Doug and Craig Waikem Focus on the Future While Keeping an Eye on the Details

Doug and Craig Waikem could be on the same mountain yet neither would know it. And even though the family (Doug is Craig’s uncle) enjoy a great relationship, neither would likely stop what they were doing, so driven are they at what they do and how passionate they are about their lives. Whether hiking for Doug or skiing for Craig — or selling cars for both — the two share a passion about gradual and constant improvement, each and every day and with each and every car sale. The results have been telling: last August, the Waikem Auto Family increased their leads 30 percent over August 2011. Doug and Craig are doing their part in a larger story that has spanned three generations and started when George E. Waikem Sr. sold his first car. Fifty-seven years and 7 new car franchises later, the Waikem family continues to define car sales in Ohio.We sat down with Doug and Craig and talked about the car business, working with family and what they see as the keys to success — now and in the future:

Doug Waikem: The Second Revolution

Back in 1974, I was selling cars in Dallas at Frank Parra Chevy. There was just a little bit of change during the first 20 years; maybe the sales process started softening up a little bit.

But in 1994 it all changed. I remember standing on the 10th fairway (I was a 4 handicap), listening to someone explain the Internet to me. I knew right then — I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach — that it was going to change the industry. So I started reading up on it. Bought some magazines. I got in touch with Pete Ellis at, and signed up. We were the first dealer in the U.S. to partner with outside of the Orange County, CA market and believe it or not, my initial territory was 5 states! That changed everything. Today it’s all about certified, online training — that’s the second revolution of the car business. That and full disclosure. Fact is, the consumer is the 500-pound gorilla and if you don’t acknowledge that…

Craig Waikem on the New Way

Yeah. We respond. We get back. It’s all about full disclosure and transparency – immediately, within 20 minutes. We schedule the appointments on a nice white board, so when the customer comes in they see it, and ask for the sales manager — not some guy behind a cubicle. We want our managers to meet everybody, up front and first. Then they get a product salesperson involved.

Doug Waikem on Best Practices

The other day, I found one of my report cards from high school. My GPA was 1.9. Back in school if I copied off the sharpest student, it was called cheating, but in the auto business it’s called best practices. When we started, I went to the best Internet dealers in the country and learned from the guys that were successful. And you know what? They all had the same follow-up and Internet sales process.

Craig Waikem on Making Pizza

When we get a lead it has to be done a certain way. I confirm and call every appointment, build the sales report, track leads, meet with our managers every single day. I have only 60 days to get an Internet lead counted as a sale — that’s the limit. Doing that drives closing ratios down, but it’s far more accurate: right now our conversion from lead to delivery is 17 percent if they come to the dealer website — 14 percent if they come from the automaker site and 10 percent when they come from 3rd party lead providers.  We used to be on a 180-day sales process, but found out 70 percent buy within 60 days of submitting a lead so we put a lot of activity earlier in the sales process and the long term follow up is email only. It’s a lot more work, but it takes 8 to 9 attempts before you contact someone on average.

Our selling system is called RBI – we even have a big baseball diamond sign that tracks progress. It’s based on the key steps it takes to get from home to first and all the way back to home. Very strict and simple. In all our stores, we do everything the exact same way, so that it’s a very consistent and transparent experience for the consumer. The process is the same. We make pizza the same way at all our shops.

Doug Waikem — Reading the X-Rays

We’re very process oriented, to the point where we track ups, demos, commitments, deliveries…12 to 14 managers report to me every day and go over their “x-rays”. By tracking and measuring they do a better job, they understand what’s working, what’s not working — and they try to improve on it every day.  I do it because I hate it when we fall below our benchmarks. It takes a lot to track and report every day, but when we get these reports, they are all very laid out, very refined. And because we’re disciplined about it, within an hour I learn more about my dealership than most people figure out all day. It’s all about refining the process and doing it every day. Discipline and process.

Craig Waikem on the Joy of Web Metrics

Knowing what my uncle likes to track helps. But the fact is that the game has changed for every department, not just the Internet department. And that’s one one of the things I love about the Internet: you can report on everything. With the right approach, you can see the ROI…it’s cool to see how many people are on the website, how many people actually buy cars. It’s our job to track this and learn from it.

Doug Waikem on The Business

My name, personal cell and email is on every counter, everywhere. I believe in being available and working with our customers. How many dealers put that on every desk? I am blessed to be a third generation owner with a great reputation and good advertising. I suppose I just love the game — the competition, exceeding our goals. When we hire someone, we ask them what their personal goals are, and we show them how, by achieving their work goals, they can achieve their personal dreams. I love it most when that happens, when our associates hit  their personal goals. When I see someone achieving those goals, that’s the best part of the business. For me, I’m a car guy. If the car business wasn’t here I would probably be mowing lawns.

Craig Waikem on The Family Business

Working with your dad and your family, well, they can be a little harder on you than others, that’s for sure! That’s good because I’m passionate about the business and am very blessed to have this opportunity.

Doug Waikem on What’s Working Now

We want educated buyers. It’s in our ads — we drive people from our traditional advertising to our digital properties, and invite them to become an educated buyer. When they walk into a Waikem dealership it’s important that they have a very positive, consistent experience, no matter which dealership. That’s why we introduce them with our managers, and invite them to become educated buyers.

Craig Waikem on What’s Working Now, Digital Edition

Buying a car is still an emotional process, and we do a really good job of using technology to learn more about our customers and communicate with them. I mean at the end of the day ecommerce is really still all marketing and advertising. That’s why we started building  microsites. We’ve built a number of them — specials, the blog, the Waikem Fan Club and Why Waikem. It helps us to, among other things, constantly communicate the right way with our customers. We reworked our email templates, our eblasts and our sales follow up. As a result of the blog, we dont send them to Autoblog, just our blog and our microsites. We don’t want to lose control of the customer on other sites.

Doug Waikem on What’s Next

First, special finance in the digital world is an emerging opportunity. We’re all fighting for the 60% — only one out of 10 dealers are any good at special finance, but four out of 10 customers need it. Fact is, more people with impaired credit are going online instead of going straight to the dealership; they now have more options. It’s become a digital war out there; we’re working with a credit repair company to help customers. We’re pretty good, but we’re going to get real good, real soon.

I also think that closing ratios should shift to 40 percent. Look at the stats: We have a benchmark of a 30 percent closing ratio on our ups, but today people only shop 0.7 other dealerships — it used to be 4.5 during the pre-Internet days.  Because of that, we believe close ratios should be more like 40 percent, not 30 percent.

Published on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *