They say never to trust a car salesperson, but they obviously haven’t met Brian Benstock, partner of Paragon Honda and Acura. During the crash of 2009, when many U.S. car dealerships were struggling, New York-based Paragon Honda jumped from No. 17 in the U.S. market share for Honda to the No. 1 New and Used Honda dealer in the state, nation, and world. In Acura sales, Paragon Acura shot up to No. 2. It only took them seven months, and so far at the end of 2010, Paragon Auto Group still owns the top.
What’s their secret? Evolution. “If you don’t change, you become a dinosaur,” says automotive pioneer Benstock, who joined the company in 1982 under the mentorship of Paragon’s late founder Paul Singer. Today, Paragon Auto Group is lead by Benstock; Edith, Singer’s wife; and Michelle, his daughter. Their hiring of a marketing company (Tier 10) as well as other vendors (vAuto, Car-mercial, Level 5, Team Velocity, and CallRevu) revolutionized Paragon’s business model. Out-of-the-box marketing and advertising strategies have placed competitors completely out of reach of Paragon’s supreme numbers in selling and leasing used and new Hondas and Acuras.
For example, Paragon has changed the way the world buys cars on the Internet in just less than a year’s time. The company has exhausted almost all channels of digital marketing, including search engine optimization, campaign micro-sites, pay-per-click searching, e-mail marketing, banner ads, and video search optimization, and has developed several thousands loyal followers (i.e., returning customers) on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter—all which have placed the dealership literally at the top of almost all Internet car searches.
“Eighty percent of our customers go to the Internet to find out where to buy a car,” says Benstock, whose next goal in targeted marketing is capturing 1 million relevant e-mail addresses. “A lot of dealers may not recognize the value of email addresses,” he explains, “but if you make a special offer to these clients, and only get a 2 percent response, it’s still a huge number.”
Yet, in today’s digital information overload, transparency is everything and, if you take on the old stereotype of a slick-haired, unsavory, sleazy salesman, the Internet will expose your dishonesty and unethical practices. Unless you’re Paragon, of course, in which case the raving customer reviews are driving in your sales. And if someone has a negative thing to say about the dealership, Benstock says he responds personally to each and every less-than-stellar review on the Web.
Their numbers are certainly there: Paragoncars.com boasts 20,000 unique visitors per month, and Paragon Honda and Acura are selling twice as many certified cars as their closest competitors. Even more, customers come as far away as 500 miles to the premier Honda and Acura dealership in Queens, according to Benstock. And why not travel the distance to the dealership that boasts the best selections at the best prices? With a flagship store spanning three city blocks, Paragon Auto Group holds the largest inventory of Hondas and Acuras in the New York market and positions their cars comparatively at the best competitive prices. “We’re making less per transactions, but we’re doing more transactions,” Benstock says.