Bill Cariss on the Advantages of the Connected Car for the Dealer

May 22, 2023
Bill Cariss is the President and CEO of Holman Growth Ventures.
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Key Takeaways:

  1. Bill Cariss shares his background in the automotive industry, starting with his experience in fleet business and eventually running the retail group at Holman for 18 years.
  2. The ventures group at Holman aims to ensure the company's long-term relevance by identifying and filling gaps in the industry.
  3. They focus on leveraging technology, such as the connected car and IoT, to create workflows and enhance operations at dealerships.
  4. The use of data and analytics helps provide insights into vehicle location and optimize processes like reconditioning and service loaners.
  5. The goal is to surprise and delight customers by addressing pain points and delivering exceptional experiences.
  6. Stitching together different technology platforms and utilizing data intelligently is crucial for providing a personalized and modern retailing experience.
  7. The ventures group is invested in companies like Orby that specialize in data middleware to better relate to customers and meet them where they are.

During Automotive Retail USA 2023 in Las Vegas, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier interviewed dealers, OEM representatives, industry partners and more, looking to make the most innovative voices in retail automotive louder.

This is Amplify, the retail automotive podcast by Reuters Events and ASOTU.

Paul Daly: 0:01We're here with Bill Cariss president, CEO of Holman Growth Ventures.

Unknown: 0:05

This is amplified, a retail automotive podcast brought to you by Reuters events and ASOTU. It's time to make the most innovative voices in retail automotive. Louder.

Paul Daly: 0:22

All right, I love it when we have a guest that I just met. It's one of my favorite things that is going to be fun. Welcome to podcast. Thanks for giving us some time. Thank you. Since I don't know the answer to this, I'm going to ask the question and say, give us a little bit of your background in the industry. Give us the 60 second overview.

Bill Cariss: 0:40

Sure. The long elevator Yeah, yes, yeah. So started off in the business in our fleet business was called ARI started off in the Philly area, and then I city in the world just kind of put it out in the world, we come in second a whole lot, we're going to win one sooner or later here. I know. So we started there for about a year and a half. And then I was asked to go out to the West Coast to Southern California and Seattle business development in fleet management. So that was my other kind of cut my teeth in the business. And then after that, I was asked to come back to New Jersey. And from there, I ended up running our retail group for the better part of 18 years, one of the joys of my life been able to hang out with the Holman family about 50% of my working hours and learned a lot about how to go from selling 1000 vehicles fleet to one at a time, which is a joy. And then from there, we started a ventures group, I had no idea what that was going to be that was seven years ago. And here we are today.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:35

Alright, so as because a ventures group is something that like you just don't hear that as like a title of a company, but explain maybe what the ventures group means to the Holman organization and how that operates within the larger ecosystem.

Bill Cariss: 1:51

Yeah, great question. So when my boss and good friend Carl Ortell first told me this seven, eight years ago, he said, Hey, Bill, I want you to do this. He said, I have no idea what it's going to be called. I'm not sure exactly what you're going to do clean sheet of paper. But here's what we want you to do your goal. And your mandate is to make sure that this company remains relevant for generations to come. And I said, Okay, wow. Yeah, that's how do we do that?

Paul Daly: 2:14

No light when he say that to me?

Bill Cariss: 2:18

Exactly. He said, Tell me what your title wants to be Tell me. I'm gonna give you a bunch of number one draft picks from the company. Let's let's let's figure this thing out. And that's really how it all started with Carl's vision. And then I started running with it, I have to tell you, huge props go out to our friends at Cox automotive, they had a group ventures group there that we learned a lot from them. I mean, we were like their little brothers for the first year. And so they learned a lot from them. And we came up with a mantra in our shop, we said we wanted to know what the smartest minds were thinking and where the smartest money was investing. And so we just started following all that and saying, Where should we go. And out of that, we ended up building a couple of platforms, we partnered with a couple platforms, our friends at Cox, we partnered with a platform called Flex drive, which was a subscription business, it went a little different than the way we thought it was going to go. They always the pivot, the pivot was there. But we went from, we were gonna connect millions of consumers and we ended up connecting 10s of 1000s or subscribing 10s of 1000s of fleet vehicles sold the business to lyft and they're still using it today to onboard drivers. So pretty cool, pretty cool outcome for that one unexpected, but cool.

Kyle Mountsier: 3:27

That's why like, it's just automotive never ceases to amaze me. I'm like you did what? For where, and it's what now you know that now we're doing another thing that we're just doing another thing. So all of that in an effort to and I love that the heart of it is we want to make sure that our business is viable long into the future. And that means as we were talking about just before the we started recording, is that it's kind of this where do we fill gaps, right? Where are the gaps in just selling and servicing, like the main business outcomes of what we do as a as an automotive dealer group. So those are the main so what gaps are you currently filling or looking to fill to create efficiency and streamline that?

Bill Cariss: 4:15

Yeah, great question. So one of the things we really love is the connected car. And you know, some people call it IoT, we'd like to say IoT, because it's not just telematics, but especially when 5g comes around the IoT connected car platform. So we actually took what we did in fleet, we have about a half a million connected cars in fleet for some of our major clients there. We said, what if we were to build workflows for our dealerships, so not only Where is my car, but why is my car in that geofence for 10 hours? wash bay for two days in the reconditioning bays when it should only be there for one day. So we, we took this you know, as we like to say the fancy word like the juxtaposition of time Okay, and space where the vehicle is, and why is it there? And then all of a sudden it is prints out to our used car manager. Your car has been in reconditioning for three days. It's only supposed to be there for two. Wow, the truth. Yes. And then on the customer side, oh my goodness, there's so many really cool things we were able to do there. So thanks service loaners. The cars are connected. BMW, for instance, if a car goes over 5000 miles as a service loaner, we lose all our incentives, that's 1000s of dollars. So we would put customers out not knowing when they're going to come back. Now what we know is that your car is 100 miles from my shop and or my dealership and I need to get it back. So I'll call you and say, Hey, you're in a three series. I'm going to bring a five series now. I'm doing it to save the dealer.

Paul Daly: 5:43

You actually do it in a way that seems like you're doing them a favor, because you have the information that's all connected. It's your lucky day. And I'm about to say five grand, right?

Bill Cariss: 5:54

Somebody's lucky though.

Kyle Mountsier: 5:56

That's no, because, well, and I love that you saw it as an opportunity. Like, wait. Okay, now we can take a pain point that could become a pain point of, Hey, bring your car back in and we can actually turn it into surprise and delight. Oh, it's so good.

Bill Cariss: 6:13

That's exactly the words. I love that surprised. You love that. Yeah, it's more than just customer satisfaction. It's surprising it delight it is you don't get to do that too often, but when you do, it's super cool.

Paul Daly: 6:21

I mean, I think the companies that do it the most are the ones that win the biggest win legendary hospitality companies. Right. It's just an effort and surprise and delight Kyle and I reading a book called unreasonable hospitality by Will Guidara book started well, we're going to try to have a little guitar at a soda con. So you have to come see me there. Okay, I'll be there. Okay, so, and we're just

Kyle Mountsier: 6:43

gonna be here for everybody else is coming to the podcast sambil we're gonna hang out.

Paul Daly: 6:49

And so he says, like, luxury is about how much money you spend. Right? But thoughtfulness is an art. Not what a What did he say? A luxury is about how much it costs. But legendary is about how thoughtful it was. Yes, I haven't gotten to that part in the book. But I can't wait. Because toward the end, he has this whole automotive example thing. He goes into that I love this. We have little book club going on.

Bill Cariss: 7:12

fourth person in the last two months have said you have to read this books. And one of my good friends bought it for me to said read. It's

Paul Daly: 7:18

a really good friend.

Kyle Mountsier: 7:19

That's a great friend. Yeah. So what are like, when when you think about the things in our industry right now that we need to be solving for, for our consumers? What are some of those things that you're like, hey, this isn't out there? It's not being sought for? Maybe it's not even on on the radar of anywhere? What are those things that that as as a venture? Like I always think about venture people? It's like, we're always just looking over their horizon hoping someone else is looking there with us. Right? What do you what are you hoping someone else is looking over there with you?

Bill Cariss: 7:53

Yeah. So I would say there are some real challenges in retail. And, you know, we don't have to go through what people think, you know, would they rather get a tooth pulled or, you know, go to a car dealer, all those things that have been around forever? I here's my theory on all that is that because we're such a fragmented industry? I mean, what is Lithia, maybe 2% of the total new vehicle, so. So every dealer wants something different. And so when you look at what's available to us, there's some really good technology partners, but stitching it all together, you know, we're talking about data. So not only do it's not a matter of who owns the data, but how do we use that data to deliver a retailing experience, both online and physical? Where the customer just goes, Oh, my goodness, where has that been? That's what I want. And it's all the little things that happened in the background. It's knowing that you were looking online at a vehicle, you know, and dropping cookies and hashtags on people and knowing that was you that we're looking at a new car to use car and now I can interact with you in a way that I serve up what you want. I read your mind. I mean, let's let's face it, all the modern marketplaces, Amazon, you go on there, it's like, oh, just reads my mind. So easy. We don't have the tools to do that. And I would say, that's not this tangible piece to say, well, it should be subscription people want subscript? No, it's how do you meet that customer where they are at that point? So for us, that whole data, middleware piece, we believe is huge. We've invested in one company company called Orby, who's really attacking that in a big way. So how do I know how to more intelligently in a more modern way relate to my customer? That's just one piece that's not like super sexy, like, Oh, we've got this no, 10 bill, gee whiz. It's just the cost. Yeah, but

Kyle Mountsier: 9:44

here's what happens on the end of a really good experience like that, whether it be digital or physical, is the customer comes away with a feeling. They don't see all of the like tech and connections and API's and data Centricity and all that don't care if they did, they wouldn't care. But what they get to they get to the end and they go, Oh, that was nice, right? They just breathe out. And it's like, that felt good. Yep. My buddy Kevin, you know, Kevin, he's always like, he'll show me something new that he's developing. And it's like, he's like, this is gonna feel so good, you know, to click that and to do that, and it's like, I love that if people could just go like, this is gonna feel so good. On the other end of whatever we're working on as an industry. Like, if that's the the output that our customers get, we're gonna be in a great place.

Bill Cariss: 10:32

And the good thing is, we have room to improve. So it's not like we're at this, you know,

Paul Daly: 10:36

there's the winning mentality right there.

Bill Cariss: 10:38

So let's go we can do that. So yeah, I think that's going to be a big one. It just and I love what you said about how to customers want to feel it was easy. i One of the things I always want to make sure is customers feel special, like you're special. And because we did this for you, not knowing that was really easy. So we have to create, come back to original question for ventures. We need to use technology to create ways to interact with our customers. They're just special that people go oh, my goodness, that was amazing. Let's do that again.

Kyle Mountsier: 11:09

I couldn't close that any better, myself some special surprise and delight. Bill, thank you so much for joining

Bill Cariss: 11:16

us. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Unknown: 11:20

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