Interview with Bob Lanham, SVP of OEM & Marketing at CarNow

April 30, 2024| Zach Klempf

In this episode of the Used Car Dealer Podcast, Zach Klempf interviews Bob Lanham, SVP of OEM & Marketing at CarNow. They discuss Bob's second time on the podcast and move to CarNow, the strategic deployment of CarNow's recent $40M funding from Runway Growth Capital, and CarNow's unique position in the digital retailing landscape. They also discuss misconceptions about digital car buying, the future of the auto sales, CarNow's innovative technology, and their use of AI to enhance customer and dealer experiences.

Zach: Hello, Zach here and we have a second-time guest, friend of the pod, Bob Lanham, who's on the executive team at CarNow. He's the OEM and marketing SVP. They recently raised a $40 million funding round from Runway Growth Capital and they plan to put that funding toward continuing market expansion and product development. So, Bob, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today. How are you doing?

Bob: Dude? I'm doing awesome. And, and before we begin, man, I just wanted to say thank you for stopping by the booth at NADA a few months ago. You know how crazy it gets. So the fact that you took time out of your, out of your day to come by and say hi. I just wanted to let you know, man, I really appreciate it. Shows your character.

Zach: Thanks, Bob, and loved your guys' booth as well. So last time you spoke with us, you were at Meta, also known as Facebook. Some dealers might know about that name change and now you're with CarNow. So for the audience, tell us why you chose CarNow and a little bit about their product offering for dealers.

Bob: Yeah, I get that. I, I, oh I, I used to get that. I've been almost at CarNow for two years and you left Meta for CarNow. You know, it was time, you know, Meta, Meta, Meta needed some new blood I needed, you know, a new challenge. It was just, it was a good time to do that. And I'll tell you, CarNow was one of our best partners. Anytime, one of our teams wanted to do anything in the communication space or the digital retailing space. I'm not lying when I tell you this, I would call Tim Cox, one of the founders of CarNow and I'd say, hey, one of our teams needs this, would you be willing to, to work on it or test it or try it? And without hesitation, they always said yes. So I only called AAA number of people when I was looking to make a change. And Tim Cox from CarNow was one of them. So many of us probably know, as you know, CarNow, chat or CarNow messaging. That's how the company was founded. Then it morphed into digital retailing, you know, one of the differentiators that we have is that we combine our communication platform and digital retailing for those that buy our real-time retail suite. And then like others, we do have our showroom offering which allows a consumer and more importantly, a dealer to connect that online experience that the consumer has, right, where they're pricing out a vehicle to in store. So when they show up, you start off at the payment that they left off online. Really cool. And I like the tie-in with communication and digital retail and the fact that CarNow is still standing because I know there are a lot of DR companies that, you know, pre-pandemic popped up. So, really interesting product.

Zach: And let me ask you this, you guys have now raised $40 million in funding from Runway. So what are some of the big initiatives your team's gonna tackle now?

Bob: Yeah, I wish I could tell you what all those initiatives were. But I can tell you we are looking at building whatever that might be acquiring, you know, whatever that might be, or partnering, right? And it could be a variation of any of those three. I will say we do have a few things in the works. Hopefully, we'll be able to announce that sooner rather than later. You know, but outside of product enhancements and, and continuing to focus on our, our, our core product which we will 100% invest in. do look for some, some, some new stuff coming out here, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Zach: Got it. And how about CarNow? So I talked a little earlier about how digital retail historically has kind of been a crowded space. Talk about how CarNow differentiates itself from other DR tools.

Bob: I know if you go to the CarNow website, you have a whole page dedicated to that. Listen, we fully understand we can't be the expert in and have the greatest tech in every piece of the car buying or car selling experience, right? Like it's, in my opinion, probably nearly impossible to do that. So we want to partner with the best in class technology partners or providers that provide those solutions and think of trade, right? Like we're not going to become a trade appraisal platform.

Zach: So we go out and we partner with the experts in the industry to ensure that we incorporate them or integrate them into our buying tool. You got credit and, and you've got accessories and all kinds of other offerings. So partnerships for us is really important.

Bob: You got F and I we've got solutions there. So partnerships are really important for us. We want to be that Conduit, right? Like we don't need to be the experts at everything. We don't need to own every single platform. We know dealers like to pick and choose who they work with. We want to be that Conduit that sits in the middle that brings everything in and sends everything out.

Zach: Nice. No, that model definitely resonates with dealers as well as partners. And what measures is CarNow taking to stay ahead in terms of technology and market trends from your vantage.

Bob: Love this question because I think we both would agree. What is the biggest buzz word or buzz letters of 2023 slash 24 as AI? Right. I'll tell you, I saw this Instagram reel the other day and I think it was actually to later last year and it was literally a person and then the caption said about to give my AI speech and walks up and says AI and then turns around and leaves, right? And then the caption is a standing ovation. So carefully, right? Like just because it sounds great or maybe looks great in some aspects, you know, everything we do, we need to do carefully and understand, right? It's cause and an effect. So we research very heavily the Artificial Intelligence space. We're being very methodical of how we're implementing it. You know, one thing, you know, a lot of people might not realize is our clients are retailers are dealers and we have to protect their interests first. So the last thing we're gonna do is put an unproven an untested an offering that potentially could go rogue or, or hallucinate or whatever they wanna call it in front of a consumer that represents their business. You might laugh at this, you might, you might not relate. You might not believe there's the the, the correlation. But I, I'm looking at AI very similar to the metaverse and I was there at meta when the, when we changed the name and we launched the headsets and people were gonna buy cars virtually through virtual dealerships, through virtual sales. You know, people today and businesses popped up and, and NFTs popped up in the whole world. I'm not here to say it's not gonna happen. It will probably happen at some point. But, you know, as it relates to advanced, you know, advanced technology, I think AI is probably the, the, the best example right now. we are actively testing internally. We've, we've got a couple of products that were potentially looking to roll out. But we, we're being really careful on how we do that because the last thing we wanna do is make our dealer partners slash clients liable for anything that that might happen. But any other technology that we're 100% researching everything that's out there. And kind of a side question with your product car.

Zach: Now, does it support, let's say a dealership had like bilingual sales associates and someone was, for instance, responding in Spanish. Does it support that?

Bob: It sure can. Yep. I can't remember how many languages we have off the top of the head. But, but, but a lot so if, if someone's going to want to communicate via a different language than English, they 100% can and, and the conversation will go back and forth with said language.

Zach: Wow. And finally, what are some of the exciting updates that are coming down the pipeline for CarNow and then a personal question for you? Like, what technology are you most excited about in 2024?

Bob: I wish I could tell you more about the tech we have coming down the line. Obviously, we just raised a significant amount of money. If you're willing to have me back when it's time to tell, we will, we will 100% have that conversation. Some of you might laugh at this when I tell you, what I'm really intrigued about and I'm probably going to purchase one here shortly, but I want to test out an EV, I want to go out and purchase an EV. I have a very good friend of mine. He, he's a dad on my son's soccer team. He actually works at a Lexus dealership. He's a, he's a GSM, he just purchased their electric vehicle. I can't remember which, which, which model it was. And it's funny because every game that I see him, I always make a joke like, oh, did you make it here? Did you, you know, run out of electricity the other day? It was raining. I was like, oh, be careful. Your car might, you know, electrocute you when you get into the car. Of course, I'm kidding. But every time I see him he's like, I love it. Like, I love it. I love it. Now, the one drawback is range. Right. So, you know, if, if we're going on a long road trip for us living in Detroit, going to Indiana for, for a weekend of soccer, he, he can't really take it yet. Right. Unless you wanna plan a couple more hours on the road trip, which, you know, he didn't want to do. But that technology, I know right now Hertz is getting rid of their whole fleet and, and, and residuals are terrible and, and, and values are terrible. Terrible. But the Lanham family will probably be testing out an EV here very shortly.

Zach: Nice. And any models in mind yet or still in that research phase?

Bob: Well, I have been exploring. Do I go out and buy one of those, cheap Teslas that are on the marketplace from Hertz? Right. They're unloading them. But this one might be for my wife and, she's, you know, we have older kids now so we don't need the minivans. We don't need the big Tahoes. You know, she just goes around town. We might look at the Mini Cooper EV and I'll tell you why. One, that's what she wants. She's always kind of wanted a Mini Cooper. Two, I was reading online that it has at the moment, the best lease in the marketplace.

Zach: Yeah, those lease deals on EVs are beyond strong right now. I know a lot of people have just taken advantage of that, like two-year or 18-month lease and getting a nice car at a pretty low payment.
Bob: I am going to email my good buddy who works for Volvo. However, because I do want to explore a Polestar. For those of you that didn't know, Volvo owns Polestar. I've test-driven it last year. Fantastic car. A little bit more expensive than the Mini Cooper. But, if he can help me out, you never know. I might be driving a Polestar.

Zach: Sounds awesome, Bob. And as always, we love having you on the podcast. We'd love to have you on again as well. Thanks so much for being generous with your time.

Bob: Appreciate it, buddy, anytime.

Tags: used car dealers automotive industry auto industry bob lanham auto industry trends used car market independent dealership carnow

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