AS NEW starts go, they don’t get much more successful than this! Lifestyle Europe launched their new website just two weeks before the judges picked it as number one in the Car Dealer Ewards – and the dealer group couldn’t be happier.
The firm’s winning website was produced by G-Forces – whose marketing director Tim Smith sits on the Ewards judging panel – and it was only launched at the beginning of October.
Lifestyle Europe has nine sites across Kent and Sussex with franchises for Ford, Mazda, Renault, Isuzu and Subaru. The company is run by managing director Peter Isted and chairman Marc Matthew after the pair launched the firm following a management buy-out of the HMG Group in 2001.
‘It’s good to know that this Eward was voted for independently,’ said Isted, pictured accepting his Eward from the editor. ‘We’re delighted with the work G-Forces have done for us, but it’s nice to know that the other judges had to allocate their points to our site for us to pick up the title. We’re delighted.’
And Isted is right – the site wouldn’t have secured the number one slot without the points from the majority of the judging panel and it certainly impressed our web experts.
HPI’s automotive director Daniel Burgess said: ‘LifestyleEurope.co.uk is an example of a stylish website that provides real impact and fantastic user content.’
All judges were impressed by the clear and clean appearance that is easy to understand and interact with. The use of sound and animation was singled out for praise as was the large amounts of pictures of stock.
Isted explained huge emphasis is placed on this with each dealer in the group given targets for the amount of cars they’re expected to upload each month. ‘Staff can’t add a car without a minimum of six pictures and they can add up to nine,’ he explained.
‘We know it’s important for the site to be fresh and up-to-date so our dealers are given targets for the number of cars they must upload – some have to put on 60 a month.’
The website is co-ordinated by the firm’s group IT manager Carys Jukes, who Isted singles out as instrumental in the new site’s success. ‘She has been so dedicated to getting it look the way it does,’ he says.
Jukes was tasked with coming up with a more professional offering to the outgoing website with an emphasis on search engine optimisation that would catapult the group up the rankings.
‘The original site had just got too complicated and we’d added to it and chopped and changed too much, so with the new one we had to take a step back and start again to get it right,’ explained Isted. ‘I think we’ve done that.’
So, just how important is the internet to the Lifestyle business? Absolutely vital, says the MD. ‘You only need to look at the fact that we employ a staff member full-time to look after the website to see the importance we place on the web,’ he explains.
‘We’ve doubled our spend on it this year and cut back on local press advertising which wasn’t working for us. A good 75 to 80 per cent of customers say they used the website before coming to see us and that’s a huge number of people.’
While chatting to Car Dealer, Isted produced a half-inch thick marketing report that listed huge amounts of statistics on the website. He explains it is produced monthly for the directors and goes to show how key the web is to the firm.
‘Who’s emailed in, when the busiest and quietest days are for traffic and how many people have visited the site are all included – this all helps us plan our next step online,’ he says.
Traffic is increasing too. Despite the latest figures only detailing stats prior to the new site launching, they still showed a 20 per cent increase in traffic. What helps drive this traffic is the huge amount of information provided on the site. Ewards judges were particularly impressed with the detailed listings for the cars that include the ability for customers to make the dealer an offer and work out finance calculations on the page.
So, how did the firm plan the new site? One of the hardest parts of getting things right online is knowing what you want, but Isted said they had clear objectives.
‘We did a large amount of research and looked at a number of other car dealer websites when planning ours,’ he explains. ‘G-Forces helped us out immensely too in terms of the homepage look and putting the branches that feed off it in place. The web is going to become so important to the car trade in the years ahead.
‘At the moment there are still people out there that can’t turn a computer on let alone log on to a website, but you only have to look at your kids to see how important the web will be in the future. My children – I have four – are always online and that shows how things will grow.
‘If car dealers aren’t online then that’s ultimately going to cause them to falter and will be inherent in their downfall. It’s as simple as that in my book.
‘We know how important the internet is and it’s why we’ve invested in the new site. The team has put in a lot of work recently, so winning this Eward means a huge amount to Lifestyle Europe. We get really passionate about things like this and are delighted to win.’
Our headline sponsor Motors.co.uk says: ‘The Lifestyle site is bright, colourful and very lively. It’s great that when you click through to the franchise you want from the group’s homepage it brings up special offers and other really useful information. It’s a very good site.’
We’re already planning our Ewards 09 – if you think you should be on the judging panel next year get in touch on (023) 9252 2434 to find out how you can get involved.