WILTON, Conn. – Wilton Auto Park owner Peter Canale knows all about on-site sales for automobiles. What has surprised him since the dealer opened in September is the continued rapid shift to online sales.
“It certainly has changed over the past 10 or 15 years,’’ said Canale, whose previous shop was in his hometown of Ridgefield. “Twenty years ago, you advertised locally and sold to whoever drives by. Now it has changed dramatically. You’re reaching a tremendous amount of people that you didn’t reach before.”
Canale opened Wilton Auto Park in September at 380 Danbury Road, across the street from Wilton High School. The building was the former home to a sales and service dealer for outdoor lawn and garden equipment. Canale started the new business at the former Georgetown Jeep a few miles to the north while the new location was renovated.
Sales adviser Chris Depping said the online presence has helped lead to more foot traffic. He estimated nearly half of all shoppers come through research on the Internet. “People don’t drive around and look any more,’’ Depping said. “They sit on the computer and look for deals. We get people from all over the tri-state area. We’ve had people drive up from Staten Island to check out a deal.”
Managing an effective online presence is a new skill for car dealers, but Canale realizes it’s part of the business. “If you’re not on there, you’ll be way behind,’’ said Canale, whose business recently launched a Facebook page. “As each month goes by, it gets better and better.”
Wilton Auto Park’s advantage is affordability. Its selection of cars costing less than $10,000 is one of the most expansive in the area. That’s particularly crucial for first-time drivers looking for new wheels. “There really isn’t any place to shop for that,’’ Canale said. “That’s a big part of our business.”
Another advantage is that his business is several miles from competitors and is located on a high-traffic thoroughfare. “People like to shop locally,’’ he said. “They don’t like to go out of town if they don’t have to.”
The new business provides a range of automotive services. Shoppers can read car history reports, sell used vehicles and get cars serviced. Wilton Auto Park is open Mondays through Saturdays as well as Sundays by appointment. Cars at Wilton Auto Park are also advertised on Craigslist.
“Over the winter it’s generally slower,’’ Depping said. “We’re starting to notice that in the last month sales have picked up. We’re getting exposure to a lot of people driving on Route 7.”
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