In case you never heard of the EchoPark chain of used-car stores — you probably will.
Sonic Automotive Inc. is hiring advertising agency VaynerMedia to handle all aspects of nationwide marketing and advertising for Sonic’s EchoPark Automotive chain of used-car-only stores.
That’s a significant milestone towards making EchoPark a truly national brand. Up to now, Sonic’s EchoPark locations were too few, and too scattered, to make coast-to-coast marketing and advertising worthwhile.
“We always knew we wanted to create a national brand. We feel like now is the time,” said David Smith, Sonic chairman and CEO, in a phone interview. “Before, we had a lot more targeted advertising, and we couldn’t afford national advertising,” for the EchoPark brand.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, New York, said in a separate phone interview that having a single agency responsible for creative, strategic, analytical, social, and media services would eliminate a lot of “finger-pointing” which happens elsewhere in the ad industry, where creative and media are often divided between different agencies.
The deal between Sonic and VaynerMedia follows a competitive review. Neither Smith nor Vaynerchuk would discuss the details, but the agreement includes performance-based incentives.
Vaynerchuk said only that in general terms, the client’s sales are the most relevant measure of an agency’s success. “We’ll be judged by business results — sales,” he said. “And we think the greatest sales machine is brand.”
In terms of brand awareness, the EchoPark brand hasn’t been promoted much, outside of the markets where the used-car stores are already in business. Sonic, based in Charlotte, N.C., had a total of 50 EchoPark dealerships in 20 states, as of the end of the second quarter.
By 2025, it expects to have 140-plus. That would take EchoPark’s marketing and advertising “footprint” to 90% of the U.S. population withing shopping distance by 2025, up from an estimated 50% by the end of 2022, the company says.
By comparison, Sonic has 141 new-vehicle franchises in 18 states as of June 30, plus 17 collision-repair centers.
The bigger context is, coast-to-coast branding for dealerships is something relatively new. Big used-car chains like Carvana and CarMax have shown the way.
But truly national branding is The Next Big Thing for franchised, new-car dealers like Sonic and its competitors. Online selling and used cars are important ingredients for how they’re going to get there.
Automakers such as Ford, General Motors and toyota.com/” target=”_blank” class=”color-link” title=”https://www.toyota.com/” rel=”nofollow noopener”>Toyota put limits on how many dealerships the same owners can own. But there are no such limits on used-car dealerships.
Sonic has the EchoPark brand. Other examples of new-car chains with standalone used-car stores include Penske Automotive Group, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., with the CarShop brand. AutoNation Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has AutoNation USA used-vehicle stores.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Sonic, or its competitors. The COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing shortage of computer chips has created a shortage of new vehicles for sale, and a corresponding rise in new-vehicle prices. That’s been echoed by a sharp rise in used-vehicle prices, too, since fewer people are trading in their used cars for new.
The rise in used-vehicle prices hits dealers, too, since after all they have to purchase used cars before they can sell them. And price is a big part of EchoPark’s selling proposition. In order to be able to offer more-affordable used vehicles, EchoPark has had to offer older, higher-mileage cars and trucks, instead of sticking strictly to its intended target of one- to four-year-old vehicles.
In July 2021, Sonic announced a review process to “evaluate potential strategic alternatives” for its EchoPark business, but last month, the company announced it was ending the review and sticking with aggressive plans to grow EchoPark.