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Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Tony Thorstad, Smart Motors Toyota
Autobytel Dealer Spotlight: Tony Thorstad, Smart Motors Toyota

Tony Thorstad, Internet Sales Director, Smart Motors Toyota
September 2013 Autobytel Dealer of the Month

We'd like to congratulate Tony Thorstad, Internet Sales Director of Smart Motors Toyota in Madison, Wisconsin for being named Autobytel's Dealer of the Month for September 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.

We spoke with Tony recently about the dealership's rich history and unparalleled reputation, the importance of vehicle pricing transparency, and the essentials for successfully guiding today's Internet customers to the perfect car.

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

My name is Tony Thorstad and I'm the Internet Sales Director for Smart Motors Toyota in Madison, Wisconsin. Our dealership is family owned and operated and one of the oldest (if not the oldest) dealership in the nation. We've been in business since 1908 and are the largest Toyota dealer in the state. Our store employs over 260 people, we built a beautiful new showroom in 2008 and right now, we're adding another 50,000 square feet to our dealership to accommodate the growth of our customer base and to better serve car buyers in our market.

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 since 2004. Autobytel is one of a number of lead providers in our business and needs to be on our buffet of vendors. We use the Autobytel program in different ways - in some cases, we use it to protect our market and in other cases, we use it to conquest our competitors.

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.

Pricing transparency is key. Some dealers want to engage the customer to come into the dealership and talk to them without providing a price ahead of time. If price is a priority, we give them that information right away. What we've also learned is that the car a person thinks he wants might not be the car that's right for him. We'll walk the lot with our customers to find the right color or trim. We'll provide them with information about other comparable cars that are available in our inventory. We'll guide them to the right car by asking the right questions. We want to do this for the customer and not to the customer.

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

I think it's wonderful to be recognized for a job well done. My teammates have done a great job of getting us where we are today. We've maximized our online advertising and marketing dollars with the development of our Internet BDC, in choosing partners like Autobytel, and through social media, photography, quality vehicle content and owner loyalty programs. Overall, we really appreciate the industry recognition.

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

I've been in the car business since 1988 and have held just about every position in new and used car sales, and now as Internet Sales Director. I am also Chairman of the very first NADA Internet 20 Group which is laying the foundation for Internet sales measurement for NADA dealers. I've learned a lot about this business and would advise other dealers to pretend they're an actual car shopper - to take off their dealer hat, go out and shop for a car the way consumers shop today and then ask themselves if they'd tolerate some of the things dealers put them through. Car dealers don't buy cars so it's hard for them to understand the consumer's point of view. Finally, I would advise them to tell customers what they can do for them, not, what they can't do for them. Be aware of every word or phrase that is negative and turn it into a positive.

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

Our new and used car sales are through the roof. We've broken all-time records over the course of many months this year. From a service perspective, our store is even busier. We process over 6,000 repair orders each month and the number continues to climb. We just finished construction of the one of largest body shops in the state of Wisconsin. It's great time to be a Toyota Dealer in Madison, Wisconsin.

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

My children are my hobby. I'm the proud father of six year old triplets and I spend as much time as I can with them. They keep me busy. My wife and I were foster parents to more than a dozen children for the first eight years of our marriage and then we had our own. I'm also the IT Director for Wittenberg Ministries/Church of the Narrow Way and really enjoy the work I do for the ministry here in Madison.

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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