Service Offers Car Dealerships Free Web Sites and Advertising

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Advantage Integrated Marketing, St. Louis, a database marketing services company specializing in the automotive industry, is set to launch an Internet auto buying service at offering free Web sites for car dealerships nationwide July 4.

The service, called CarHQ, promises dealerships free advertising, free leads and free Web site maintenance.

"The goal here is to help develop a more personal relationship between the dealership and the consumer," said Scott Scully, president of Advantage. "The consumers are dealing with the dealers not a buying service. In the past, the loyalty of the consumer was to the middle man [the service] and not the dealer."

Advantage's revenue will come from selling advertising on the sites to local businesses, suppliers and vendors that work with the participating dealerships.

Though Advantage doesn't offer dealerships exclusivity, its focus on service to dealerships and consumers is a plus over other similar ventures, said Dean Molnar, sales manager at Krihwan Pontiac, Willoughby, OH.

"I was with Auto Advantage ( and the problem I had with them is that for what I was paying a year I thought I had an exclusive deal with them," Molnar.said. "It turns out they were signing up other dealers within a couple of miles of me who were offering the same products. To me, it seemed like they weren't looking out for the best interest of the customer or the dealership."

Molnar said what he likes about the service is that it is free, unlike Auto Advantage which cost him $6,000 to $7,000 a year.

Consumers visiting the CarHQ site will be asked to type in their ZIP code and preferred shopping radius. From there, they will be brought to a local CarHQ page where they will be able to choose a franchise from a list the service will provide. The closest dealership will be the first one on the list. After choosing a franchise, they will be linked to the dealer's site where they can research the dealership and its automobiles.

Scully said Advantage will develop sites for dealers in the 15- to 25-page range. Advantage also intends offer free added features to dealerships for their sites. Among them: allowing prospective buyers to customize cars, schedule test drives, fill out credit applications, calculate payments, conduct searches for parts and accessories, schedule appointments for body shops and service departments, print maps dealerships, and view employment opportunities.

Scully expects CarHQ to be the largest consumer automotive source on the Internet. In two weeks after the announcement of the service, Advantage signed up more than 1,500 dealerships. Scully predicted the service will have close to 7,500 dealerships signed on when it launches.

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