Brent Snavely| Detroit Free Press
Christian Fuller grew up in Grand Haven poring over car magazines and working at Gage Chrysler during breaks from Michigan State University.
“It really taught me how to deal with customers,” Fuller said of his experience as a service adviser at Gage.
After college, Fuller moved to San Diego to get a business degree and kick-start a career in marketing.
Fuller, 39, is back in Michigan tapping into his passion for cars as he oversees an Internet marketing firm’s ambitious plan to expand its Ferndale office from about 50 to 120 employees over the next 18 months.
“It’s like a dream come true. I’ve always been a car guy,” said Fuller, executive vice president of Search Optics. “I love San Diego. It’s a really great city …. but Michigan is really my home.”
Search Optics helps automotive dealerships improve their Internet presence and generate and track sales leads with online marketing campaigns.
The company’s goal is to grow from a total of about 90 employees in Ferndale and its headquarters in San Diego to about 200. Right now, the company is working to fill about 30 positions.
In mid-August, Fuller and Search Optics CEO David Ponn were working out of a conference room at the company’s two-story, 16,000-square-foot office in Ferndale as construction crews renovated the building.
Workers were installing a new roof and heating and cooling systems. Renovations also include new phone and computer systems. All told, Search Optics expects to spend about $5 million on the building and the renovations.
In August, about a dozen red plastic drinking cups sat upside down on the first floor of the office building, marking spots for new work stations.
The jobs to be filled include Web developers, designers, marketing experts and customer service personnel.
Search Optics has hired some employees from auto dealerships, advertising agencies and others from colleges. About half of the company’s Ferndale employees came from Michigan.
“We are not in an industry that has been around for decades where there is a base of people out there that you can go hire,” Ponn said. “So we look for people who have basic drives that line up with what we want to do.”
Founded in 1998, Search Optics got into the digital marketing business in the early days of the Internet.
Search Optics has about 1,000 auto dealers or dealer group clients, but has a higher market share on the West Coast than in other parts of the country.
Search Optics decided to establish a location in Ferndale to be close to General Motors, Ford and Chrysler and their advertising agencies and to expand its dealership client base in the Midwest.
“Typically, our dealers fall within major competitive markets,” Fuller said. “Where we really succeed is with the guys who want to own the market. Not the guys who want to sit back and wait for things to happen.”
These days, all auto dealers have websites and most try to raise their profile through online marketing on social-media sites and elsewhere. But effective Internet marketing can be challenging because technology changes rapidly, affecting the way people shop online.
Search Optics develops programs to make sure the marketing programs work and can track leads to monitor purchasing rates. The company also works to keep itself and its clients ahead of the changing demands of Internet marketing.
“You constantly need to take into account that Google changed something in its search algorithms, or that technology has changed,” Ponn said. “A marketing campaign that worked a year ago, compared to a campaign today? They are campaigns. That is all they have in common.”
More Details: Search Optics
What it does: An interactive marketing firm that helps automotive dealerships improve their Internet presence, manages online marketing campaigns, generates and tracks sales leads
Top executives: David Ponn, CEO; Troy Smith, president; Christian Fuller, executive vice president; Jason Stesney, executive vice president
Locations and employees: Ferndale, 50; San Diego, 40
Hiring outlook: 30 now, 100 over next 18 months
Website: www .searchoptics .com