going forward.
“Look, dealers are the last vestige of true American entrepreneurialism in this country and so we are excited to help them succeed in this digitally driven world today. And no better example of that is our commitment in mobile,” Vetter said.
“The vast majority of consumers’ shopping time is being spent on mobile devices. If you look at our mobile platforms alone, the average user on Cars.com intends to buy a car within six months, but if you isolate just our mobile audience alone, the purchase horizon is nearly 40 days,” Vetter said. “So, this is the last place people shop and when they’re out on the go and we’re helping dealerships move aggressively into this mobile world.”
Asked if this was a shift toward the lower funnel, Vetter said: “The world is moving very fast, and as dealers will tell you, consumers are changing their mind up and to the day they buy the car. Whether they came in for a late-model used car and decide to buy a new car because of manufacturer incentives or didn’t know about the great trade-in that just came on the lot.
“Consumers are using mobile devices to make changes about not only the brands they’re going to buy, but dealership they’re going to buy from up into the day of the decision. So we’re helping them make better decisions about where to buy and what to buy and mobile is an enabler through that whole journey.”