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Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Tanner Hulette, Mechanicsville Toyota
Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Tanner Hulette, Mechanicsville Toyota

Tanner Hulette, General Manager, Mechanicsville Toyota
October 2013 Autobytel Dealer of the Month

We'd like to congratulate Tanner Hulette, General Manager of Mechanicsville Toyota in Mechanicsville, Virginia, for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for October 2013.

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.

Tanner sat down with us recently to discuss the longstanding experience of the Mechanicsville Toyota sales team, and the effective way his entire store operates as an Internet department to outsell the competition and take home the Toyota President's award for four years running.

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 Tanner Hulette and I'm General Manager of Mechanicsville Toyota in Mechanicsville, Virginia. Our store is part of the Page Auto Group of Richmond, Virginia that represents brands such as Toyota, Audi, Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Scion. Our Dealer Principal is Larry Page and our store has won the Toyota President's Award for the last four consecutive years. The President's Award is the highest honor a dealership can receive from Toyota and is awarded to dealerships for excellence in Sales, Service, Parts and Customer Satisfaction.

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

We've been an Autobytel dealer for close to 14 years now. We use a number of different lead providers and with Autobytel, our Internet lead close rates are consistently in the mid- to high-teens, sometimes as high as 20% or more. We wouldn't be with Autobytel if we weren't happy with them.

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.

I think the key to our success is twofold. For starters, we don't have a revolving door when it comes to our sales team. Our staff consists of master certified consultants who, on average, have worked 10 years in this business. Our managers have worked an average of 20 years in this business. What's more, everyone in our dealership touches a lead in one way or another throughout the entire process and follows the lead from initial contact to the sale, and from F&I to the service department. We also follow the customer pretty thoroughly even at 120 days. We have consistent processes in place, including giving our customers clear and concise answers and providing them with the full spectrum of services when it comes to their automotive needs, and qualified team members who understand how to meet those needs. Our goal is to guide customers to the right car at the right price.

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

We're always happy to have any recognition of our accomplishments. Our team works hard and it's nice to present them with an accolade based on their actions and hard work.

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

Minimize the use of auto responders and avoid the cookie cutter approach. Customize your communications and use the personal touch - people know, and think it's important, when an actual person responds to them. And use the interview as a fact finding mission to make sure you're helping people find the right car. At Mechanicsville, we remind customers of the vehicles in our pre-owned inventory and we guide credit challenged customers through the process. An Internet lead is a hand raiser and you want to respond to them in a way that qualifies you. You want to respond to them in a way that reinforces how you're the most qualified. Let the customer know they've found the right person.

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

Toyota sales are up for the year. We have a number of new product offerings - Avalon, Highlander, RAV4, Corolla, Tundra and 4Runner. Our industry is product driven and we have great products in our lineup, so that helps us. We've seen an uptick in used car sales and expect that to continue into 2014. Overall, things are good for us right now.

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

At this point in my life, I work a lot and any free time I have is spent with family. I have two young children in diapers - a two-month-old and an 18-month-old. By the time the day is done, I go home, help my wife and spend all the time I can with my boys.

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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Scott Pechstein

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