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Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Chris Baughman, Sunset Honda
Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Chris Baughman, Sunset Honda

Chris Baughman, General Manager/Co-owner, Sunset Honda
February 2014 Autobytel Dealer of the Month

We'd like to congratulate Chris Baughman, General Manager/Co-owner of Sunset Honda in San Luis Obispo, California, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for February 2014.

The Autobytel Dealer Awards Program honors exceptional dealers from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers who employ the highest standards in customer service, Internet automotive retail sales and lead management processes.

Chris recently discussed his dealership's process-driven approach, and commitment to a high level of customer service - for every customer - to dominate the competition in California's Central Coast.

Tell us about yourself and your store. What is your official title, what brands do you sell and what are your primary markets?

My name is Chris Baughman and I'm the General Manager and Co-owner of Sunset Honda. We are a single point Honda store in San Luis Obispo and we also have an Acura store in Ventura. Our dealership is located in a smaller community in San Luis Obispo which is a college town, with Cal Poly in our area. We are very active with the university and its athletics programs, and we focus on reaching out to the youth in our community. Our customers include many Cal Poly faculty members and alumni, and we try to put a focus on introducing them to Honda. Our dealership was a family owned dealership which opened in 1979. Our clientele comes from California's Central Coast, and because we are located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, we are in a convenient location for pulling customers from outside our immediate area. People don't mind visiting our location as a destination to buy a car.

How long have you been an Autobytel dealer and what do you think are the primary benefits of being on the Autobytel program?

I was hired in early 2000 as an Internet Manager, and we signed on with Autobytel at about the same time. We have been with the program ever since. In my progression from Internet Manager to now General Manager and Co-owner, I have kept a very close eye on our lead provider services, and Autobytel has always been a higher quality lead provider for us. The program has also produced higher closing ratios on a quarterly and annual basis, which have always been profitable.

What do you think makes you so successful at meeting the needs of today's Internet consumers? Please share a few of your best practices in terms of managing Internet leads.

The key to our success is really just having a good process. There are certain, real things you can control including personnel, your product, and your process. If you can make sure all those things are in order, you will find success. We already have a great product with Honda, and we have great personnel who are trained properly. We strive to have all customer questions addressed in the very first communication back. We understand that they are no different than a customer who walks into the dealership, or calls the showroom directly. Giving our Internet customers the same treatment and experience as if they were in the showroom is extremely important.

What are your thoughts about being named an Autobytel Dealer of the Month?

It's exciting. We've been with Autobytel for 15 years, and we had never received this recognition from them.

What are some tips or advice you would give other retailers when it comes to effectively managing Internet customers?

My biggest tip is that the Internet customer is not always price driven. They need the same level of care as all other customers. They might be a busy executive, or busy with other things, so they may prefer to use the Internet to be more efficient. When a dealer provides a very high level of service to all customers, they really appreciate it.

What are your general thoughts about the auto industry right now? How are sales? Any interesting things happening at Sunset Honda or with the brand that you'd like to share?

Honda is doing a GREAT job with its products. They recognized that the Civic wasn't up to par, and they fixed it. They listen to their dealers, and they are acting on it. They are being more reactive to the concerns of their customers and their dealers. This is a good time for the industry. We weathered the storm of the downturn, and saw just a little dip, but not like other dealers saw

Please tell us a little bit about yourself...what do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests of note?

I'm married with two daughters, ages 11 and 3. I enjoy playing golf, and participating in outdoor activities. I grew up in Iowa, and moved to California's Central Coast in 2000 when I started with Sunset Honda.

Each month, Autobytel's sales and dealer operations teams evaluate prospective candidates from a competitive field of thousands of automotive retailers in the Autobytel network, with a monthly finalist selected based on key online automotive best practices, including conversion rates, lead management processes, customer service principles, customer and brand retention analytics and Internet department practices, among others.

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