Many years ago, an auto dealer took me to the LA Auto Auction to buy a car. I found the experience very educational and thus began my automotive career. I applied my limited knowledge to earn money selling cars while I was in college; it beat many other part time jobs. A few years later, I actually left a mortgage finance job to help a family start up in a new independent dealership. We lived the same hard life that you often hear of when I say that we washed, transported, and sold our own cars, financed our own deals, collected our own payments, and operated our own books.
I never fell in love with cars but I really enjoyed the business, including the marketing, financing, customer relations, and day-to-day challenges. We were the first independent dealership in our town that had a computer with a DOS operating system. We became a very high producing store and won many generous prizes in marketing contests offered by lenders and aftermarket product companies.
In our first ten years, we used a basic dealer software, DacEasy accounting, and Lotus 123 to grow the business substantially. As internet via AOL dial up, Windows, MS Word, MS Spread sheet and AutoTrader all appeared in the nineties, my current vision began to form. I researched available DMS packages but was unable to find a software that could offer me everything I needed in one package. I learned that most DMS providers fail to meet my expectations as they are unable to overcome at least one of the following fundamental obstacles. First, many have never owned or operated an auto dealership to appreciate what a dealer has to contend with to earn a buck. Second, they might gain some experience in parts of dealer operations, namely sales, however they cannot change what they have already sold to hundreds of users for thousands of dollars. They fear modifying or making fundamental changes to their product, as well being unsure of the costs involved to make consistently needed updates. Third, many providers have a new platform and are too busy claiming advancement by using various technical acronyms just to gain new accounts, sell and profit , regardless of the flaws in their product’s design or support. I was looking for a company that made programmers learn the car business, not one that would disrupt car dealers’ operations by making them change their ways to fit the new program. My quest was futile since I was in uncharted waters.
AutoSoft NET was formed in 1999 to accomplish three goals:
- No data duplication. A user will never need to re-enter data.
- Automation. Users will not need to manually process things that a computer could do for them.
- Reduce functions to a mouse click or two.
Most dealers will not bother with details if it takes too many clicks to automate their computerized operations. AutoDealer Plus was created and has evolved as a solid dealer management software allowing dealers to run a headache-free dealership. This task proved a challenge, but very rewarding over the long haul. The goal was not just to create a software with a few more tools than the ones already on the market; we were truly seeking complete automation. We were mindful of the fact that the reference to "Independent" dealers comes from independent thinking and habits in each dealership. After months spent on design conception, we identified the areas which we were to include in our software, namely:
I was fully aware that we had an ambitious goal and that it would be very costly to execute, but I was not short on my commitment to this plan. Based on the strength of my resume, several companies committed to supporting me in developmental costs of the program if they saw tangible benefits. Our aim was to finance the project ourselves and deliver an advanced software to a network of dealers at little or no cost to them. It made sense for ASN participating vendors to have automation for their processes as well, in order to reduce part, if not all, of their costs in marketing and operational areas. It was and still is a win-win situation since dealers, vendors, AutoSoft NET, as well as the public all have to benefit for this model to work.
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Many dealers consider accounting less important than other areas in a dealership, I think it should actually be the foremost concern for dealers, and lately, a lot of dealers are coming to this point as well. The first question we are often asked is; "Do you integrate with QuickBooks, DacEasy, Peachtree, or another accounting software?" It even gets more amusing when we are told, "My accountant wants me to use QuickBooks." We are told things such as, "I use an outside bookkeeper." If we ask what this outside bookkeeper gets from them to prepare their books, the common response is, "My bank statements." If we ask how they are capitalizing their reconditioning expenses or what automotive chart of accounts they are you using, the answer is, "I am not sure; my accountant knows." The questions I always wish to ask are; "Who owns the business - you or your accountant? If you get sued, who pays - you or your accountant? If you get audited and penalized for incorrect books, who pays? If he makes an error, who is responsible?" These questions are not aimed to blame the accountants, they are simply intended to point out to dealers that they are not aware of things that should be available for them to see. Under the Freedom of Information Act, every dealer should get a copy of the IRS Examiner Tax Audit Manual so they would know how much they can learn from the IRS. We did this and we responded by taking care of the extremely important need to manage accounting properly.
AutoDealer Plus, has automated most accounting transactions, so as you buy cars and sell them, your accounts payable and receivable are set up to adjust accordingly. As you add invoices to reconditioning, your capitalization process is automated with inventory values and expenses, whether they remain unsold as well as once they are sold. Your customer DMV fees are automatically set up to be paid and received. Your sales tax responsibilities are met and easy to follow. You can reconcile your bank accounts. You may process your payroll reports using the same individual or total net pay and net tax methods that your payroll provider uses. Your BHPH deals are calculated properly based on simple or add-on, with accurate interest postings. Complete, auditable drilldown accounting reports, including income statements, balance sheets, and payable/receivable reports are all available with the click of a button. Every account transaction is logged so it can be audited to see who did what and when. All voided and modified transactions are logged. In short, owners and managers are in the driver’s seat. They can truly control the business’ activities and learn how to help others do business correctly, or root out bad apples, if that is the case.
Furthermore, the accounting data is also used to provide dealers with statistical reports so they know what works and what does not, such as what day of the week, color of a car, or age of a buyer is most profitable. Knowledge is power; if you drive without a rearview mirror, chances are you are headed for trouble. We provide the rearview mirror and navigation system you need to help you conduct your business with the comfort of knowing where you came from and where you are going. We don’t talk for sales, just facts.
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AutoSoft NET frequently trains dealer staff not just on how to use our software but how to do their jobs better. We have become a source for owners/employers, as well as employees, to learn new things without embarrassment or fear. I have yet to meet a dealer who likes the paperwork in this business. Most dealers enjoy buying and selling but prefer to leave the paperwork and other details to their employees or outside services. The main issue that results is the training and overseeing of employees. Lack of owner participation equates to ignorance of the many important facts regarding day-to-day operations which ends up costing the owners. AutoDealer Plus allows employees to enter appropriate data in their perspective work-related areas so they can handle the operation, and there are checks and balances incorporated throughout the program to expose any questionable data entry practices. The fact that most important information is logged and owners can easily learn who did what and when helps dealerships to correct any problems and use the knowledge they gain to train anyone who needs help learning the software and performing better.
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It is not surprising to us when a new dealer prospect says, "I already have most of the sales tools that I need". One reason we have not lost any active dealers to another car dealer software is because once you know what you can have, you will not be able to accept less. AutoDealer Plus allows dealers to see a deal’s structure, structural options, profit details, and loan structure all in one screen. Warranty and Gap products are totally integrated so F&I does not need to log into other sites or programs to process contracts and obtain a full report each month, nor does F&I need to worry about the product’s acceptance qualifications and exclusions. Spot delivery for auto insurance can be made in one click. Customer credit, vehicle registration, smog, and history details are all available with one click. We use raw credit data on credit pulls so we can help dealers avoid turn-downs due to oversight in budgeting a customer. We enable dealers to verify customer data while they enter it so they will not face an unwind later due to bad information. Details matter and we pay a lot of attention to details so sales staff can operate smarter.
Marketing and CRM
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You can hardly read an article or get a phone call from some company reps without hearing all sorts of fancy acronyms such as SEO, SEM, CRM, etc. As many of you know, there seem to be many self-proclaimed experts in this business, and they all want to help you so long as you pay them. Of course, if things do not work out, it would be your fault for not utilizing their advice properly. You can create a website, but you have to hire several people to manage it for you. You may have lead providers, but you need to increase your work load to use them. There are many legitimate and good marketing providers out there but there is also so much noise that it is hard to decipher the good from the bad. That is why we took it upon ourselves to automate this area as well. As dealers buy and sell cars, their website is updated with no additional workload. We have a lot of internet partners who receive our dealers’ inventories and list them for free. Of these sites, Craigslist maintains the number one most visited site, so we have provided a one-click Craigslist posting tool within our program. If dealers have business accounts with other prominent sites such as AutoTrader or Cars.com, we can feed data to them as well. We offer free email accounts to our dealers so they can use their own domain as an email address and not Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. It is amazing how often I see ABCAutoSale@Gmail.com even though ABCAutoSale.com does not take you to the dealer’s website. Having your domain name match up with your email address makes it that much easier for customers to find you, and also makes your business appear more professional, not to mention increased traffic to your website. We have a lead management system. All leads can be brought to our dealers within our DealerZone and imported into our Customer Relation Management (CRM) screen. Our dealers can use the CRM to prospect and follow up on sales, thereby increasing total sales. These features only skim the top of our marketing capabilities; we discuss much more with our serious dealer candidates.
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Whether dealers like it or not, they have to deal with legal compliances. There are not only legal requirements to comply with Federal, State, and Local rules and regulations, but plenty of plaintiff lawyers who are after your pocket. These attorneys network together and share their successes - and seldom failures - with each other so they can find newer ways to sue dealers with the help of disgruntled consumers. Dealers find themselves sued for intentional employee violations and actions, as well as those that are unintentional but based on fraudulent or incomplete information received from various sources. Sadly, when you rely on your business lawyer to help you in most disputes, you lose even if the lawyer wins. You pay legal fees and may never recover from an indigent customer. The best solution is prevention, but the question is how? This is an area in which many dealers have the most confusion. On one hand, dealers wish employees knew legalities better or could follow them given instructions, but no amount of training seems to prepare them to avoid compliancy problems entirely. On the other hand, regulatory agencies have revenue sources from all dealers’ sales transactions and each time they decide to audit a dealer for Sales Tax, Licensing Fees, or EPA fees, the dealer has to spend time and money to comply. Many spend thousands of dollars to piecemeal compliance.
Our understanding of dealership operations helps us appreciate the need for compliance tools such as Red Flag, OFAC, and Credit Disclosures, as well as automated legal sales disclosures, sales tax calculations using customer or dealer zip, Licensing fees using direct links, etc. We consult with some of the best legal firms, - well informed in the automotive business -, firms such as Hudson & Cook LLC. We provide our dealers with plain paper laser forms for most of their compliance and sales print needs. Our ongoing communication with dealers allows us to also help provide important and valuable tracking reports which enable our dealers to deal with tax and business audits efficiently.
New Auto , Used Auto, Pre-Owned Auto, RV, Motorsport, and Motorcycle Dealerships will all become more competitive and profitable by using AutoSoft NET's dealer software. We strongly believe that if automotive dealers wish to keep pace with all the technological advances that will affect businesses in the years to come, they must have the tools, knowledge, and purchasing power necessary to compete. I hope we get the opportunity to prove our worth as we gain your business, and more importantly, your trust and friendship so that you, too, can become a Valuable Member of the AutoSoft NET dealer network! With us, you will have ‘The AutoSoft NET Advantage!"
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President, AutoSoft NET