NORTH ANDOVER, MASS. – In Car Experts (ICE), purchased in February by the Mobile Electronics Retailers Association, expects this year to expand its membership base of 12-volt specialists and expand its selection of TV ads available to members.
The group’s plans also include a new national- and dealer-website design, which launches in the second quarter.
The marketing and buying group counts 165 dealers with 205 locations as members, up by 10 members since January. The group expects to grow it member count by an additional 75 this year, said MERA president Chris Cook, who also manages ICE.
Working as a multimillion-dollar collective, In Car Experts uses members’ combined buying power to achieve economies of scale in providing national marketing tools such as web design, TV commercials, video content for display on in-store TVs, POS software and live chat for consumers accessing member websites. ICE also leverages members’ buying power to obtain enhanced vendors programs for members.
Vendor members consist of Aamp of America, Avidworx, Car Connection, Code Alarm, HD Radio, Hybrid Audio Technologies, Intoxalock, iSimple, Jensen, Kenwood, Kicker, Pac Audio, Phoenix Gold, Pioneer, iriusXM, SoundGate, Sound Quest, Stinger Electronics, Voxx Electronics and Warrentech.
As a result of MERA’s acquisition of In Car Experts, all In Car Experts members have begun receiving the full benefits of being a member of MERA, which focuses on dealer education to improve business performance and on offering discounts for business services to its 1,125 dealer members.
For instance, MERA offers a shipping program to help dealers save on inbound, outbound, small and large shipments. MERA also offers professional marketing campaigns through Revenew, including three professionally written newsletters to send out to their email lists through the Revenew system.
Other MERA benefits include member pricing on business, health and life insurance, and a consumer finance program through GE Money’s CarCareOne.
MERA’s premier educational resource is the annual KnowledgeFest trade show and educational event.
Besides retailers, MERA members include manufacturers, distributors, manufacturer’s representatives and other companies related to the mobile electronics industry.
Not all MERA retail members, however, qualify to become InCar Experts members because they might not meet the minimum annual volume requirements of $500,000.
The goal of InCar Experts is to provide member retailers “with the missing retail components to level the playing field with big-box retailers and Internet merchants, the group said.
Those components include a consumer-facing website that provides a national dealer locator, live chat for consumer questions, lead generation for members and multimedia content.
InCar Experts also provides dealer members with a website that it hosts, manages and maintains. The group is currently managing the sites of almost 100 dealers. The dealer websites can be updated centrally and locally via a simple web interface. A new national and local website design is due in the second quarter.
The group’s website, InCarExperts.com, receives thousands of new visitors each month but is not sending DIYers, low-price shoppers and Internet buyers to members, the group said. The site “attracts customers who specifically indicate that quality installation, buying authorized, and touching before buying is what is important to them,” the group explained.
Dealers that don’t have their own website can benefit from the group’s central site because customers are directed to members via phone, email, map and direct chat, not just with a website link.
For members, ICE also supplies a smartphone app that allows direct upload of pictures from a phone to member websites.
The group also offers members three commercials for local advertising and is creating four new lifestyle advertisements, due this year to promote connectedcar integration, safety, security and radar detectors.
ICE-TV, a component that plugs into a member’s video display, is loaded with videos to educate consumers about what is available for their car. New videos are pushed to ICE-TV from a Cloud server and “requires zero effort from the retailer,” said Cook.
The group also provides industry- and location-specific search-engine-optimization resources “built to fit our industry and the local market to gain high-quality and quantity website traffic,” Cook said.
Other services include POS software, vehicle-fit and vehicle-specific wiring information, customer care packages, employee recruitment services, Staples facility solutions, credit-card services, and a mobile audio companion app for use as an installation and selling tool, Cook continued.
In 2014, the group sees the greatest growth opportunities coming from the safety category, which includes backup cameras and sensors, lane-departure warning systems, and all-around camera technologies; smartphone-related integration technologies; and nontraditional categories such as window tint and leather, Cook said.