Why This Auto Dealer Dominates Radio

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JT Gandolfo has been in the automotive business for 26 years. His first store was a Dodge dealership he opened in Columbia, SC, in 1991. He started expanding in 2011, opening a Kia dealership north of Columbia and then, a month later, a Chrysler/Jeep store in Lexington. And last year, Gandolfo purchased another Kia store, this one in Rock Hill (in the Charlotte market).

Gandolfo is a big believer in radio. We were introduced to him by Beasley Charlotte Sr. AE Chuck Powell, who tells Radio Ink Gandolfo is extremely consistent with his radio advertising. “He commits to radio,” Powell says. It’s not a ‘Hey, let’s put a toe in the water and test it out for a week and see what happens.’ He’s been doing this for a really long time. If you’re going to do it, do it right, and that’s what he does.”

Radio Ink conducted an interview with Gandolfo to pick his brain on how and why he uses radio so consistently, so you can take this success story to clients and prospects and push the power of radio.

RADIO INK: WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON ADVERTISING?
Gandolfo: It’s to stay in the customers’ forefront as much as we possibly can. We believe very strongly in radio. We do a lot of TV advertising in the Columbia market, but the Columbia market is number 86 in the nation. The Charlotte market, where we reside in Rock Hill, has a much bigger population, so the expense in Charlotte to run on TV is astronomical. Consequently, we have chosen to dominate the market in radio.

RADIO INK: HOW ARE YOU USING RADIO?
Gandolfo: We use radio the majority of the time in morning and afternoon drive. We try to stay on the radio Tuesday through Friday, with some exposure on Saturday. We believe in the model of using DJ endorsements because they involve the customer in the spot, as opposed to a spot that is just price payment.

The DJ endorsement is somebody who believes in it and endorses it. And it’s on FM radio, where customers are not just listening to the songs, they are also sucked in by the DJ’s personality. If the DJ doesn’t have a great personality, your listening audience is going to be down. You have some great DJs in the Charlotte market, and we utilize them. They believe in us, they believe in our product, and it’s working.

RADIO INK: HOW ARE YOU GAUGING SUCCESS WHEN USING RADIO?
Gandolfo: Since we’ve come into the market with Kia, we’ve become the number one Kia dealership very quickly, overtaking everybody, including dealers that are part of the Charlotte market. We’ve taken a Kia store that previously was selling 30 Kias a month to an average of 110 to 120 a month, with another 70 or so used cars. That’s a fairly substantial gauge for us. The second part of the gauge is we’re drawing half our audience out of the Charlotte market, where all the radio stations are.

RADIO INK: WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH CHUCK AND HIS RADIO STATIONS THAT MAKES IT WORK SUCCESSFULLY?
Gandolfo: Flexibility. In radio you don’t want to be talking about the same message week after week over the course of the month; you want to vary the message. Chuck has the DJs conditioned to be able to respond to the nuances and changes we make, the new slants on the offers.

Radio is the most instant response that you have within any advertising media.

Digital starts at the top of the funnel, where people aren’t thinking about a car, then six months later, they’re moving from the “I am thinking” to “I am getting serious” to “I am going to respond to a lead” — to “I am going to appear at a dealership. I have shopped six other dealerships, all online, and I like this one. I will walk into that store.”

Radio is something a customer hears and says, “I never really thought of it that way. I didn’t realize I could do that. That might be a great idea.” It provides an almost instantaneous response. That is why radio is solid and will be solid for a lifetime to come.

RADIO INK: HOW IMPORTANT IS DIGITAL IN YOUR PLAN? AND DO YOU SEE DIGITAL JEOPARDIZING WHAT RADIO IS GETTING?
Gandolfo: No, I see radio under all circumstances driving traffic directly — but additionally to drive people to our website, and it will end with a digital offer. The two complement each other.

RADIO INK: YOU SOUND LIKE A CONNOISSEUR OF RADIO, AND YOU’VE UNDERSTOOD IT FOR A LONG TIME. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU COULD SAY TO THE RADIO INDUSTRY THAT THEY NEED TO IMPROVE ON?
Gandolfo: I think you guys are staying on top of your game tremendously. I can’t think of any improvement I would suggest. Let’s just keep working together to improve the product. We are moving more toward digital streaming, and that’s fine. I think you should continue down that road. I know that every radio commercial we have directs listeners to our website. We see it as hand-in-glove.

RADIO INK: ANY ADVICE FOR ADVERTISERS NOT USING RADIO?
Gandolfo: Be consistent and creative. Realize the competition is not the other car dealer, appliance store, or whatever is on the air. Your competition is all of the noise. You have to be different and cut through the noise. Somebody has to stop, think, and listen to you. We all know great examples of TV commercials — one that comes to mind is Geico. They are selling the consistent message of “15 percent.” It cuts through.

On the radio, when I was coming up 30 years ago, I was intrigued by the national commercials. I would listen for the Molson Ale commercial. There was a guy and gal, and there was a tension between the two. And they were selling ale that tastes horrible but because of that, I would listen to them. I found out neither one was particularly attractive, but they sounded attractive, and I listened. I tried Molson Ale once and I said, “This is stupid, but they got me to try it.”

There was a guy who used to sell jelly: “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” There’s Motel 6: “We’ll leave the light on for you.” They provided value and attracted you to the establishment.

Reach out to Chuck Powell to congratulate him on being a great representative for radio and on his success with JT Gandolfo at chuck.[email protected]

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