Keeping the wheels turning

Douglas Waikem recalls a saying his father liked to repeat when Waikem was growing up: “A business is like a tree; if it quits growing, it will die.”

The words must have stuck, because the Volvo dealership the young Waikem bought in 1975 has been transformed into a group of 15 dealerships and the busiest Internet-based auto retailer in the country.

Waikem isn’t stopping there. Since 1996, he’s added a new brand to his portfolio at a rate of almost one a year. He owns the only Kia, Nissan, Daewoo, Honda, Subaru, Hyundai and Audi dealerships in town, not to mention the other eight names he carries.

Waikem Motors employs 223 people and will sell about $140 million in cars this year, predicts Waikem. In 2000, the auto group’s sales exceeded $100 million; $20 million of that came from online purchases, a record-breaking figure for the auto industry.

In fact, Waikem’s Web site ( brought in more business last year than any other single dealer site in the country. So, how did a Canton auto dealer figure out the secret to Internet-based auto sales before almost everyone else?

“I realized that we had to develop a different selling system than what we used in the showroom,” he says.

Waikem says it’s all about understanding why people shop online. Clearly, he says, there’s something they’re avoiding at the dealership. Perhaps it’s the same high-pressure sales pitch people avoid when they try to get price quotes over the phone. The problem with calling, though, is that dealers won’t give prices over the phone because they don’t want customers to shop around.

Enter the Internet. Waikem says customers can get all the information they need about the car they’re interested in — including the price and financing options — through the Waikem site. He keeps people from shopping around by offering what he calls “an irresistible package” the first time out.

“Our cost per vehicle sold is down compared to our competition, because of our size,” he says.

Along with offering Web customer the lowest price right off the bat, Waikem representatives shop financial institutions nationwide to offer customers the best financing available.

This irresistible package idea clearly has put a stop to some of the shopping around, because Waikem claims he sells 100 cars a month through the Web site.

He shares his Web strategy with dealers across the country through a training program he co-founded called I-Net Training Technologies, which he set up after the Wall Street Journal ran a story on his success. The story attracted so much attention, he says dealers were calling him every week asking to visit his business.

“When that got to be a little annoying, we decided to train them and charge them for it,” he says.

So what’s next for Waikem? To continue growing his auto group so that he can one day pass the torch onto the next generation. How to reach: Waikem Motors, (330) 478-0281 or

Connie Swenson