Howard Brothers, a True Value dealership with three locations in Georgia, launched its redesigned website just one year ago.  The website includes all the right components: comprehensive product and dealership information, interesting content, appealing design, interactive functionality and more. Here's what it didn't have: a slimmed-down look for customers to quickly find what they need when accessing the site on their smartphones.

Is that really a big deal? Yes, especially if 20% of your website visits come from mobile phone users, says Andy Darnell, the dealership's marketing and communications manager. Andy Darnell of Howard Brothers shares why the dealership took the next step in its online strategy and launched its mobile website in August.

Driver for Mobile Web

Darnell says the re-launched website was just the beginning of their new online strategy. For example, they immediately launched a blog. (Howard Brothers' Blog Builds Dealership's Online Reputation.)

"A website is never complete. Just because you launch a new site or overhaul an existing site, it does not mean that you are finished. We knew we had a site that, at a minimum, was built well for mobile users. We did not have a "flash" site and our code was clean enough that it would display well on modern browsers. But, we knew from our analytics that most of our mobile users were looking for very specific content," says Darnell. He says their "social content," like the blog and videos were popular, so needed to be easy to access.

Andy Darnell, marketing and communications manager for Howard Brothers.

(Flash is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. Some mobile users may have difficulty viewing such sites.)

"In addition to that, our store hours, directions and phone numbers were the most requested and viewed content by mobile users," Darnell says. "We also wanted our mobile users to have access to the full site. The idea was to make the user experience better."

Building the Mobile Version

Having mobile usage analytics gave the dealership a head start in deciding the content for the mobile site. Their existing website content management system made the next step fairly easy, says Darnell.

"Our main site is built on WordPress. There are many "plug-ins" (software) available for WordPress that can recognize mobile users," says Darnell. This means that the platform can identify how the user is accessing the website. So, if the user is coming to the website through a mobile device, then the system displays the mobile version.

"All we had to do was change some colors and add some logos to match our branding," Darnell says.

Advice for Dealers

Before diving into a mobile site, Darnell advises fellow dealers to make sure their main websites are providing what customers need. And, it's time to test your site to make sure it displays properly on today's Internet browsers.

"Your main site is most important. Do not invest in a mobile site if your main site is not where it should be," Darnell says. "However, if you are starting a new site, you must make mobile part of your plan. If you don't have analytics on your site, you need to do that today."

John and Doug Howard, co-owners of Howard Brothers

He says to work with your web expert to add the tools and to interpret the data. And, don't worry, if your existing web platform isn't as adaptable to mobile as the one Howard Brother uses. Darnell says it's fairly easy for qualified developers to build a mobile website because the content is much less than a full site. Again, the key is to provide the data your mobile users access frequently.

Howard Brothers' Next Step

Darnell says they'll continue to watch customer usage through analytics and ask for feedback on both sites.

"A lot of the feedback now is internal. Internal wins are almost as important as external wins. Employees comment on the direction we're taking and how we're using technology. They recognize the effort we're making to communicate," he says.

The dealership's next big project is to launch an online parts site. Currently, customers can find parts numbers online, but not complete a purchase. This new functionality is targeted at large landscapers.

"It will create a better avenue for landscapers to place orders and get repairs done quickly," he says.

Here's what co-owners John and Doug Howard have to say about communicating with customers:

"As a full-service dealer and small business, we have to understand our customers' needs. Their time is consumed with the operation of their own businesses and lives. We have to be innovative and create more efficient ways for us to communicate together. Communication via smartphones is becoming the preferred conduit for business. If we see an opportunity to make us all more efficient, we all win."