With Blinker, a customer could theoretically sell his or her car in a matter of about 10 minutes. The seller simply uses a smartphone to snap a photo of the car he or she is looking to let go, and the app guides the seller through readying the vehicle for sale.
Then, interested buyers can connect with the seller through the app to set up a test drive, make an offer, find financing and even buy a service contract — all through the app.
“With just one photo, we return year, make, model, equipment, value, and miles in less than three seconds,” the Denver-based company’s website boasts.
‘Safer Than Craigslist’
Rod Buscher, a longtime automotive executive, founded Blinker in 2013 and rolled out the startup's ecommerce app in 2016. Nearly five years later, the company of 70 employees is operational in Colorado, Texas, Florida, and California, which he says captures roughly 28% of all used cars in the U.S. market. The plan is to roll the app out nationwide by year’s end, Buscher says.
Blinker was lauded as “a better way for buyers and sellers to strike deals on their own” by Forbes and was named a winner at the 2017 SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards.
On Blinker’s website, shoppers will come across phrases like, “We cut out the middleman to save you thousands.” Dealers can presumably guess which “middleman” the company is referring to.
To the uninitiated, Blinker might understandably appear to pose competition to dealerships. But according to Buscher, the founding president of John Elway dealerships in Denver, that’s not the case at all.
“We wanted to make something that is safer than Craigslist,” he says. “About 25% of cars are sold through private parties every year. We’re not taking away business from car dealerships. We’re only serving the people who were already selling privately.”
Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Trucks.com and a longtime automotive veteran who is not affiliated with Blinker, says the app could be onto something. He’s convinced dealers aren’t the ones who need to view Blinker as a direct threat to their business.
“I’d say Craigslist and eBay and private sellers are the ones who need to be worried,” Anwyl says.
Overall, Anwyl says the company appears to be innovative and Buscher’s background in the dealer community adds credibility to the startup.
Blinker does have some risks, Anwyl says. By taking on consumer financing, it could be opening itself up to liabilities. It will also have to find effective ways to get in front of more customers.
“Paid marketing is great, but organic word of mouth is better,” Anwyl says. “It just has to have that thing that sets it apart in a crowded market so people want to tell others about it.”
Calling All Dealers, OEMs
Buscher acknowledges the startup has a ways to go in spreading the word about Blinker, but the app had surpassed the 200,000-download mark in mid-January when he spoke to F&I and Showroom.
“We continue to grow and get adoption every day,” Buscher says.
Aside from private-party sellers, another group Blinker has been exposed to are OEMs. Although nothing is yet official, Buscher says conversations have begun about ways manufacturers and dealers could take advantage of Blinker’s technology, which has so far been granted 17 patents.
The technology — which is supposedly as easy as taking a picture of a vehicle to instantly capture information about a car — could extend to dealers down the line.
“Dealers could easily communicate with customers using Blinker,” Buscher says. In this scenario, which has yet to be rolled out, he explains, “If someone is driving along and sees a 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser, let’s say, they like, they can take a picture and immediately, with our technology, we could show them dealerships with Toyota Land Cruisers on their lots.”
Buscher continues, “They could communicate with the dealer and get pre-approved for financing and sign documents in the Blinker app. ... With a picture, we can show inventory on dealer lots and show cars listed privately.”
Today, Blinker makes money on financing and service contracts. About 80% of Blinker buyers have financed through the company, according to Buscher. Plus, a “significant” portion of Blinker’s business comes from refinancing.
Pick Your Partners
In February, the startup announced it has teamed with Ally to offer its F&I protections to users of its mobile app, including Ally GAP and Ally Premiere Protection. The company also has a relationship with CoverHound, an online insurance comparison agency that will allow Blinker users to secure car insurance.
If Blinker did connect with car dealerships, Buscher views the app’s services as an asset for dealers.
“We’d be supporting dealers,” he says. “We think there’s a huge opportunity to have a much better experience between the customers and the dealer. The biggest complaints are about how much time it takes to complete a transaction, so we can reduce that time and dealers still maintain their F&I income while customers have a much better experience.”
With these examples of dealer partnerships at the ready, it’s hard to believe Buscher and the Blinker team didn’t anticipate this being part of their business model from the start. In fact, he reveals, they did.
“We did have it in mind, but it wasn’t a focus,” Buscher says. “We just wanted to make a safer, more secure transaction for private-party sellers.”
In the meantime, Buscher wants people to understand that Blinker isn’t “anti-dealer.”
“We are trying to provide dealer-like services to individuals. But with our technology, it doesn’t matter if it’s consumer to consumer or dealer to consumer,” Buscher says.
The focus for Blinker now is to obtain lending and insurance licensing in all 50 states to achieve its goal of being fully operational nationwide by year’s end.
Buscher’s job in a “totally virtual company” is much different than his previous dealer days, but he says, “Work is exciting every day. It’s been very rewarding how well Blinker has been received.”
Stephanie Forshee is the former senior editor of F&I and Showroom and Auto Dealer Today. Email her at [email protected].