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Beacons Drive Sales for Don Chalmers Ford

The dealership knows exactly where each used car on its three lots is located, in real time, thanks to a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon solution, thereby preventing the need for manual inventory counts, and ensuring that vehicles can be easily located for customers when they show up for a test drive.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 09, 2016

When customers visit automotive dealerships, they usually already know which vehicle they're interested in and want to see that car or truck in person, fast. The worst thing for a dealership is to have a potential customer leave because that vehicle can't be found right away. New Mexico-based used and new car dealership Don Chalmers Ford is using a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-beacon based solution provided by Minneapolis vehicle management solution company Mobile Dealer Data (MDD) ensures that customers are served more effectively since they know exactly where each vehicle is located. Having the system in place, says Brad Poole, Don Chalmers' used car director, makes both sales representatives and customers happy, which leads to more sales.

Don Chalmers Ford has three lots: one eight-acre area at its central Rio Rancho location and two satellite sites, located a mile and seven miles from that main facility, respectively. With hundreds of vehicles at the three locations, all of which must be reconditioned prior to sale, tracking each car's location is a monumental task. But it's also critical, Poole says, since most buyers have visited the company's website, have selected particular cars that interest them and arrive ready for a test drive. What they don't want, he adds, is to wait while sales reps search for cars or trucks.

The company can apply a beacon to a car brought in for service, and then track that vehicle's movement through the service process.
About 150 of Don Chalmers' cars are used—which, based on internal and industry-wide requirement standards, must be sold within approximately 60 days. So the company not only wants to serve customers onsite quickly, but also to ensure that no vehicles sit for too long on the lot without being noticed.

Traditionally, the dealership applied bar codes on every vehicle it acquired, and staff members went through all three locations and scanned each bar code daily. When that became too time-consuming, Poole says, the company scaled back to scanning inventory three times a week, but that meant the count data could be several days old at any given time. Since used cars undergo washing and reconditioning processes before being sold, they often could be moved without other employees knowing about it.

Colin McElhatton
"We heard about Mobile Dealer Data two years ago," Poole says, and the company began conducting some pilots last year. The vehicle-management system has since been permanently deployed.

MobileDealerData was launched in 2012 to provide vehicle-management solutions for dealerships. Colin McElhatton, the company's founder and CEO, has a background in automotive sales. A dealership's inventory can be difficult to track, he explains—after all, they are all on wheels. So MDD developed a beacon-based RTLS solution. Tracking devices in each car transmit data to a dedicated reader that identifies location via triangulation. The solution is lower in cost than an active RFID solution, he says, since beacons cost considerably less than active RFID tags. The company provides the beacons, the receivers and cloud-based software for a monthly or annual fee that varies according to the number of tracking devices and receivers being used.

"Our secret sauce is the software," McElhatton says. The software can provide analytics such as how long a particular vehicle has remained at one location (indicating it may not have been test-driven), as well as what vehicles are being moved frequently. The system tracks when a car leaves the yard and returns, so that it can also provide such analytics as how long the test drive lasted and how a test drive's length might correlate with a sale.

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