Lauri Schroeder is a self-professed Internet and social-networking junkie.
“I’m like the Google queen,” says the J&W Cycles employee. “Instead of ‘Googling,’ my friends call it ‘Lauri-ing.’”
Schroeder spends up to half of her 40-hour workweek on a computer, scanning, updating and sending personal messages to people on sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. It’s all part of a day’s work: Schroeder has parlayed her fascination with all things social media into part of her job duties at the Washington, Mo., store. And junkie no more — J&W has recently crowned her its social networking administrator, after her initiatives to get J&W on the social-media bandwagon. “I’ve been a Facebook and MySpace member since the beginning,” she says. “I thought, hey, it would be cool to have J&W on these sites, too.”
Out of all of the Top 100 applications Dealernews received for 2010, J&W was one of the few stores that designated an employee to man the realm of social networking. And it’s paying off in the form of free marketing and added business: J&W Cycles’ Facebook page has more than 2,200 “friends.” This stat is nothing to scoff at, considering the rural town has a 2009 population of 15,000, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. It means nearly 15 percent of residents are aware that the store exists. And it’s growing daily, with Schroeder’s efforts to seek out and spread the word about the store.
“When Supercross came to St. Louis, we posted on Facebook that we were selling tickets in the store,” says Melissa Caldwell, the store’s financial controller and office manager. “No sooner had Lauri put that up that people started calling and coming in for tickets. We had people in that same afternoon.”
The store’s owners, Jimmy and Debora Jones, and Robert and Nancy Jones, caught on quickly that social media required the extra attention. “I knew it was a new type of media for a new generation,” Robert Jones says. “It’s starting to supplement radio, television and newspaper advertising for the people who listen to commercial-free satellite radio, who are TiVo’ing through TV commercials or who don’t go out and buy newspapers.”
A typical day for Schroeder includes logging on to the social media sites, checking e-mails for customer requests and questions, posting store specials and events, and mining for local riding clubs and new potential customers. “For Facebook searches, I use keywords like ‘Victory motorcycles’ and ‘Ninja’ to find clubs and people that may be interested in our store,” Schroeder says. “But now, more people are requesting us rather than the other way around.” Schroeder and customers will trade messages back and forth, having virtual conversations about in-stock units, store specials, service department wait-time, even birthday greetings. The almost instantaneous question-and-answer sessions are almost like giving customers a personal, in-store assistant at their fingertips.
“It’s convenient, and easier than picking up the phone to call us,” Schroeder says.
Much like the rest of the country, J&W had to downscale a lot of its marketing efforts when the economy tanked. Marketing and advertising that was done by outside vendors is now done in-house by Schroeder and staff, along with website maintenance. The store will save upward of $10,000 this year, Caldwell says, and the store will continue to benefit financially because the social media marketing is free.
“We’ve found that some of the best marketing we have is through social networking sites,” Caldwell says. “The word of mouth and reputation you get from that are strong. Now that we’re watching our pennies, we have to pick and choose our services, and we’re all about the free.”
Of course, social networking is more powerful of a tool when used alongside a solid store website, which J&W has.
When paired, the Internet initiatives reach a far larger demographic than just its website alone.
“I can definitely tell you, all social networking sites cater to the younger crowd, mostly the early 30s and under,” Caldwell says. “The website pushes more toward the mid-30s-and-older crowd.”
J&W’s current site is a far cry from the one-page static fact sheet it launched in 2000, citing basic store information like store hours, brands carried, a handful of store pictures, and a few links to suppliers and manufacturers. “In no way was it anything like what we have now,” Caldwell says. “When we started to realize that the Internet was a place where people wanted to get their information first, we updated it.”
That was back in 2005, when the store partnered with PowerSports Network, which provided a complete site makeover and has been hosting it ever since. And over the years, the store has added and subtracted some of PSN’s offerings to meet the needs of its customer base. Just because a third-party website provider offers a slew of widgets and services, you don’t have to us them all. In reality, trying to cram in too many visuals and options can affect the consumer experience in a negative, sensory-overload way.
“We actually dropped our online parts and accessories listings because we were finding that a lot of people didn’t quite know what they were looking for,” Caldwell says. “So they were ordering parts, but weren’t getting the right ones. Like they’d say, ‘We need tires,’ and then would order them because they look good, but they wouldn’t fit onto their vehicles.”
Currently, the site features an event calendar, customer testimonials and information on new and used units. The sales staff updates most of this information, and relays to Schroeder when there’s anything that needs to post simultaneously on the store’s social media sites.
But even though the Internet makes everything seem instantaneous, growth happens on a slower, more organic level. It took about six months for J&W’s website to gain a decent number of pageviews after it was launched five years ago, and currently, the store is slowly working toward implementing e-newsletters once management is satisfied with the Web effort’s growth. Its website currently garners more than 500 page views daily.
“Anything new for any dealership takes time,” Caldwell says. “You have to stay positive with it, focus on it as a good thing no matter what, and you’ll always come out ahead. It can never be a negative.”
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews June 2010 issue.