Eric Keller does not exactly fit the bill of a social media influencer. His business, Enthusiast Auto Group (EAG), is a brick-and-mortar store known among BMW enthusiasts for having some of the best M cars on the market at any given time. It thrives on repeat customers and has a full-service shop. Yet an ever-increasing amount of his revenue comes not through the front door or the service bays but via the internet.
“The clear majority of our new business is coming through YouTube or Instagram, and that’s definitely a 2020 thing,” Keller said.
Insider has reported on the growth of online sales via digital-native platforms like Bring a Trailer, and the transition of traditional auction business—most notably this year’s Monterey sales—from in-person to virtual.
Keller’s Enthusiast Auto Group is a prime example of how individual private dealers are likewise adapting to the times.
Late last year, EAG, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, started to sell more of its inventory via YouTube presentations of specific cars. Since May 2020, the leads and sales generated by YouTube have become an increasingly important part of the business, and Enthusiast Auto Group has consistently had near-record months. “Overall, business has been fantastic. We have more cars than we’ve ever had, and more are being offered to us,” Keller said.
Eric founded EAG more than 20 years ago with his brother Evan. They focus on rarer, driver-focused BMWs from the automaker’s analog era, the 1970s to the early 2000s. EAG typically deals in the best-kept specimens of a given model. (One extreme example: A one-owner, 1272-mile M Coupe owned by a man so OCD that he rescheduled service appointments if it was raining.)
EAG’s curated inventory, along with its habit of fixing known issues before selling cars—“So we don’t have to deal with them when we buy the car back”—has earned it strong following, including many repeat customers. But Keller says it was historically hard to communicate that difference to a broader audience.
“If we just throw a car up on AutoTrader it looks like just another M3 out there for sale,” he said.
Keller started EAG’s YouTube channel two years ago, and while he posted occasional videos that resulted in occasional leads, he didn’t give the channel serious attention until late 2019. Of course, the events of spring 2020 would give him more time to devote there. Many in-person businesses were, understandably, wondering how they would survive the pandemic, but Keller saw opportunity.
“I thought, ‘Shoot, everybody is at home. What are they doing? Twiddling their thumbs?’” Videos with more focus and frequency followed, bringing a closer and more detailed look at EAG’s cars to car enthusiasts who, suddenly, had lots of time on their hands. Keller typically walks around a car has not yet been posted to the dealership’s website or Instagram feed, giving a sort of virtual tour with a rundown of everything he knows about it, from the mileage and maintenance history down to who the previous owners were and what they were like. He also goes over the car’s flaws and what EAG’s shop will fix prior to sale, and often spends a few minutes behind the wheel.
“I thought, ‘Shoot, everybody is at home. What are they doing? Twiddling their thumbs?’”Eric Keller, Enthusiast Auto Group
These videos, which tend to net a few thousand views each, are in no danger of toppling Top Gear. But Keller notes he’s not trying to make money from advertisements or subscribers—he’s selling cars. And for that, the videos are certainly helping. “About every third video I put up featuring a specific car gets that car sold within three days.”
It’s hard to quantify how many collector cars sell through social media these days. Insider tracks online sales on several platforms, but our data doesn’t tell us if someone called a dealer after seeing a picture of a car they wanted on Facebook. That said, we hear it’s increasingly common.
Like it or not, the internet has assumed a much bigger role in how we buy, sell, and shop for collector cars. That trend has been in effect for a long time—at least since eBay motors launched in 2000—and the COVID-19 pandemic supercharged it. Even when personal inspections, test drives, and handshakes become safe again, it’s safe to say that pixels, videos, and direct messages will continue to loom ever larger in the process of buying a collector car.
It may not show through the streams of data that inform many stories on Insider, and it may not make the headlines like a record-breaking price on Bring a Trailer, but the established brick-and-mortar businesses that make up so much of the classic car industry can survive and even thrive in this challenging time.