It's all but certain that everybody, every business, every anything, now has a website. Your dealership likely has one, as do your suppliers, your OEMs, your alarm company, your local water utility — everybody.
Having an online presence is now a necessity (whether you like it or not) as consumers look more to the Internet for their information than to old standards such as the yellow pages (remember them?). Ask any of your customers under, say, 40, how they look up a business or seek information on a product.
But how good is your website? Is it merely an online ad or placeholder filled with outdated information? Can customers interact with your shop, or do they simply sit there staring at their screen.
It only takes a small amount of time cruising the Internet to see that there are a lot of bad dealership sites out there. Really bad. Beartooth Harley-Davidson's, www.beartoothonline.com, isn't one of them. In fact, the Billings, Mo., dealership won the 2009 Dealernews Top 100 Best Website award.
While many powersports stores are content with using the templates provided by their website providers, Beartooth's owner, Barry Usher, and its IT manager, Rob Brun, have built a custom site that features an e-commerce store, photo galleries, videos, interactive maps highlighting local hotels and landmarks, an event calendar, in-store specials, an interactive F&I page — you name it. According to Usher, whose background is in the computer business, "In the tech world you have to be first to market and the best or people aren't going to be attracted to you."
Brun and another employee wear many hats at the dealership, but their main focus is on keeping the site updated, chock-full of information and, most of all, interesting.
"The key was to get away from the template-driven site that everybody else uses, to put something together that is really customer-centric and provides information," Brun says. "It's also a store, and we love the fact that we sell things on it. But we try to keep a lot of information on there so customers can go on anytime and find out what's going on at the store and in the area.
"If you think in terms of Harley-Davidson, it's a family. So we want everybody to constantly be updated on what the family's doing here. We're real proud of the store and everything that goes on around here, and we like to get that information out there. And we like to be a resource," he adds.
Since they launched the site, it has evolved into an integral part of the dealership. While many dealership websites exist apart from the store's main business, Beartooth's has become part and parcel of its everyday commerce. "We've integrated it into the culture of the business," Brun says. "Instead of the Web being something that happens to be associated with the store, every aspect of marketing, event coordination and planning includes the website in the thought process."
When new print ads, site content or other collateral are developed, the site is considered so that it is all linked together, he notes.
The site has also expanded the store's reach far beyond the wilds of Montana. Beartooth has regular customers in Canada, Norway, Sweden, Australia and Spain. It even gets frequent visits from somebody in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. They also get travelers stopping by the shop who say they found out about the store from the Web.
"I don't think we expected it to be so international. But that's the nature of the Internet. We kind of figured we'd accidentally get some faraway places and figure out what to do once we got them. Now we've become pretty good at dealing with them."
All of this attention — from near and far — prompted the store to launch www.beartoothmotorsports.com a new e-commerce store in April that includes products from Usher's other dealership, Hi Mountain Recreation, a metric multiline also located in Billings. Online sales had already been increasing from month to month on the two dealership sites, and Brun expects this to continue with the standalone online store.
Brun says that the store's presence on the social networking site Facebook has helped drive in the increase in sales. "People get a one-to-one relationship [with us] on Facebook when they make us a friend. Then they want to buy our T-shirts, or they want to buy something other than a T-shirt and it grows from there," he says.
One of the more important parts of maintaining a website, other than keeping it updated with fresh material, is monitoring the amount of traffic it sees. There seems to be myriad methods for getting honest and reliable counts, but Beartooh depends on the Google Analytics program to check traffic.
Brun says they also keep a close eye on the site's bounce rate, or the percentage of people who have found the site, landed on a page and stayed or immediately left. So if they have a bounce rate running at about 35 percent, that means the other 65 percent have stuck around to check out the offerings.
The site will continue to evolve and in time will feature such things as preset favorite rides, routes that can be downloaded to a consumer's GPS system, more in-house videos, some online contests and more true interaction, Brun says.
His advice for dealers already working within the template provided by website services? Pay attention, invest a little time, hire someone with some Web-savvy, but most of all, make it interesting.