Lodder’s Marine Sales has a beautiful showroom. It’s spacious, clean, modern — any dealership would be proud to have one like it.
But Lodder’s physical showroom isn’t the reason I chose them as my editor’s pick. Instead, my selection was based on the company’s dedication to its virtual showroom.
We recently ran a cover story in the magazine that suggested a marine dealer’s website is its new front door: often the first, and sometimes the only, contact customers have with the dealership. Lodder’s and its general manager, Matt Lodder, understand that concept to its fullest.
“We didn’t want a site that looked like everybody else’s and we wanted it to give someone a feel for who they are dealing with,” he says. “Many of the people who visit our site have never been to the dealership. We incorporated many pictures of the dealership on the site so visitors can see we are not a fly-by-night kind of place. When people walk into our dealership, they are taken aback by the size and look of our showroom. We wanted the same effect when they visit the website.”
When we read Top 100 applications, we are always pleased to see dealers who continually strive to improve their facilities. We love to hear about freshly painted showrooms, newly added docks or updated signage. But having a showroom that’s ready for 2010 isn’t good enough if your website looks like it was built for 1995, which is why we are just as interested to hear about annual improvements to the company website.
Lodder says its website is an ever-evolving component to its success. And when they say “ever-evolving,” they mean it. They created a new site late in ’08 and by the end of ’09, they had already given it a facelift.
That included both design changes and search engine optimization work that Lodder says has the company coming up on the first page of most major search engines, whereas in the past they weren’t listed in the top three pages.
In 2008, 6.4 percent of Lodder’s customers said they purchased their boat because they saw it on the company’s website. In 2009, that number had jumped to 23.1 percent. Lodder’s said that increase helped lead the company to an even bigger increase in the number of units sold in ’09 versus ’08.
Behind those increased sales were increased visits to the site. Tracking numbers showed Lodder’s website had thousands of unique visitors monthly during the summer of ’09 — traffic few physical showrooms can compete with.
In addition to personalizing the website by showing pictures of their facility, the company decided to include photos of all the boats in inventory.
“We also didn’t want to just refer people to the manufactures site for more info on inventory,” Lodder says. “All of our boats have unique photos and descriptions on our site. We have received a number of comments from visitors who like the fact they are looking at the actual boat and not just a catalog photo. It takes a lot of extra work to do this, but the results have been great.”
Because the actual boat pictures are online, Lodder’s tries to get customers who call in to go to the site while on the phone for a basic walkthrough of any boats they are interested in. Salespeople also direct customers to various interactive features on the site, such as a video on how to lock through a dam, for example.
Another little thing that helps set Lodder’s apart is a LiveChat feature on its site that pops up and asks visitors if they have any questions. If they do, a representative will help them while trying to capture lead information and setting up an in-person appointment. No dealership would allow a prospect to wander around their physical showroom without asking how they can help, and Lodder’s treats online visitors the same way.
Most recently, Lodder’s has also added a blogging feature to the site.
Like other marine dealers who are serious about the Web, Lodder’s tags every piece of advertising or boat show signage with its Web address. And when potential customers visit, the company feels its updated site gives them a strong opportunity to make a sale.
“We want to make sure our site represents who we are and having a site that looks like it was made by your teenager just won’t cut it anymore,” Lodder says. “I think those dealers have the mentality that as long as you can put a check in the box that says you have a website, you’re doing well. That isn’t going to get it done in today’s world.”