Watch a video for e-commerce firm Blinker and you may recognize the streets in the back. As vehicles seemingly transform into piles of money with the push of a button on a cell phone, the magic appears to happen in the driveways of Sarasota homes. The advertising material, developed by Florida-based Digital Brew and a team of filmmakers connected to Ringling College of Art and Design, ended up being shot on the Gulf Coast because Blinker launched with the help of Sarasota investors. And it’s just one way the Sarasota marketplace today showcases a shift in how people buy and sell vehicles.

Mere weeks after Colorado-based Blinker started hiring local video production outfits to produce its national ad campaigns, this region learned Carvana, a company billing itself as the Amazon of auto transactions, would enter the Southwest Florida market. Both web-centric businesses hope to redefine
how to shop for a new set of wheels. 

Ryan Keeton, co-founder and chief brand officer for Carvana, says Southwest Florida (Sarasota to Naples) is the fifth Florida market the company has entered, after Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa. That also makes this the first mid-sized market in the state. “We also own the logistics to connect markets and distribution centers,” Keeton says. Rather than walking buyers around a lot of cars, Carvana directs them to an online inventory of more than 8,000 vehicles. The website allows potential buyers to inspect vehicles using a patented 360-degree viewing technology.

The business works by keeping large distribution centers around the country, including in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas and Phoenix.Blinker, meanwhile, seeks to redefine the used car business model. Using a smartphone application with its own patented vision tech, Blinker assists private parties in buying, selling and financing or refinancing a car entirely using the program. Right now, consumers can use the technology to complete transactions in Florida, Texas and Colorado, according to CEO Rod Buscher. He hopes to bring California into the mix soon, and maybe to go nationwide by the end of 2018, but Sunshine State users today serve as a major test market in the new system of sales. “In addition, we have a multitude of software licensing opportunities to some largest companies in insurance, lending, automotive services and in the sharing economy,” he says.

The technology gets demonstrated effectively in an ad campaign developed by a team of filmmakers at Semkhor Productions, which works with creative professionals at Ringling College of Art and Design. “It was a good fit to work with Blinker,” says Semkhor co-founder David Shapiro, “and for them it was access to the full creativity available at a reduced price.” The ad shows users taking pictures of the back of automobiles to use the app to gather information about the vehicles, then in a memorable flash, the car turns into cash in the shape of the vehicle that then starts to float to the earth. The high-end production picked up its Emmy in December, which went to Digital Brew and to the local team including Michael Cardwell, Beau Benson, Sean Benson, Jason Letkiewicz, Nick Morgulis, Andrew Price, Alex Ryden and Tony Stopperan. Benson picked up a second Emmy for the notable digital effect of the car turning into money. Buscher says Ringling seemed a natural choice because the company launched wit the support of several Sarasota investors including Trudo and Jordan Letschert. Jordan says the technology holds potential to completely disrupt the way cars get sold by connecting sellers and buyers through the power of an app.

But what of such tried and true measures of car compatibility like the test drive, that traditional way to learn the feel of your shoe sole against the gas pedal? At Carvana, that experience still takes place; it just requires some planning. The service allows customers when they express interest in a vehicle to have it delivered for a seven-day test period when they can still return it for a full refund. That’s longer than most dealers will let you test a vehicle before signing the bottom line. As for Blinker, the company leaves it to parties in the sale to arrange test drives, and offers online tips for doing so that read
akin to making a Craigslist delivery.

Keeton says on average, customers can save an average of $1430 against Kelly Blue Book suggested retail value. And Blinker execs promise consumers can make thousands more on car sales by avoiding fees for services all included within the app.And with such high-end products that sell in the thousands, company leaders believe there’s plenty of room in the Gulf Coast market for the online companies to thrive without destroying local dealerships. Keeton made clear that disrupting other dealers in the market isn’t the goal of Carvana. “The automatic retail industry is very large,” Keeton says. “We believe there is plenty of opportunity for an alternative.”