Erin Sparks is the Marketing Director of DeNooyer Automotive Family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has nearly 15 years of marketing experience and is responsible for the function and performance of DeNooyer’s website, analytics, digital and traditional advertising, social media, and public outreach.
Erin also manages the group’s marketing team and helps to lead the service business development department. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a former college volleyball player and frequent party planner. She is also a Founding Member of Auto Genius.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- How working in the agency and vendor side of the automotive industry influences Erin Sparks’ work
- Erin’s strategy for managing DeNooyer Automotive stores
- Erin talks about being a founding member of Auto Genius
- Ilana Shabtay and Erin share their experiences from the 2022 ASOTU conference
- The future of the automotive space in 2023
In this episode…
Managing the marketing needs of different dealerships in a group can be challenging. Each store could have its own unique processes for managing operations, sales, customers, and competition. Strategies that work in one dealership may not work in a different dealership.
Having spent many years working in both the vendor and agency side of the automotive space, Erin Sparks understands what it takes to create content and implement marketing strategies that drive change. She advises dealerships to use marketing strategies that are respectful to clients.
In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay sits down with Erin Sparks, the Marketing Director of DeNooyer Automotive Family, to talk about strategies for streamlining marketing across different automotive stores. Erin also talks about being a member of the Auto Genius community and the future of the automotive space in 2023.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Ilana Shabtay on LinkedIn
- DeNooyer Automotive Family
- Erin Sparks on LinkedIn
- Automotive State of The Union (ASOTU) Con
- Auto Genius
- Paul J Daly on LinkedIn
- Kyle Mountsier on LinkedIn
- Brian Ortega on LinkedIn
- Jeff Revilla on LinkedIn
- Nathanael Greklek on LinkedIn
- InsideAuto Podcast
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.
Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.
Visit their website at www.autoleadstar.com to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.
Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.
Ilana Shabtay 0:14
Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. Before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by AutoLeadStar.com. AutoLeadStar is automotive’s first and leading customer data and experience platform (CDXP). Top dealers invest in CDXPs to unify dealership data sources, automatically create one to one customized journeys, and execute omni-channel shopping experiences. It’s an all in one connected platform. Today, we’re welcoming Erin Sparks to the show, who I had the pleasure of meeting at ASOTU a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for joining us.
Erin Sparks 0:55
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Ilana Shabtay 0:57
Yeah, all the way in Michigan. So I recently met Erin at ASOTU CON, the first episode con in Philly in September. She is the Marketing Director for DeNooyer Automotive Family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has nearly 15 years of marketing experience and is now responsible for the function and performance of the dealership group’s website, analytics, digital and traditional advertising, social media and public outreach. Well, it’s a lot of responsibilities, I’m excited that you’re going to share some of that with us today. She also manages the marketing team and helps to lead the service business development department. She’s originally from Wisconsin, was a previous college volleyball player, that’s really cool, and a frequent party planner. So you should call her up for your next party. Are you still doing that?
Erin Sparks 1:46
Was more of a side gig.
Ilana Shabtay 1:49
Anything else but you bring a lot of marketing experience to the automotive industry, you were on the agency side prior and you represented the automotive sector. I’d love to know how that experience affects your decision making for the group. You know, a lot of people go from inside the dealership to marketing and I think you bring a different perspective. And I’d love to hear that and how that influences your position.
Erin Sparks 2:12
Yeah, I mean, I think that helps me to get a healthy questioning of what other vendors and partners say, there is a true distinction for me between a vendor and a partner. And so when I, I can because I know what I expected out of myself when I was working with dealers. And so now that I am a dealer, in essence, I know what I expect from those that are calling on me. And honestly, like I just like real people that are going to shoot me straight and are going to not waste my time. And please don’t read from a car that’s going to be seven miles long. Like, I like you’re a human and I’m human. And I think that that kind of is helping me to help even guide the people that work with us to hopefully be a partner rather than just a vendor. If you’re a vendor for me, probably won’t last long. No,
Ilana Shabtay 3:09
I agree with that. I think that’s an important approach. And you just took on two more stores from the group. So congratulations on that. Are you going to take more? I’d love to hear about your strategy and high level, I’d also love to know are you going to kind of approach it with every store is kind of individual, or you take more of like a corporate approach. And you know, everything is the same for across all four all four stores. I’d love to know what that’s going to be like for you. And it might be decided yet? I don’t know.
Erin Sparks 3:39
Well, I mean, so I had two stores previously in our group and I just added two more stores from the group into my fold, I guess you would say. And I think that gives me a unique experience. Because the two that I have currently that were my elder two are two very different stores. It’s a Ford brand and the Chevy brand. And while yes, they have a lot in common in some ways, their location, their people, their thought processes are still very different. And so I think that each dealership rooftop needs to be treated as a individual culture center hub in and of itself with an overarching culture of the brand as a whole. So there’s some like true and strong beliefs that we have as a dealership group. But how those are enacted day to day inside each of those dealerships is still like a it’s a very wide swath of like how that happens. So how we happens at our Chevy store is not going to probably be the same as how it happens at Jaguar or at Toyota or at a Ford store, which is okay, so kind of having an understanding for both.
Ilana Shabtay 4:49
Yeah, I think that also allows you to be more flexible, and just really focus on the performance of the store rather than Oh, I must have, you know the same thing throughout my entire A group which I know sometimes it’s an approach, which I value for, if that works for that, that type of group, but I do understand, you know, put the store’s needs first and the performance first. And you know, something that works for performance in one store might not work for another one, you have to know your audience. I think that’s really smart. So
Erin Sparks 5:18
Oh, sorry. I think a really good analogy for that, that I learned early on, was that you kind of look at your entity and your business as like, a a highway, right? You have the highway and say you’re in a tunnel or anything like that, you can’t jump off the side and go completely rogue. So you’ve got some barriers there that are going to keep you all going in the same direction. But that doesn’t mean you want to be in the same lane.
Ilana Shabtay 5:44
Yep. Love it. That’s great. Um, I might, I might use that. I love that. Now, you are also a founding member of Auto Genius, which is a community within automotive fairly new, I’d love to learn a little bit more about what that means to you what your involvement is, does that influence anything that you decide for the group or for a specific store? Uh, tell us a little bit about the Auto Genius community?
Erin Sparks 6:11
Yeah, I mean, if there’s one thing I can say is, I am not the smartest person in the room. I have opinions just like everyone else. And that is what I love about Auto Genius is that Kyle and Paul, amazing guys, they are pushing boundaries in ways that maybe I’m not brave enough to do on my own. But together, you know, as part of this group, we’re doing really cool, big, different things than what most automotive industry groups professionals, organizations are doing. And I love that because you know, me and my own, I’m probably not brave enough to do it all on my own.
Ilana Shabtay 6:52
Here you are.
Erin Sparks 6:54
But then again, you know, like, it, there’s that thing too, like, coming from outside to a dealership, they, I can’t tell you how many times somebody has said to me like, Oh, you don’t know that you’re not from a dealership, you don’t know that. And like, it doesn’t matter. Like people still want to be treated with respect. People want to be like
Ilana Shabtay 7:15
100%. And that, that, that, to me is like a level of meaning you bring different perspective. You’re in a dealership and you’ve been in the dealership, you’ve been asset of the dealership, and that gives you a much better perspective of, you know, how humans want to be marketed to and your job at the end of the day? Yeah. Yeah.
Erin Sparks 7:35
That’s what I love about AG is that there’s so many different perspectives, done respectfully, mostly even probably too many jokes. But I mean, there’s so much, so many smart people doing so many great things that I
Ilana Shabtay 7:49
just love that. Yeah. And it’s nice to have a community that you could even just shoot a question to or brainstorm with. There were quite a few ag members at ASOTU. Right.
Erin Sparks 7:59
Very many. Yeah.
Ilana Shabtay 8:02
So that was that was cool. Was that the first time you guys met in person for a lot of you? Or?
Erin Sparks 8:07
Yeah, I mean, that that was like, the craziest thing is, like, all of these people that I feel like I’ve known for a really long time that which I mean, I have, but only, I guess just the in person, which was so cool. So I mean, and being a female in automotive, especially automotive marketing, you know, like, it’s so interesting to me like that, like, you get to see all of these people, other females that are in automotive. I mean, in my dealership group, like, There’s nobody like me, in my dealership. And in my vicinity. Are there other marketing directors like me? So
Ilana Shabtay 8:44
that’s really nice. Yeah, that’s that and that, that’s really nice. I was talking to so I’ve known Matt Lasher for a while, but old from West her, but only from like, meeting him on Zoom and, and working with him. And when I met him, I really felt like I had met him before. Like I it only dawned on me like day two, and I was like, Oh my God, I’ve actually no, this is my first time meeting you in person. And it was so it’s such a weird feeling. I bet you felt like that over and over again with every single AG member. But it was really like the craziest feeling I was just like, This is so strange to me that we’ve actually never met in person.
Erin Sparks 9:20
Right? Well, I mean, like, died No, really. But like we wanted to go see the Liberty Bell and I wanted to go you know, do the Rocky Steps and all that stuff. And like I would probably do that on my own in a place. I don’t know. But like, I got there and like the group, the clan is all there and they just want to go and I’m like, Yeah, of course I’m going I don’t know. But ya know,
Ilana Shabtay 9:41
you have like your clan was really nice. And I was just telling people in the office this too, because I moderated a session with three three really impressive dealers. We’re just talking about them. Brian Ortega and Jeff Revilla and I’m probably butchering all their names and Nathanael Greklek. And they did an amazing job at also, to talking about content that crushes. But we spoke a little bit before the conference. But the second we got to the conference, it was like, I had my people and we didn’t even I am they specifically I actually hadn’t even met until we did like a one intro session because on Zoom, because we knew we were going to moderate the panel together earlier, I was going to moderate the panel where they were going to speak. And it was just right away. And I love that I think that automotive has like a very friendly family oriented feeling, especially if you’re on the same mission, which is just like let’s make automotive better, which was very much the feeling at this conference. So yeah, I felt the same way. Like, let’s go you wanna go to a party? Yeah, let’s go to each other. Wonderful. Now shifting a bit, let’s talk, I can’t believe that we’re literally coming up to q4 of 2022. It’s it’s quite frightening, honestly. What are are you going to make any big strategy changes for 2023? What does that look like? Do you want to share with us a little bit what your thoughts are? And what do you think is going to be like the big change for automotive and 2023? If you have any prediction on that? I’d love to know.
Erin Sparks 11:10
Yeah, I mean, I with all of the automotive OEMs doing such different strategies for EV. I think that I mean, I’ve got four different brands with four very different approaches, like Evie. But then then again, our dealership group pretty much has a pretty solid thought process as to how we are going to approach . So we kind of talked about that, that we’re going to be, I want our content and our residents in our local community to represent that from an ad perspective. So that’s definitely going to be something that we need to really build out in 2023 is just what that looks like, how are we representing ourselves? I think we as a dealership group, have a responsibility to our community, to help them understand help them do that, because he’s coming whether we like it or not, right. So like, it’s not for me to have an opinion on AV it’s, it’s for me to have a plan on.
Ilana Shabtay 12:17
Yeah, but I love that what you said really connects with how you started, what, you know, our first question of the podcast, which is, you might do different things for different brands. But at the end of the day, there’s an overarching brand and message that you want to be consistent throughout your entire, you know, family, onward family, and I think, you know, you’re thinking, right, right, you’re trying to think, Okay, what message are we coming across? Or what do we how do we help our community with understanding EVs and rolling this out, and then, you know, every OEM will have their own structure based off of that kind of value, and that messaging that you’re putting out to the community, so I think that’s a really strong point that others can probably learn from.
Erin Sparks 12:56
Yeah, I think another thing too, is, for me, this is more probably a personal thing than anything else is reporting. So you got GE for coming down the line. I feel like it’s like, whatever that like thing is like in like an ag lion out like a lamb kind of process. Like we’re talking it, the hype on that is huge, right now, like you’re gonna learn it, you have to know it, you have to understand it, you know, there’s changes happening all the time, if you’re already in GA for which you probably shouldn’t be.
Ilana Shabtay 13:29
On the date, you want the tracking to be there. So
Erin Sparks 13:32
somebody’s doing the things now, so you’re ready for them to kind of feel like it’s gonna be a little bit like in like, a lion out like a lamb that, like you’re doing all this work now. So that way, when it happens, you’re just like, happened, like. So I mean, like, that is that’s weighing heavily on my mind, because I want to do the right thing. And I want to understand what I have. You know, and that’s a lot to undertake. As he said, there’s quite a lot of things in my list of to do. You know, that’s something that’s probably weighing heavier on my heart, in my role is just really understanding that, because it’s not something that that like my ownership group is going to see or feel right. So
Ilana Shabtay 14:18
they live in that. So for you, it’s like, okay, how do I know communicate this, right. But also stick to brand guidelines for each of my stores. Yeah, that’s heavy.
Erin Sparks 14:30
Right. So like, I like that’s for me something in 2023 that I’m planning to really focus on. I said this last year, but I think it’s like a like year two is it’s going to be the year of fixed operations. So that was my year of fixed operations. We made some big changes in EDC structure. We made some big changes in just like how we communicate with our customers, what we use to communicate with them. I think in 2023, that’s going to continue because the service is a bigger big driver. And as the age of vehicles continues to get older, as the average age of vehicles continues to get older for our consumer market, you’re gonna have to look at those things even more.
Ilana Shabtay 15:20
Yeah, for sure. And then, I mean, again, this is probably going to be maybe even near three, but service for EVs. Yeah, that’s a whole nother project. So okay. added to your Blake.
Erin Sparks 15:33
My mind always going content content content content. And I know Nathaniel, let’s just be clear, Jeff. I don’t feel like them. I am not you guys. But like content is key. Right? And that is the hardest thing to get content on. The OEM right now is like understanding what service should look like for an EV like, what are recommendations for that? There’s a lot of people that have a lot of opinions out there. But from an OEM perspective, they’re like, I want to shop that stuff from the rooftops. And so that’s a little bit you know, that’s where we’re working on some more clarity.
Ilana Shabtay 16:13
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I’d love I would love clarity to I’m probably going to have an EV. Soon, I would love to have a service that will look out for that will look out for that content. Yeah. Amazing. This was super informative. I love hearing from marketing directors at dealerships, but I can really dig into what you’re focusing on. I think it’s an exciting time also, because you’re taking on new brands. So we got to hear a little bit about what that change is like, and how do you strategize? So thank you for sharing that with us. For those of you who don’t know, Erin sparks, you can find her on LinkedIn, I just added you as well. Do you still play before we sign off? Do you still play volleyball?
Erin Sparks 16:54
Occasionally? Not as often as before, but I love
Ilana Shabtay 16:58
this. I mean, that’s like, that’s really impressive. Yeah.
Erin Sparks 17:03
Now, my time is more filled with whatever sport my son is doing so
Ilana Shabtay 17:07
Well, that makes, yeah, I can identify with that. Thank you so much. And for those of you who liked this episode, please tune in to InsideAuto Podcast. You can find us on all your favorite streaming, podcast sites, and insideautopodcast.com. Thank you so much, Erin.
Erin Sparks 17:24
Thanks for listening to InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.
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