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Case Studies

Chillibush: Dale Hefer

Dale Hefer shares successes and lessons learned in the rise of advertising
and media company Chillibush.

Juliet Pitman



Dale Hefer of Chillibush

For some people owning their own business is a lifelong ambition. Dale Hefer is one such person. As a university student she dreamed of having her own company. “It was an itch I just had to scratch,” she says, elaborating on some of the many business ventures she has embarked on, which include importing second hand clothes and selling them out of a hut, to selling made-in-China radios on the side of the road.

Today she owns and runs Chillibush Communications, boasts a list of big-player clients as well as a nomination for the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Awards.

Taking on the unknown

What’s remarkable about Hefer’s story is that she took on an industry notorious for its competitiveness, without knowing much about it. “I got a job with a media monitoring company and for the four years that I was there I was thinking ‘I want my own business’, but I realised there wasn’t much scope in that industry.

Advertising sounded glamorous and sexy and I thought ‘How difficult can it be?’,” she remembers. But in spite of that early naivetÈ, Hefer was not lacking in determination or practical sense. She joined an advertising agency to learn all she could about the industry. “I told myself I would be there for a year, which I was – to the day. I just sucked up every piece of knowledge I could and when I left I started Chillibush,” she relates.

A vision of something different

What Hefer took away from that year was a sure sense of how not to do things. “What I had experienced was enormous frustration at the fact that agencies seemed to operate in silos. I was in client service and we were hardly allowed to talk to the production manager. The studio was in another building. So you’d do your component of work for a client and then that would be the last you saw of it. An enormous media plan would be put together but the people who did this hadn’t even seen the creative.

Or strategic people would put something together without communicating to the creative guys,” she says, adding that this is still the way many of the larger agencies operate. “I just knew we were losing opportunities in the value chain,” she recalls. Finding an easier and more effective way of doing things was the early vision that drove Chillibush.

“I vowed that I would start an agency that had no silos, where there was an open and constant stream of communication. I vowed there would never be a door except for the loos and the boardroom and that no one would have an office,” she explains from the glass-walled boardroom overlooking an entirely open plan office space.

Early challenges

Getting to that place took time and hard work, however. Hefer started off in what she describes as “a dingy little garage” which she rented from a friend in Parkhurst. Her biggest initial challenge was funding, as it is for countless start-ups. She remembers the early days: “My boyfriend had given me a computer and loaned me R10 000, my sister had given me R5 000 and my parents had said they would pay for my petrol for two months. That’s how I started.”

But that money didn’t get her very far. As an unaccredited agency she had to pay upfront for advertising space and then bill clients. “The cash flow implications were enormous and I had to have an overdraft facility. But in those days, it was really difficult for a woman to open a business bank account with no record or credentials of any kind, let alone to borrow money.

I went to the banks with my big business plan but they all just laughed at me,” she says. It was Hefer’s parents who provided a lifeline, putting up their R60 000 life savings as surety for an overdraft facility. “I’ll never forget one call I got from my bank manager,” she remembers, “I had probably been going for about two months and he called to say that I was R50 000 over my overdraft limit but that I had until 15:00 that afternoon to put the money in.”

In spite of having her back against the wall, Hefer managed to keep a good business head even when applying to an ex-boyfriend for help. “He wanted a stake in the business but I said no, I’d rather pay him a higher interest rate,” she says, adding that she very quickly set about getting accredited.

Securing clients

As a small one-woman agency operating out of a garage, Hefer didn’t exactly have clients banging down her door. It was her characteristic proactivity that helped her land her first accounts.

She wrote personalised letters to everyone she knew, both personally and in business, promising a service that was better than any other agency could offer. A friend’s brother who happened to be marketing director of a brewery company gave her a chance to pitch on a beer aimed at the black market. Determined to land the account, Hefer took samples of the beer around to a number of construction sites owned by her then-boyfriend.

“I got a whole lot of data about their impressions of the brand, the logo and the beer and pulled it together into a report. I begged a freelancer designer to do some work for me on spec and when we presented, we landed the account,” she recalls.

Action plans

It’s a job she is still proud of and one that saw the business through some of the early quiet periods. “Another thing that really helped was some advice I received from a friend of mine who was very successful.

I proudly told him I had an action plan of what I was going to do every week and he told me that wasn’t good enough, that I needed an action plan of what I was going to do every five minutes. That was the best advice I received – I would break my day down into writing four letters, cold calling two potential clients etc and that saved my bacon until I became busy enough,” she relates.

She also adds that it was very important to have a corporate identity ready from the word go. “I’d got a freelance designer to do my logo and stationery, which I think is so important if you are starting a communications company,” she comments.

Exponential growth

After six months Hefer hired her first employee, someone else with a client services background. “The garage arrangement wasn’t working out and it certainly wasn’t sustainable so we hired premises in Randburg,” she says.

In the second year, the business was employing five people and needed new premises. Ever passionate about property, Hefer heard that the building which currently houses Chillibush was on the market. “It was way out of my league but I thought I’d just go and look. When I walked in here I knew I just had to have it,” she remembers.

The fact that she managed to secure the bond from Rand Merchant Bank with relative ease was testimony to how far the business had come since its inception. “We were doing well and had a good track record,” she says.

Innovations ahead

Although it started out offering advertising and design, Hefer admits that she made mistakes in the early days by taking on jobs that the business was not properly geared for. “I realise now it was a mistake because it got me into some hot water and so I decided that any service we offered had to be headed up by experts in that field,” she explains.

Today, Chillibush has advertising and design, media, public relations and most recently, investor relations divisions. “I was always neurotic about not being a fly-by-night agency so I waited five years before launching into PR,” she says. And although she weathered industry criticism about diversifying into different areas, Hefer is adamant that offering a one-stop integrated communications service is precisely where the business has innovated most. “People told me to focus on one offering but I knew that clients definitely wanted a one-stop facility and this is definitely a key differentiator.

We have also started the different offerings from scratch and that has meant the culture is pervasive. A lot of agencies are buying up PR firms and adding on other divisions in this way but that contributes further to those pre-existing teams operating in silos. We’ve identified the people to head up our individual divisions and grown them from scratch, so our clients get the same ethic, feel and creativity across all operations,” she explains.

She’s also afforded each divisional head the opportunity of gaining equity in their division once they reach targets. “It’s a model that ensures sustainability because people have a personal investment in the success of the business,” adds Hefer.

Empowering decisions

Empowerment – both broadly speaking and of individuals – is something she firmly believes in. When asked what single factor contributed to her rise from a small-time agency to a significant industry player she replies, “People were very sceptical at the time but I embraced BEE right from the word go. I realised that if I didn’t I would be a five-man show forever.

Doing so is what enabled me to jump the hurdle and go big.” After one BEE partnership failed, she approached long-time university friend, Victor Dlamini who is now a very hands-on chairman in the business.

Getting through tough times

Although she wasn’t to know it then, Hefer’s ability to embrace change would be tested in an experience that nearly broke the back of the business. “Two years ago I exited the business – I decided I’d had enough after eight years. At that stage one of my empowerment partners was running the show and I just couldn’t work with him,” she recalls.

Within five months of leaving, the business started haemorrhaging staff and losing clients. “The company was on its knees. The finances were in tatters – we were about to run at a one million rand loss for the year and we lost our biggest client because they couldn’t work with this particular person,” she relates. She and Dlamini took the decision to get rid of the person in question and she came back to the business. But it was far from easy, as she relates. “Bringing things back from the brink was very tough.

I used to walk up those stairs every morning and plaster this grin on my face and just try and get the culture back. He’d created this culture of terror – people were terrified of doing anything wrong. Then we had to get rid of staff who were loyal to him and who were creating havoc in the business, at the same time as shoring up leaking accounts, patching up relationships with clients and trying to entice good employees back. At the end of each month we’d wait for the resignations to come in and we lost about 30 staff in total.”

Important lessons

“I learned something important from that experience,” says Hefer, “I thought I could exit the business without fall-out but I now know that this is impossible. One of my mistakes was not realising my own value in terms of keeping the culture going.” She achieved what few businesses can in such desperate circumstances, slowly but surely restoring the culture and getting things back on track. Now, a year later, Chillibush is once again thriving. Projected turnover for 2007 is R30 million and profits and morale are high. Hefer is philosophical about what she’s achieved but there’s no denying that she’s more than earned her stripes.

Things I would have done differently

  • Challenge: Numbers are not my strong point and I never focused enough on the financial side of the business. Although I’ve never been the victim of fraud, I couldn’t check up that things were being done in the most financially efficient way.
  • Solution: I always leveraged off partners and friends to ask their advice and have employed financial people who were top of their game.

Tips for would-be ad and media agency owners

  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a glamorous industry or that you don’t need to knuckle down and get your hands dirty – you do!
  • Ensure that your business is not too top heavy – so may agencies are being toppled by directors drawing salaries that are too large
  • Embrace change and use it to look for opportunities. The industry is reinventing itself every day so try to be ahead of the curve in terms of trends.
  • Have a very detailed action plan – the five minute To Do list gets you through the first months
  • Don’t panic if things don’t happen quickly
  • Make sure you have enough money to keep you going without any income for six months
  • Get a good financial person to help you
  • Make sure that your client service is central – make sure you are in their face and proactive

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Case Studies

Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

CEO Howard Schultz reveals how Starbucks does it.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Howard Schultz
  • Company: Starbucks
  • Market cap: $85 bn
  • Established: 1971 (Schultz purchased the brand in 1987)
  • Website:

When Howard Schultz was raising money for his first coffee shop called Il Giornale (later to be renamed Starbucks) he was finding it hard to land investors. The reason was simple: Schultz was trying to create a coffee culture where none existed.

The idea that the man on the street would pay a premium price for a cup of Italian coffee with a name he couldn’t pronounce seemed nothing short of preposterous. But that wasn’t the only reason people weren’t willing to buy into his idea. Schultz, you see, refused to talk like a proper capitalist. He kept emphasising the fact that he wanted ‘to do good’.

Related: How tashas Built A Recession Proof Business

Schultz recounted the trouble he had finding investors during a recent visit to South Africa for the local launch of Starbucks. He spoke at a Q&A session hosted by the Wits Business School.

“My wife was eight months pregnant at the time,” says Schultz. “Her father actually sat me down and said: ‘My daughter is pregnant, and she’s working. You have a hobby. You need to get a job.”’

But, as is so typical of entrepreneurs, Schultz persevered and eventually got the funding he needed.

“The first time someone gave me $100 000, I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls.

Since those early days (the shop opened in the mid-1980s), Starbucks has grown rather prodigiously. Consider the following: By the late 1980s there were 11 Starbucks stores that employed about 100 people. A few years later, in 1992, the company went public with a market cap of $270 million. Today, it has around 24 000 stores in more than 70 countries. And its market cap? A cool $85 billion.

While growth is good, it has a tendency to birth a ravenous monster that is impossible to satiate.

“We have to add $2,5 billion in revenue every year for the next five years just to maintain our current growth rate and satisfy Wall Street,” says Schultz. “And to do this, we will need to add 80 000 employees over the next 12 months. Essentially, we’re launching a new massive company every year.”

Yet, despite this, Starbucks manages to maintain its unique culture. Just as when Starbucks was a far smaller operation, it is known for stores manned by high-energy individuals who have a clear love for the brand. How has the brand managed this? Schultz attributes it to the following seven core principles.


1. Partners not employees

Howard Schultz’s father worked as a truck driver, delivering and picking up cloth diapers in the days before Pampers. When he slipped and seriously injured himself, he was summarily retrenched. Schultz wanted to create a very different company.

One of the reasons he didn’t adopt a franchise model was that he wanted to be able to offer each employee at least some stake in Starbucks.

When the company went public, each employee became entitled to a portion of their annual salary in the form of stock options. That is still the case today, which is why Starbucks employees are called ‘partners’.

“Success is best when it’s shared,” says Schultz. “At Starbucks, we always ask: What’s in it for our people? Starbucks is accused of being great at marketing, but it spends very little on marketing. It’s all about the experience we offer in the stores.

Managers and leaders must do everything to exceed the expectations of our people so that they can exceed the expectations of our customers.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

2. Regular interaction

The management of Starbucks does everything in its power to engage with employees regularly.

“We travel extensively, and the amount of face-time management has with employees across the globe is really unusual for a company of Starbucks’s size,” says Schultz.

Schultz himself, for instance, sat down with each and every new Starbucks employee in South Africa during his recent visit.

Starbucks also has what it calls ‘Town Hall Meetings’ all over the world, during which management interacts with employees in an open and informal manner.

“We tell employees that they are free to speak up during these meetings without fear of retribution. We want honest opinions,” says Schultz.


3. Respecting (and cherishing) employees

Howard Schultz is a humanist at heart, and this is reflected in the culture of the company that he created.

“The universal language of Starbucks is a deep sense of humanity,” says Schultz. “Building a company is a lot like raising children. You are imprinting a company with a culture and a set of values. Now, if a child falls, what do you do? You pick it up and comfort it. You don’t scold it. You need to take the same approach in business.”

4. Protecting the culture

Being tolerant of failure, however, does not mean the same thing as indulging bad behaviour. In fact, Starbucks is fiercely protective of its culture, and it doesn’t tolerate bad behaviour.

“We teach employees that they have a voice, and that they should speak up when they see someone doing something wrong. You can’t enable bad behaviour because it will erode a company’s culture.”

Related: Don’t Let Expansion Ruin A Great Company Culture

5. Spending money on employees

According to Schultz, the management teams of most large companies would be horrified to discover the amount of time and money spent on Starbucks employees.

“We have been very innovative with technology, and we have created a massive digital eco-system. Interestingly, though, we spent as much time and money focusing on the things that were employee-facing as the ones that were customer-facing.”


6. Rewarding the right things

Schultz famously stepped away from the role of Starbucks CEO for around five years, and during that time the culture of the company quickly deteriorated.

“The company lost its way. The people who were managing the company — who were all good people — were measuring and rewarding the wrong things. Things such as profit and stock price became the focus. In any business, you need to continuously ask: What is our core purpose for being? Otherwise you lose your way.”

Schultz believes that his big mistake was not selecting a successor from within the culture. When he eventually retires, he intends to choose someone from within the operation who is in touch with the culture of the brand.

7. Being human

The film Fight Club famously depicted Starbucks as the epitome of the faceless corporation taking over the globe, but the company is actually quite unique in its willingness to speak out and engage with people on a social (and even political) level.

“We are very outspoken as a company. We feel that we live in a time where the rules of engagement have changed. What I mean by this is that we need to do more for the communities that we serve. The question we ask ourselves is: What is the role of a for-profit public company? Looking at this question has resulted in us taking on social issues such as same-sex marriage, gay rights, gun control and racism.”

For example, Starbucks recently unveiled its first store in Ferguson, Missouri (which has been plagued by racial unrest) as part of a plan to support efforts to rebuild and revitalise communities.

Read next: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google’s

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Case Studies

How Merchant Capital And Retroviral Were Built To Sell

Entrepreneur chats to Dov Girnun of Merchant Capital and Mike Sharman of Retroviral. We explore why their companies attracted funders, and how the relationship can be used to grow their businesses.

Nadine Todd



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The Tech Based Business

Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.


Vital Stats

  • Player: Dov Girnun
  • Company: Merchant Capital
  • What they do: Lending solutions for SMEs
  • Est: 2013
  • Investor: Rand Merchant Investment Holdings
  • Shareholding: 25%
  • Visit:

Less than two years into his business, Dov Girnun attracted the attention of Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMIH), a financial services investment company that includes the founders of FirstRand, Laurie Diepenaar, Paul Harris and GT Ferreira. These are no small industry players. On an investment level, they’re the funders who backed Adrian Gore when he launched Discovery and Willem Roos when he started OUTsurance.

How had Girnun found himself in the position to pitch to investors at this level? Months earlier, RMIH had launched a fintech incubator called Alpha Code. The idea was to find pre-revenue start-ups that would be the next game-changers. Their research brought them to Merchant Capital.

“We didn’t exactly fit their mandate because we were already operational and profitable,” says Girnun, “but they still really loved the business. They’d been researching the fintech space, and had recognised the potential in SME lending, which is our focus. They really wanted to invest, but at the time I was unsure if I wanted to dilute my shares further.”

Girnun already had an investor, the Capricorn Group, whose investments include Hollard, Nandos and Clientèle, and until this point he’d been careful to maintain his shareholding. His relationship with Capricorn was excellent, as the investment team added huge strategic value to the business over and above capital, and so he hadn’t been actively seeking additional funding.

And then a new opportunity presented itself. “We realised we have golden data on the SME space. How could we cross-sell to our base and monetise that data? We started chatting to RMIH, who were aligned to our thinking.

“Once I realised the value RMIH could add to our business, my whole perspective shifted. Here was an investor that could potentially help me to build a billion dollar business. I’d be diluting shares, but building a much bigger pie.”

Related: Funding Growth with Dov Girnun

The price of equity

Girnun is referring to the investment lesson that equity is cheap early on, and very expensive later, when a funder holds more shares of your business than you do. If you look for funding later, your valuation is higher, you’ve got a proven track record, and the same amount of money secures fewer shares. Sell too early, and the exact opposite happens.

This had always been Girnun’s view, but an understanding of how far the business could potentially go with RMIH’s backing was changing his mind.

There was just one challenge. While RMIH’s investment team loved Merchant Capital’s business model, investments need to be signed off by the board, which meant Girnun and his co-founder Daniel Moritz, needed to pitch to them in person, so that they could see their energy, passion and vision for Merchant Capital.

Serious, seasoned investors don’t make this easy. They need to see your passion, and how well you understand your business. They’re not there to make the experience easy.

“Even though I knew they were interested in my business, I still found the experience extremely daunting. There were very few introductions, handshakes or jokes. I was expected to launch into my pitch, and I knew that even though I had been given 20 minutes, the first two minutes would be the deciding factor. If I didn’t grab their attention in that time frame, they wouldn’t be investing in me and my business.”

Tapping into investor concerns

“I had just returned from the Endeavour international selection panel in San Francisco, and I think this played a major role in the success of my pitch,” says Girnun.

“One of my judges, a hugely successful venture capitalist from Sillicon Valley, really explained the significance of the elevator pitch to me. Imagine you’ve gotten into an elevator with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, he said. If you’re lucky, you’ve got seven floors to get them interested enough in your business to want your card, and maybe even a meeting. They can’t possibly learn everything about your business there and then — they just need enough for their interest to be piqued.

“Because you don’t know how much time you have, or who you’ll be talking to and what their area of expertise is, you can’t just learn a pitch off by heart, and you certainly shouldn’t have a power point deck that you rely on. Both are very bad ideas. Instead, you need to know your business so well, inside and out, that you can tailor your pitch to the person you’re talking to, based on what they care about.

“Because of this piece of advice, I was able to tailor the first two minutes of my pitch to the RMIH board and what they care about. If I grabbed their attention, I’d be able to hold it for the next 20 minutes, which actually ended up being close on two hours. If I hadn’t, we would have politely shaken hands after 20 minutes (if not earlier), and been on our way.”

It’s a simple, but incredibly important lesson: Know your business’s numbers inside out, and don’t try to bluff your way through any questions that relate to numbers.

“You have to know your unit economics — are you able to distill the essence of your business economics on the back of a napkin? You need to know the high level stuff and the minute details, and they all have to be at your fingertips. If they aren’t, you have no business trying to sell your company or attract investors.”

Related: Bootstrapping Is Much More Fun Than Investors

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Case Studies

How AutoTrader Anticipated Change

AutoTrader South Africa is an online behemoth, boasting more than three million visitors each month. Not that long ago, though, the brand faced the very real possibility of extinction.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: George Mienie
  • Company: AutoTrader South Africa
  • Established: 1992
  • Visit:

Key learnings

  • Trends are out there to be identified. Being caught unprepared is unacceptable.
  • Change needs to be tracked through the use of a measurable KPI.
  • Don’t be afraid to act pre-emptively.
  • Do research. Know your customer.
  • Create an unprecedented user experience.

By the mid-2000s, it was becoming clear that the world was changing. The internet was going mainstream, placing massive pressure on industries that only a few years earlier had seemed untouchable.

The print industry in particular was coming under threat, with readers moving to the internet for information. Things didn’t change overnight, though. The general decline in readership was steady but quite slow.

Like a frog sitting in a slowly-heated pot of water, it was all too easy to ignore the evidence. AutoTrader South Africa, however, was not willing to accept death by attrition.

Related: Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How These 10 Entrepreneurs Did Just That

Measuring change


“When it comes to the digital realm, you can never complain that some development impacted you unexpectedly. The writing is always on the wall, provided you’re taking notice,” says AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

Long before the global shift to digital mediums started to affect AutoTrader in a real way, the company began to prepare for the inevitable.

“We knew it was coming. The shift to digital was already starting in places such as the US and Europe,” says Mienie.

“We also knew that we needed to measure this shift in a reliable way. When it comes to managing difficult change, you need a KPI that you can reliably measure.”

Comparing unique users of a website to the circulation of the magazine wasn’t reliable enough, since it was impossible to truly know how many people had used any given copy as a reference when shopping for a vehicle. Some other KPI was needed.

“We settled on leads to dealers. We wanted to track how many people had actually contacted vehicle dealers thanks to the magazine, versus how many had contacted a dealer because of the website,” says Mienie.

Finding a KPI

Tracking website leads and comparing them to magazine leads sounds like a simple idea, until you actually start to think about it. If it’s hard to know how many people used a single copy of AutoTrader as a reference, how do you figure out how many leads the mag has generated? It was a conundrum.

Tracking leads on the website would be easier, provided you were willing to harm the user-friendliness of the site. AutoTrader wasn’t willing to do this.

“We could track website leads by forcing every user to fill in some kind of form before gaining access to a dealer’s details, but we weren’t willing to do this,” says Mienie.

“Today, the average user spends a phenomenal amount of time on our site. A typical visit lasts 12 minutes, and we believe this is because our site is easy to use. While KPIs are important, they shouldn’t come at the expense of the user. Everything should be done to make the experience for the client or user as pleasant as possible.

“With this in mind, we give our software engineers a lot of freedom. They don’t need to seek permission to improve the site. If they’ve been working on something that they think will improve the website, they can run with it. You never want bureaucracy to stand in the way of improvement.”

Related: 11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

An innovative solution


In order to effectively measure leads from both AutoTrader magazine and the website, the company came up with a very elegant solution called Call Tracker.

The solution was so elegant and transparent that even regular consumers of AutoTrader probably wouldn’t have noticed its existence.

How does it work? The number that you find for any given dealer in the AutoTrader magazine or on the website was not the same as the regular number of that dealer, although, the number was dedicated to a dealer.

Instead, it is a technology that redirected the call through the company to the dealer. Thus, giving AutoTrader the ability to measure leads via phone to the dealer, which was the most-used way in which consumers got in touch with dealers in those years.

Importantly, the company regularly placed a different number for specific dealers on the website and in the magazine, meaning AutoTrader could track exactly which platform a lead was generated from, and give the dealers useful insights into his/her dealership’s response.

AutoTrader had in essence created a reliable but simple KPI, using sophisticated technology at the time, that could be used to track consumers’ migration from print to digital.

The watershed

As mentioned, the migration of users was fairly slow. AutoTrader had started monitoring the trend in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the website took over from the magazine as the core focus of the business.

In the mid-2000s, the company had printed around 230 000 magazines each month, and managed to sell 55% of those on a regular basis.

Today, it sells about 30 000 magazines a month. However, as magazine sales have declined, the number of visitors to the website has skyrocketed, with more than three million visitors to the website every month, opening more than 40 million pages.

Related: 5 Wrongheaded Attitudes Stunting Your Growth As An Entrepreneur

New competition

The migration of AutoTrader magazine advertisers (sellers) and consumers (buyers) to the website wasn’t guaranteed. Getting buyers and sellers of the magazine to embrace the AutoTrader website required hard work.

“As a magazine, we had a big advantage: Potential competitors were faced with very high barriers to entry. We had the capability to compile a 600-page magazine, print it and distribute it weekly. Any new competitor would have found it hard to match us,” says Mienie. “The internet, however, obliterated those barriers. Suddenly it was much easier to compete with AutoTrader.”

AutoTrader wasn’t afraid to pre-empt the digital shift. “You need to be willing to eat yourself. One of the things we did was to place the website prominently in the magazine, knowing that it would eat into sales. We had to take a short-term hit, but we knew that we would benefit from it in the long term.” The company also placed a huge emphasis on the user experience.

“You need to be the best,” says Mienie. “You need to lead the charge and be first to market with every new development. You also need to know and respect your consumer and dealer. We believe in creating a site that is easy to use and offers more content than you’ll find anywhere else. We also make it a priority to know the consumer’s car-buying journey and car sellers’ needs.

“But, the game is changing again, fewer and fewer consumers are using the phone, and to an even lesser degree email, to get in touch with dealers. Our research over the last year shows that more than 52% of car-buying consumers don’t phone or email a car dealer, but simply take the address and visit the dealer directly.

“When it comes to managing great change within a company, research is incredibly important. But just doing research isn’t enough you need to use it effectively. The temptation exists to hog research because you don’t want competitors to get hold of it. That doesn’t work. We know exactly how much time the average consumer spends studying vehicles before buying a new car. We also know how much of that time is spent online (15 hours), and how much is spent in the physical world visiting dealers (14 hours), and this trend is shifting rapidly toward less time in the physical world and more time searching online, which means the consumer has pretty much made his choice before he leaves his screen. We give that info to our salespeople, who in turn give it to our clients (car sellers). Information needs to be disseminated.”

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