Automative Broadcasting Network was a 2016 Florida Companies to Watch Honoree I

From learning under his father, to being executive vice-president of a company with stewardship over 25 dealerships in Florida and owning his own dealership, it’s easy to see automotive retail is in the blood of Jerry Daniels.

“Early in my career back, when I was 23 years old, I was the general sales manager of the largest Pontiac dealership in the western United States and once a year Pontiac would invite all their dealers to the new car show,” Daniels said.

Daniels described being in an elaborate ballroom, where, on huge screens, Pontiac presents their latest marketing campaigns to their gazing audience. Around 1986, Pontiac’s campaign theme was “We Build Excitement,” which is exactly what they did.

“I remember walking out of that meeting thinking, man am I lucky to sell Pontiacs. They had done such a great job of  branding me and getting me emotionally engaged to the brand that it hit me,” Daniels said. “Wow,  if we could just get our customers as emotionally engaged in the brand as we are, what a huge opportunity that would be. That was kind of the gneisses of the ides for the Automotive Broadcasting Network.”

Fast forward a few years, with that excitement still in the back of his mind, Daniels was working as a dealer in northern California when he notices something that isn’t quite right.

“I’m walking by my service waiting area, it’s completely packed and they’re watching the dealer down the street advertising to them on the television that I provide,” he said. “That was kind of the second leg of the stool, if you will.”

Almost all the pieces were in places, except that the technology hadn’t caught up to Daniels’ ideas yet. “You couldn’t hang a television on the wall and the internet didn’t exist yet, so I stayed in automotive retail and finally when the technology caught up it still made perfect sense,” he said. “Everyone gets frustrated watching their customers watch Jerry Springer, the news, or competitor ads playing on the TVs’ they provide. They should not only get all the competing content out, they should really take the opportunity to talk to their customers while they’re in the dealership as well. So I decided to start the Automotive Broadcasting Network (ABN) and that was 12 years ago.”

ABN delivers targeted messaging to sales and service customers at franchised automobile dealerships in all 50-states, driving revenue across all departments while informing, educating and building dealership and brand loyalty.

Surviving the Crash

For many entrepreneurs across the country, the financial crisis of 2008 created the biggest challenges they’d ever face, if they were able to stay afloat. “Two out of the big three auto manufactures went bankrupt in 2008,” Daniels said.  “More auto dealers went out of business in that time than at any time during my lifetime.”

“It was probably one of the most challenging times in business in my entire life and it really forced us to make tough decisions. We had to do the best we could to weather the storm in a market that you’re not going to push with more advertising.”

Luckily, Daniels, his dedicated employees and his business were able to survive the crash that wiped out so many and come out even stronger.

“If dealers were able to weather the storm then they came out the other side much stronger. The biggest lesson was learning fiscal discipline, being aware of the market and having the courage to react to the market the way you need to preserve capital and as many people as you could.”

What Sets Them Apart

One reason Daniels’ believes ABN has been so successful is because he truly knows the industry inside and out. “I know how the sales people think and what motivates them, I know how the sales manager, people on the service side and the general manager thinks and what motivates all of them,” he said.

“I spent 30 years in an industry that was very good to me and worked virtually every position in the dealership,” he said. “I’m from silicon valley and I’ve always been kind of a techy. Combining my tech savvy with my automotive experience, it was pretty intuitive. So I think the products and services that we provide solve real challenges that dealers are facing every day that most people wouldn’t even know was a challenge because they just don’t have the industry experience.”

Dining with Daniels

If you were interviewing with Daniels for a position at his company, he’d tell you a few things that other presidents might not. “I would always tell them that we all had 10 fingers and 10 toes and none of us are getting out of this alive so let’s not take ourselves too seriously,” he laughed. “I’d also tell them that we spend more time here at the office than we do with our family so we really should look at it as a family.”

As the company grew, so did the number of employees and Daniels was no longer directly in charge of the hiring process. “I started to see the culture slip a little bit where people didn’t know why we were here, why we were founded, what were we trying to accomplish, what value we bring to our customers all these types of things,” he said. “Why we get up in the morning to do what we do.”

Daniels didn’t hesitate on bringing back the family feel of a small business to his growing company. He began with doing over a $1 million rebuild of their new office space, creating open collaborative areas for employees to work and a large, modern café area for them to enjoy.

“The other thing I did was set up “Dining with Daniels” where I grab two of our team members and we sit in my office, we have lunch brought it and we get to know each other on a personal basis,” he said. “During that time it also allows me to articulate why I started the company, what are we trying to achieve, what value we bring to our customers, and so on.”

In doing so, it was especially important for Daniels to let his employees know that although his title may be different, that doesn’t mean he’s any different than they are.

How Being an Honoree Impacted Business

“I had actually gotten involved with GrowFL years  prior to applying for Florida Companies to Watch. I was actually a part of a business group, with 10-20 CEO’s meeting together and that was kind of my first introduction to GrowFL,” Daniels said.

“I met so many good people that really cared about building businesses in the state of Florida and providing as much assistance as possible to entrepreneurs that I was really kind of blown away by the organization. As we started to see some real growth and saw the Florida Companies to Watch event, I thought you know what, with our growth we might just qualify so we applied and luckily we were one of the top 50.”

In 2016, ABN was on of Florida Companies to Watch honorees, honoring their tremendous growth and innovation. The award provided both validation and motivation to Daniels and his team. “It’s nice to have an outside organization particularly one as respected and tuned into business as GrowFL let you know that you’re doing well. It reminds you to stop and reflect on all that has been accomplished,”

Not only has ABN tripled their staff size since receiving this honor in 2016, but they have also been aggressively pursuing growth on multiple fronts.

First, ABN has  aligned with large automotive dealership groups and major automotive manufacturers to promote their services to franchised dealers. They were named one of three General Motors preferred vendors on the manufacturer’s In Dealership Digital Network Initiative where they captured more market share than the other two competitors increasing the company’s client portfolio.

Broadening the product portfolio has been another driver of expansion since being named a Company to Watch. They have done this through software/product development and acquisition. On the software side, ABN is excited to launch ABN Inspire! a reimagining of the traditional sales leaderboard that can be sold as a standalone product or as a complement to digital signage. Additionally, this product expands ABN’s reach in the retail automotive vertical beyond franchised new car dealerships as it is ideal for used car dealerships as well.

“We’ve expanded outside of just regular digital media platforms. I’ve purchased a company that manages IT services in automobile dealerships, so we’re expanding our product offerings,” he said. “At the same time, we’re looking at serving other verticals with the platform we designed in automotive. 2019 will be the first year that we begin marketing outside the automotive vertical and we’re excited about that.”

On the other hand, earning the award has caused an immediate increase in earned media, where ABN was able to use that attention to continue to build brand awareness and expand their company’s reach.

Daniels says ABN proudly displays the award on the front reception desk and its’ presence there provides an immediate cachet with any visiting clients, serves as a point of pride for team members and reminds them all that remains to be accomplished in the future.

When asked what advice he has for future entrepreneurs following in his footsteps, Daniels chuckled and said, “Where to begin?” 

“The first thing I would say is be passionate about your dream and believe in it so much that obstacles won’t stop you. The most highly successful people have stumbled more than a few times along the way. Adversity is just part of the process, if you handle it properly it will make you stronger,” he said.

“Next I would say to always learn. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, soak up every bit of knowledge where you can find it. If you ever find yourself thinking you got it or you know everything, you’re probably not too far away from a humbling experience. Finally, and this is more practical advice, cash is key and you’re going to need more than you think, find it before you need it to avoid any sleepless nights.”