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Lee Michaelson

Lee Michaelson

Author's details

Name: Lee Michaelson
Date registered: January 6, 2014


Lee is an experienced and knowledgeable automotive retail specialist, with demonstrated expertise in both variable and fixed operations and a proven record of success in operations management and profit improvement. Of keen value is Lee’s comprehensive understanding of the total dealership operation, giving him a unique, 360-degree perspective into all areas of the dealership. He is a strategic problem-solver and successful change agent, working in concert with the dealer and management team to identify, recommend and implement profit-enhancing strategies that produce consistent results beyond expectations. Lee supports all domestic, import and high-line dealers with a wide variety of new and used sales volumes.

Latest posts

  1. Retail Solutions: Hold Your Car Up to the Phone — February 7, 2017
  2. From NCM’s 20 Groups: 10 Virtual Showroom Merchandising Tips to Maximize Sales — July 19, 2016
  3. What do I do with today’s bucket jumpers? — October 27, 2015
  4. Process Disappearance — January 9, 2014

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Lee Michaelson

Retail Solutions: Hold Your Car Up to the Phone

Smiling salesman having a phone call

“Hold your car up to the phone, sir.” (hahaha!)

Remember when we made comments like this to customers who wanted phone appraisals? We were real witty back then when a customer wanted the old sight unseen trade appraisal!

Capture an interested customer

Well, today, we can do a phone appraisal, and it’s easy. As long as the buyer has a smartphone with a camera—and who doesn’t—you’re set!

You have a great chance to sell these customers because they have already narrowed their choices, and you have made it to the top of their shopping list. Make it easy, and you have an opportunity to sell a car.

Develop a process and set expectations

Customers are conditioned to the information you have provided about your car online: multiple pictures and possibly a video, equipment list, CarFax, and a compelling description for starters.

Let’s say the customer insists you provide an appraisal of their car before they come to the dealership. Do it in a professional manner. Tell them you have a process for this situation, and you need all of the following documentation just like they see online for the car they are interested in purchasing from you: six to eight pictures and a complete appraisal form. Explain that you will run a CARFAX or other similar vehicle history report on their vehicle.

My recommended Online Trade Appraisal Process

  • Make a PDF of your appraisal document and have it available for all appropriate team members to email to a customer. This is a great tool for qualifying the customer, and it gets the customer mentally involved in the appraisal. You also will start to build creditability in the evaluation, lower the client’s expectations of the trade price, and help build rapport between the salesperson and customer. You are now getting answers to many questions before the deal is started!
  • Have the customer complete the entire document, including disclosure about the odometer, accidents, body damage/work, and any mechanical deficiencies that require reconditioning. Make sure they sign it before they scan it (the camera app on their phone will work) and return it to you.
  • Detail the reconditioning and reconditioning cost on every appraisal to justify your appraisal. Use current market pricing evidence from the internet to validate your appraisal. Inform the customer that your appraisal is firm based on the appraisal document they submitted to you, subject to driving and inspecting the vehicle. This is a similar process they will likely want for the vehicle they plan to purchase from you.
  • Upon arrival at the dealership, every appraisal should get a trade walk around with the customer, 100% of the time. Profit can be improved if the evaluation of damage and missing parts is correct. Likewise, customer satisfaction can be improved as a result of clear communication and a transparent process.
  • Define follow-up responsibility in case of missing parts (needing a second key, for example). You can also reduce stock days by completing the vehicle trade-in process.

Most of our customers enjoy the easy satisfaction and quick turnaround of online shopping. Although there will always be a necessary in-person component to trade-in vehicles, by creating a simple phone appraisal process you can capitalize on their habits and gain new customers. And just think: how many more cars would you sell if you adopted this process?

Learn more about Lee Michaelson and how he and his NCM colleagues can help your dealership through 20 Groups and in-dealership consulting

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Lee Michaelson

From NCM’s 20 Groups: 10 Virtual Showroom Merchandising Tips to Maximize Sales


I’m sometimes shocked at how badly online listings for pre-owned vehicles are! The information provided is terrible, and the photos are even worse. Clearly, online listings are just an afterthought for far too many used vehicle departments.

Online listings sell your vehicles

Ignoring online listings is a huge mistake. Far too much evidence has amassed for there to be any confusion: Your customers are shopping online long before they ever step foot in a store.

If you still question this, I recommend reading this excellent case study from Think with Google right now that details the mobile and online car purchasing process. If you’re short on time, here’s an infographic from the article that sums it up nicely:


Demand Accountability Online

If you’re an NCM 20 Group member, you already know that accountability management is crucial for changing processes. After all, success is dependent on execution. Before you make any shifts in the used vehicle department, I want you to identify the following items:

  1. Who is responsible for each item?
  2. How should it happen? (Process)
  3. What are your expected results?
  4. Do you measure the activities and results?

Top 10 Virtual Merchandising Tips from My 20 Groups

Now onto the specifics. Here are the recommended merchandising changes that have come out of my NCM 20 Group meetings.

  1. Recognize that your virtual showroom is open 24/7 and should be merchandised as well as your physical inventory. (Remember: Customers will shop your inventory online long before coming into your store.)
  2. Create and implement a vehicle photography process for your digital showroom.
  3. As part of that process, mandate that someone immediately review uploaded photography on your website and on all web services to which you subscribe. You want to make sure that the photos look good and clearly promote the most important features of your vehicles.
  4. Establish a dedicated, properly lit photo area that is free of clutter to take your photos and videos in; consider a turntable for use in this area.
  5. Hire a professional photographer to train the staff members who will be responsible for photographing the vehicles.
  6. Upload stock photos as soon as the vehicle is traded-in/purchased or immediately following the Trade-Walk.
  7. Once the vehicle is reconditioned, produce at least 25 high-resolution photos and at least one video.
  8. Highlight high-value visible options, such as a sunroof, navigation system or optional wheels. Set up the photo array so that these immediately follow the first passenger side ¾-front-profile photo currently in use.
  9. While you should always show vehicle equipment accurately, consider using Photoshop or similar editing software to accen­tuate “focus” vehicles.
  10.  Remember that the process doesn’t end! Continuously review the uploaded photos on all inventory sites your dealership uses.

Lee offers consulting services and is a moderator in many NCM 20 Groups. Membership not only gives you access to our monthly composite and industry-leading but lets you work with other successful peers to brainstorm solutions to the specific problems you face in your dealership. We’re currently accepting applicants to many 20 Groups—including Independent 20 Groups. Discover which NCM 20 Groups is the perfect one for you and sign up to attend a meeting! 

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Lee Michaelson

What do I do with today’s bucket jumpers?


Bucket jumpers—vehicles that reach 16, 31 or 43 days in inventory—pose a huge strain on your dealership. Make certain your bucket jumpers get all the attention required to reduce inventory aging issues and improve turn.

Investigate the vehicle

A vehicle becomes a bucket jumper by sitting too long in your inventory. The first thing you need to do is check on how much interest the vehicle is generating on the internet.

Prior to the stock walk process, analyze how much prospect activity garnered attention on each vehicle. Here’s what I suggest you evaluate:

  1. The number of times the vehicle appeared on a search results page (SRP)
  2. How often prospects clicked through to the vehicle details page (VDP)
  3. The vehicle’s VDP conversion percentage (Divide VDP by SRP)
  4. Confirm the number of inbound phone calls received on each vehicle
  5. Check the number of emails received requesting information for each

Once you have a sense of how much interest the bucket jumper has generated, inspect it in person:

  1. Open all of the doors, the hood and the trunk; identify any issues that require correction.
  2. Start the vehicle. Does it operate properly? Check all systems such as climate, navigation and audio. Open the sunroof, and make certain the windows, locks and seats are in proper working order.
  3. Inspect the exterior for problems that require correction.
  4. Determine if the vehicle needs detailed again.
  5. Keep a list of the vehicles you identify that need additional reconditioning, and make certain the reconditioning is completed in a timely manner.

Involve your staff

The most important question about a bucket jumper is: Why haven’t we sold it? Ask your staff how many opportunities you’ve had on lingering inventory and how many of those opportunities went on a demonstration drive. Get their feedback about the vehicles, especially any comments they remember from customers.

Once you’ve gathered all the information—how much interest the car is generating, its condition and how many people have seen or test driven the car—it’s time to implement your action plan.

Address the problems

Typically, there are three possible resolutions to the bucket jumper problem. The vehicle needs additional reconditioning—arrange for the repairs immediately or wholesale the unit. The vehicle is priced too high—keep it, but adjust the price immediately. It’s not a good vehicle for retail—wholesale the vehicle and redeploy the cash.

Selling the bucket jumper list

Be aware that the decision to keep a bucket jumper means a commitment to more work. Not only will you likely need to adjust its price, but you’ll need to evaluate its marketing and merchandising. Once these are addressed, you should see movement; if not, it’s time to reevaluate.

Are the bucket jumpers in your inventory slowing your sales? Share your experiences below. 

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Lee Michaelson

Process Disappearance

Lee Michaelson is an NCM Associates Retail Operations Consulting coach specializing in total dealership operations process and profit improvement and one-day departmental evaluations to identify and correct process evaporation. To reach Lee, email or call 910.713.3623.


Now is the time for a process checkup in every department. Over a period of time many of the processes that we installed and we think are in place have somehow disappeared and are no longer utilized. We often times do not discover this until an out-of-line condition appears on the financial statement, a customer complaint is received, or general productivity declines and then we discover too late that many of the great processes we implemented are no longer in place or have been modified. The modifications or elimination of processes usually comes from a new manager or a feeling of, “we did it so well we do not have to do it any longer.”

This is a great time of year to review the processes you implemented and you think are being followed. It is possible a process has been modified over time, possibly for the better, but it may no longer be serving its original intent. Employees will sometimes just go through the motions of following the process, not accomplishing the intended goal. The beginning of the year is a great time to verify the established processes are being followed or modified as appropriate, and establish new processes where applicable. Here’s an example of classic “process evaporation”:

Have you ever called a dealership and the person answering the phone speaks so fast and has shortened the name of the dealership to “ABC,” that you don’t know if you are calling ABC Motors or ABC Lumber Yard? What happened to the professional first impression we thought was implemented? Instead of a polite, eloquent greeting that was the original intent of the process and the script we provided, the process was modified. In this case it is often because somebody decided the telephone receptionist wasn’t busy enough so it was decided to give her more responsibility while she is “just sitting there answering the phone.”

Many dealerships have direct dial phone numbers to each department or person in the dealership. Have we given each individual a process and training on answering the telephone? Try it – call your Parts department. If the phone is answered in any manner other than, the famous mumbled, “Parts Hold,” consider yourself lucky. Many dealerships have the sales staff provide their mobile phone number on their business card. What is the process for answering those phone calls and what does the voicemail message sound like on an employee’s personal phone that she is providing to the dealership customers?

Emails and instant messaging dominate communication today, but the phone in a car dealership must also be viewed as the face of the dealership and requires politeness and professionalism.

Below is a checklist of a few thought-starter processes from each department. Review it and determine if each process is still in place or if it has been modified. There are many processes in each department; add your own to the list and do a comprehensive, objective evaluation.

Still in Place               Modified

New Vehicle Department

  • 100% Management T.O.
  • Introduction of new customers to Service
  • Introduction of new customers to Body Shop
  • Consistent training of sales staff

Used Vehicle Department

  • Two managers appraise every trade
  • Appraisal forms fully completed
  • Usage of the OEM merchandising materials
  • Reconditioning completed in 3 days

F&I Department

  • Interview the customers
  • 100% menu presentation
  • Declined products acknowledged by customer
  • Chargebacks verified for accuracy

Business Development Center

  • Follow up incoming sales calls
  • Follow up internet leads
  • Follow up unsold prospects from the CRM
  • Follow up service customers

Service Department

  • History preprinted on every repair orders
  • Walk around every vehicle during write-up
  • Multi-point inspection on every vehicle
  • Menu presentation on every vehicle

Parts Department

  • Track lost sales
  • Good, Better, Best display of common maintenance items
  • Daily review of exception report
  • Price matrix utilization

Body Shop

  • Complete, accurate estimates
  • Supplements accounted for properly
  • Work paid to techs equals work completed
  • Appropriate approval or money prior to vehicle release


  • Accounts receivable review
  • Bank statement reconciliation
  • Incoming mail process
  • Statements and supplements submitted to NCM timely

Add your own processes to the list in each department and review your dealership operation to determine what you absolutely have to fix immediately for improved profit performance in 2014.

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