Howard Leavitt, President of AutoRaptorCRM

Howard Leavitt

What’s the current strategy and company mission for AutoRaptor CRM?

Our company mission is simple, we have been doubling ever since we started this. I left automotive retail in 2008 to start pushing AutoRaptor CRM aggressively. Since then we have doubled our business consistently. It is working that way this year and we are expanding into new office space in about six weeks because we are growing. The mission is really to provide a service to the dealership that is personalized and not be a company that outsources help or outsources anything that we do. Our customers know that we provide personalized service, they can pick up the phone and talk to someone at AutoRaptor, as well as email or work any of the help systems that we have to get the application working the best for him. It is a goal to provide a cost effective solution in a space that has very expensive competition.

What are your marketing objectives and opportunities for 2012 and beyond?

Well, I think the CRM world is about to explode, considerably. I think the opportunity for increasing market share is tremendous because if you take a look at the automotive base and what everybody is fighting for there are so many dealers that are not using technology or not using it properly. It is just an opening to be there if you can provide a cost effective solution to solve the problem that they have at their desks in the dealership of getting to customers.

So, one, we think the opportunity is going to be there at a much higher rate than it has been in the past. I know that bleeds into the next question but it is part of the marketing strategy. We are paying attention to state organizations, to the small dealers, to new car franchise dealers as well as independent buy here/pay here. We think regardless of the way you sell cars and what you sell CRM applications are a needed piece of the process. It is no different than what you have done on paper, but taking it digital and doing it better and smarter and building a relationship with your customer. So, our objective is to really get some more of those people, to educate them, to teach them and give them a solution in the next coming year. Part of the reason that we are moving into larger office space is that we just need a few more people to accomplish the task.

What are some of your current management challenges? Obviously growth must be one of them.

Right now we have a support a team that is run with a senior support person that is the manager and it is getting better in the sense that we are better able to handle more customers with the same amount of people. We are even increasing that capability. The goal is to keep the staff lean but also make the application work better so that it requires less support on our side. We think of this opportunity that is out there with all the dealers that are not using CRM technology – how do we get to them, what is the right media? How can we tweak their interest to get them into AutoRaptor CRM and make it, obviously, profitable for us but show them that they will get a higher return on their investment?

The challenges are to convince the dealers who are not using a CRM application that they are missing the boat and that they better get on board sooner than later simply because they can sell more cars which is the name of what we try to do. We are just trying to make it easier for them to sell more cars in a very tough market which I don’t think from an economic point of view is going to change much. There will be an increase, I think, on the new car side as far as volume goes but not enough to push a lot of cars in the used car place. So, how do you get to those customers? It is our goal — you have to teach … you almost have to teach more than you sell. Especially for people that haven’t accepted the technology.

What is your current assessment of the industry and the market?

Well, I think you have two phases going on right now. This forecast that the new car market will go up another million cars, for argument sake, maybe 12 million a year which still leaves a lot of used car dealers without cars because when we were doing 17 million we had a lot of turn. When you are doing 12 – what happened to those extra 5 million cars? They didn’t filter their way down through the system. You do have an area where a lot of people are driving older cars. They are going to need cars and so I think the shortage of cars to some extent is going to continue. I think the different aspects of the automobile sales business are interactive. I think new pushes cars into place that eventually become used and become buy here/pay here. I think the buy here/pay here market will increase because I think a lot of people that are out of jobs that paid good money are working in lesser jobs but still need a car to go back and forth. Their credit has been hurt and the economy in certain parts of the country is still poor. They are not getting the wages they need so the buy here/pay here industry in certain parts of the country are going to do better. It is my feeling that from the Dakotas where there is oil and gas coming out, more than they can handle, down through the center of the country you have one economic system and the coast you have two economic systems. It is easier in the middle to make your money than it is on coasts.

I think with the election coming up and where it is going to wind up I still think no matter what happens we are going to end up with a split government that might not get a lot of things done. The people are nervous about where the economy is going and it is affecting purchase power and going out there. I see another year of a tough road to go and it will take through the election into six months—the first two quarters of next year where I think the buying public will have more confidence and maybe push forward. But in the end, dealers need a CRM exactly for that reason because they have to make sure they don’t miss a sale. The best way not to miss a sale in a tough market and a good market is to have some way to manage your customer data. That is what CRM really is; it is a way to manage the data with the customer and yourself, to build a relationship with that so you can get that customer to think you are the only person in the world they need to buy a car from. Because you are staying in contact, you are communicating — you are showing them you care. CRM’s are what make that happen.

What do you consider AutoRaptor CRM’s most significant accomplishment?

It is kind of funny in a way. There are a lot of start-up companies in the world that start and a lot of them don’t succeed. We started with an idea. It wasn’t a unique idea. I think we approach it uniquely. We started with zero and we are now in 35 states. We feel very good about where we are and what we have accomplished so far but we also know that it is only the beginning.

What we hear in feedback is that we have been able to grow as a business but still maintain a personal relationship with our customers. We are not just a company; we are names, we are people, we are faces. We care about how our customers succeed and how they use the application. That is something that I didn’t think we could accomplish when we first started based on scale but the people I have are really good and smart and understand the philosophy of what we try to do and they have been able to accomplish that. It is a very satisfying feeling when you have a customer walk up that is paying a monthly fee telling you that his people have embraced the system and using it and they see a benefit. That happened at the last convention I attended. At the same time that this customer, whose name I won’t give out, was telling another vendor about a problem in their software and asking what are they going to do to fix it? In the same breath – this guy gave me a hug and I got finished and said, “holy cow!” that is what this is all about.