The stretch of NADA Convention expo floor space between the low 1100s and low 1800s resembles Cox Automotive’s version of 5th Avenue.
But in place of shops like Saks, the Apple Store, J. Crew and Gucci are booths bearing car-biz-familiar brands like Dealertrack, Manheim, vAuto and Autotrader.
Inside a typical convention hall makeshift office within this corridor is Cox Automotive president Sandy Schwartz.
Along with the rest of the company, Schwartz has been as busy as Grand Central Station.
Or to use parlance closer to Cox Automotive headquarters, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The buzz and bustle lately has largely centered on integrating one of the newer additions to this block, Dealertrack, which Cox Automotive purchased last year.
A former newspaper man himself, Schwartz is here on April 1 to talk with a magazine editor about that process, which included getting out on the road with Mark O’Neil, the former Dealertrack boss who is now Cox Automotive’s chief operating officer.
Through those travels and other discussions with dealers, Schwartz said two things have stood out.
“The first one is, it really confirmed a lot of the things we talked about. Everybody’s looking for an integrated solution. Everybody wants things to work together. Dealers are feeling margins compressed,” he said.
Dealers, Schwartz said, want to figure out to do business better, faster and at lower costs.
The second finding was this:
“Quite frankly, we worried at one point, ‘Wow, are we getting too big?’ And what we get back and forth is, ‘Look, if you can solve my problems, if you can do what I need, I don’t care who does it,’” Schwartz said. “We preach open integration, open source. And so what we are really, really working hard at is prioritizing what’s most important and working on those (items) first.”
And within that process, Cox Automotive has actually been checking off items quicker than Schwartz anticipated, including naming a COO.
Spanning the dealer ops spectrum
Even before they joined together, there was nary a part of the dealership or vehicle lifecycle that either Dealertrack or Cox Automotive didn’t touch.
Whether its tens of thousands of dealers converging on Las Vegas or Schwartz simply sitting down with a dealer during a regular visit, you can imagine the needs a dealer might bring to the table.
So, which areas of the operational spectrum are they telling Cox Automotive they need the most help?
“To me, No. 1 was digital retailing,” Schwartz said. “We kind of have the pieces of the whole ecosystem now. And that ecosystem is when someone starts thinking about buying a car to when they get the keys handed to them.
“For a dealer, it’s well before that. It’s their acquisition of the car,” he added. “Helping dealers acquire the right cars or helping dealers take their new cars and marketing them the right way. And then, it’s (addressing) how do we get that seamless integration of digital retail?”
Schwartz also points to Cox Automotive research that indicates consumers get more than a bit flustered after 90 minutes at the store. That requires helping prepare the customer before he or she arrives at the store — for instance, getting the credit application knocked out before arrival at the store.
Schwartz said the Digital Retailing product launched this month can aid in that process.
The solution lets car shoppers start and agree to terms of a deal with the retailer online, then transition to an in-store process to finalize the transaction and take delivery. In putting the solution together, the company partnered some of the services of Dealertrack and Dealer.com with online deal-making platform MakeMyDeal.
That platform is integrated into Dealertrack’s credit application and its sales and F&I portal.
In essence, the overall approach is to use the various elements of the car-buying process covered by Cox Automotive to aid in making digital retailing a more seamless process.
‘We think we have all the parts’
In a departure from recent years, don’t expect as many headlines with phrases like “Cox Automotive acquires (insert company name here)” down the road.
The company believes it has the major parts it needs, with few pieces to possibly add here and there.
(Last week, Cox Automotive acquired a majority share in Molicar, a Brazilian vehicle valuations business.)
“Look, we’ve acquired a bunch of companies, ourselves. We’re always going to look at the chain,” Schwartz said. “I will tell you, we are going to be less acquisitive in the future, simply because we think we have all the parts. There might be a few pieces we need. We have all the parts and we’re getting them to work together better.”
On the rare occurrence Schwartz stops by the grocery store, he said he likes a low-touch experience. Get the packaged turkey instead of hitting the deli, run throughout self-checkout and leave.
When it comes to golf clubs, though, Schwartz wants to go in the store and test them out for an hour. A new set of irons is not something he wants to buy online.
Within both the consumer and dealer population, the preferences for car-buying methodology vary as much as Schwartz’s approaches to groceries and golf clubs.
So, Cox Automotive, which operates in both the wholesale and retail worlds, aims to tailor its offering based on how that customer wants to do business.
Whether it’s online or offline, it has to be seamless.
“We’ve got to provide that experience the way that the consumer or the way the dealer wants it,” Schwartz said.
In fact, there are parallels between how consumers and dealers shop for cars.
“More than anybody could imagine,” Schwartz said.
“Think about it: the dealer wants the very best deal on a car. And all that matters to the dealer is, how do I get what I need, how do I buy it at the right price, how do I minimize what I have to do to it, how do we get it transported, then how fast can I sell it?” he added.
“The consumer thinks: I want the very best car at the very best deal. I want to have the very best selection of all the (cars) that are out there,” Schwartz said.
Not to mention, the consumer would like processes such as the credit application to be painless. Point is, dealers and consumers may have more in common than they think.
And Cox Automotive continues to piece together all the parts it now has to serve both.
The final question Auto Remarketing posed to Schwartz was this: if he was still in the newspaper business, what would he enjoy most about covering an event like the NADA Convention?
“Probably the variety that’s here,” he said. “My story would probably be, how are dealers trying to take all of this and make sense out of it and come up with a seamless experience to sell cars, to acquire and then sell the cars they have?”
Interestingly enough, that’s the very question Cox Automotive is trying to answer.
Editor's Note: This is the part of a series of stories about Cox Automotive's leadership stemming from Auto Remarketing's interviews with Schwartz, Cox Automotive COO Mark O'Neil and other Cox Automotive leaders at the NADA Convention.