The COVID-19 pandemic led McMullen Ford to rethink and revamp its 40-year-old playbook for selling new and pre-owned autos to consumers in the Council Bluffs-Omaha metro area.
In March 2020, as coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions began to impact everyday life across the country and locally, the number of potential car buyers visiting the dealership all but screeched to a halt, co-owner and President Scott McMullen said, adding that sales were “pathetic,” the second half of March.
In April, May and June, profits were down 25 percent compared the previous year.
McMullen and his son, Dan, said while people were still interested in shopping for a new car, truck or van, they just didn’t want to leave the safety of their homes to hang around an auto dealership and for the often lengthy process of selecting a car, test driving it, negotiating the price and ultimately making a purchase.
The McMullens soon realized that even though many customers balked at the idea of visiting the showroom floor, they would happily shop for cars the same way they’d been doing everything else since the pandemic began: online, in their pajamas and on the couch.
In a flash, the dealership began to level up its online presence on the McMullen Ford website and by posting YouTube videos. They also began showing cars via FaceTime and allowed people to navigate through different financing options and potential trade-in values so they knew exactly what was in front of them. It provided a pandemic-influenced service, but it also streamlined the car buying process for everyone involved, including the sales team.
The big takeaway, however, is that online car buying is here to stay.
“COVID fast-forwarded the digital auto buying industry,” said Dan McMullen, who is the company’s vice president. “People can figure out the best deal for them, so when they do come in they know exactly what they want and what they can afford so all they have to do is test drive it and take it home.”
McMullen offers new and used Ford models, a car service and maintenance department and more.
As the pandemic continued and business slowed, the dealership reduced its daily hours of operation. Sales began to return to normal last summer.
McMullen Ford’s service department, though, has stayed busy throughout the year.
“People were coming in to get regular oil changes,” Dan McMullen said, “as an excuse to get out of the house.”