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  Management Feature

Revving Up the Slow Times in Your Business

Posted 12/13/2006
By George Zabrecky

Don't get bored waiting for customers to come to you. Get proactive and discover the secret that other industries have discovered in keeping their customers flowing.

The Problem

Most businesses experience periodic slow times. This includes retail, restaurants, "drop in" hair salons and quick lubes. The only exception to this rule seems to be doctors, dentists, veterinarians and "by appointment only" hair salons. What are these businesses doing that those in the automotive service and repair industry are not? They are service industries just like yours. They are a "need" industry and not a "want" industry just like yours. Their business is service and/or repair just like yours. They even stress the importance of preventive maintenance like you do. Some even send reminder cards like you do. What are they doing right that you are not? What is their secret?

The Secret to Their Success

After doing some research into this question, an interesting discovery was made. Doctors, dentists, veterinarians and hairstylists pre-set appointments. For example, when you visit the dentist, they will pre-set your next appointment before you leave. They hand you an appointment card. You put the card on your refrigerator or desk and write the appointment on your calendar. The hairstylist will pre-set your next appointment for six weeks; the dentist, six months; and doctors and veterinarians pre-set appointments as well. Pre-set appointments ... that is the difference ... that is the secret to their success!

Do consumers enjoy going to the doctor, dentist, veterinarian or stylist? Of course not! Do they dread getting their car serviced so much that they ignore your reminder cards or the sticker you thoughtfully placed on their windshield? Of course not!

What is the Difference?

The difference is they feel an obligation to go to the place they have committed their time to. They know these businesses set aside a special time just for them. They know rescheduling will be an inconvenience to them and to the business so they won't do that unless they really have to.

These service industries may call you a day or two before to remind you of your appointment and to make sure they have someone in that time slot. After all, they are counting on the funds the appointment will generate. Time truly is money and they recognize that. If you can't make the scheduled appointment, they have people waiting who will fill that time slot. They also give you a chance to reschedule. Most of those appointments are at a premium. A cancellation could mean waiting a while before your next opportunity. Therefore, try not to cancel unless there is simply no other way. This is also true of hairstylists and veterinarians. These businesses are busy all the time with people on "standby," hoping you will cancel your appointment so they can take your place. In an emergency situation, these businesses will try to squeeze you into their busy, crowded day just like you do when a customer experiences a breakdown.

Windshield Stickers, Reminder Cards Aren't Enough

Many of you are probably thinking that you send reminder cards ... why isn't that enough? It isn't enough because it puts the consumer in the driver's seat. Consumers are the ones who have to schedule their appointments. They can always find ways to put off the task. They have no obligation to make an appointment. The sticker you apply to their windshield does not put them under any obligation to make an appointment either. They will make an appointment with you when they get around to it. Or they may just run into a quick lube and get their oil changed, hoping that will hold the vehicle until they can come to see you. Are we suggesting that you get rid of the sticker on the windshield and appointment cards? No. We are suggesting that you use them to supplement your pre-set appointments.

How to Get Started

Your customers aren't used to you pre-setting their appointments. Your service writer may be reluctant to start the process. You wonder if overcoming the resistance from both parties is really worth the effort. It is! Our clients who have been doing this for more than a year are pleased with the results and their full bays.

To ease your customer and service writer into the process, we suggest you place a vase of toothbrushes on your counter. When your customers pay their invoices, tell them that you would like to pre-set their next preventive maintenance appointment. They may hesitate or seem reluctant because they don't have any idea what they will be doing 3,000 miles from now or in three months. The same holds true when they pre-set their dental appointment for a six-month checkup. Explain that they will receive a reminder by telephone or card, and they can reschedule if they need to. Then explain why you have the toothbrushes - pre-setting their preventive maintenance for their vehicle's checkup is just as painless as pre-setting their dental appointment. Hand them a toothbrush and an appointment card. We have even found appointment cards with a peel-off sticker of a car that can be placed on their calendar as an extra reminder. This should take the fear out of the process for your customer and service writer. We have found that women especially appreciate the convenience of pre-scheduled appointments because it fits well into their busy lifestyle.

The Result

You will be amazed at the results. Your slow times will evaporate and so will your spikes in business. You will have a steady flow of business that keeps your bays full at all times instead of slow times, followed by a spike and then back to slow. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to call us!

George Zabrecky Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

George Zabrecky is founder and president of NWZ WORX Multimedia, a marketing consulting and direct mail company. Zabrecky has been a public speaker for the last 24 years through his involvement as an on-camera meteorologist and marketing instructor. He relates to shop owners because he is also a small business owner. This has given him insight in teaching others how to grow their business and their bottom line. Zabrecky can be reached at (800) 473-0202 or by visiting his Web site,

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