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Software and Soft Selling

Serviceautocenter.com is the state's first direct on-line auto web site.

The salespeople of Hawaii’s newest car dealership are redefining the term “soft sell,” spending more time exchanging telephone calls and e-mails with their customers than showing them what’s under the hood of the latest Celica. Servcoautocenter.com (www.servcoautocenter.com), located in a bungalow in the middle of Toyota City’s massive Mapunapuna lot, is an independent dealership totally dedicated to selling cars over the Internet. Officially launched early last month, servcoautocenter.com is the only direct on-line service of its kind in the state, projected to sell 100 units by the end of the year (approximately $2 million in sales) and about 30 cars and trucks a month in 2002. Currently, Servco as a whole, sells approximately 600 Toyotas a month.

“We thought that being a separate entity was important for our credibility,” says Calvin Yamada, sales manager for servcoautocenter.com. “We think that consumers will appreciate and value the fact that we have a staff whose full-time job is to provide service this way.”

At servcoautocenter.com, cybershoppers peruse the dealer’s virtual Toyota lot and “build” their car of choice, selecting from the carmaker’s full line of models, color choices and wide array of options. After choosing the different variables, the dealer’s computers calculate the purchase price and scan Servco’s inventory of more than 1,000 vehicles for an appropriate match. If it can’t match the customer’s request perfectly, the site will provide the five closest matches. Once the final selection is made, the site sends a query to servcoautocenter.com’s offices and one of the dealer’s five sales representatives will call the customer within two hours and begin the financial portion of the transaction. Once they get running on all cylinders, Bryan Lee, general sales manager at servcoautocenter.com, hopes to have the response time to within an hour.

“Our site goes beyond just providing consumers with information,” says Lee. “It is designed for people ready to purchase a car and will initiate that purchase for them.”

According to Lee, with consumers becoming more and more comfortable with conducting e-commerce over the Internet, Servco officials felt the time was right to enter cyberspace.

(According to J.D. Powers & Associates, 54 percent of all new-car buyers do research on the Internet before stepping on the car lot, but only about 2 to 5 percent of actual car sales are conducted over the Internet.) But Lee is content with the seemingly low percentages of on-line sales and hopes to equal and eventually surpass the national numbers in Hawaii. In the coming year, Lee hopes to bring Servco’s other car lines to the Internet, as well as the company’s extensive used-car offerings.

“We aren’t looking at the Internet as a way to hold down costs or a way to streamline business, it’s not replacing anything,” says Yamada of the Web site, which was developed by Data House at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. “We are looking at it as a way to extend our reach, offering a value-added service. It’s more of an investment for the company.”

The consumers that servcoautocenter.com hopes it can reach most effectively are women. Lee believes that women may be more amenable to the detail-oriented steps of e-commerce than the dealmaking of the car lot.

“We want to develop an environment where the customer feels more comfortable and less hassled,” says Yamada. “Of course, buying a car is such an emotional and exciting experience so there are a whole bunch of people who still love to haggle, kick the tires and take a test drive. And there will always be the opportunity to do that.”

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Hawaii Business,June