Keeping Your Shop Busy Year-Round
Here are some tried- and-true solutions
The objective of any service provider is to have level demand all day, every day. Unlike unsold product, unsold time can never be sold again. Once the door to the plane has closed, the empty seats become a non-sellable item.
So, if we as business owners want to make our shops busy every day, we have to shift the buying habits of consumers from buying when they want to buy, to buying when we want them to buy. Uhhh, right.
Let's look at the three buying motives for our answers: price, quality and convenience.
We can use price to influence buying. The ski resorts have perfected this to an art form. All lodging places have a detailed calendar showing how much a room costs each night of the ski season. Everyone wants to be there between Christmas and New Year's and that's when you'll pay the most for a room. Want to save some serious dough? Go during off-peak times. Lower rates help people want to be an "off-peak" guest.
I've used this same strategy in my shop. In my market, it has historically been slow in the months of September and February, exactly six months apart. The reasons aren't important; it's just slow, period.
So, I started giving my "best deals of the year" during those months. I'd offer a coupon on a timing belt replacement. Granted, the coupon is only 10 percent off the price of the replacement - hardly enough to shake many consumers off the sofa - but when I didn't mention the percentage and only stated the dollar amount, it was serious money, and it got some serious attention.
To balance this out, I also offer the worst specials of the year during peak times, when I don't really want more business. I always have something on special - it's built into the sales program.
Whenever I couldn't close a sale on a timing belt replacement, I'd always mention "If money is a factor for you, we'll be having a special on those in September (or February) for $________ off." My intent was to move some business out of peak traffic times and into off-peak times. I'm clearly appealing to the price-conscious consumer. It's worked very well for us, as many do wait for the deal. This has really moved business from a time when we have too much into a time when we don't have enough. It's a real win-win.
For those out there obsessed with number stuff, you could literally craft a whole new pricing/ marketing plan based off demands and varying prices.
Quality is the next buying motive. We can use it by mentioning what the car will be due for "next time in" on every service visit. If it needs nothing next time, that's a plus for the customer. The most expensive items are easier to sell three to six months or more down the road. People will say yes to nearly anything that's that far away. This gives them time to allocate the funds in the budget. Quality-minded consumers want to keep their car in good shape with quality service and maintenance. This will move sales from obvious demand times to "When the odometer rolls over to ____ miles." This is more likely to be on a regular basis as time goes on. After all, cars don't all hit 90k around the same time of the year.
In addition, reviewing the history not only emphasizes the importance of regular service, it provides the quality-minded customer with a valuable service. Regular brake inspections prevent car emergencies and promote safety. It's hard to argue with that. Quality-oriented customers demand this, and if you don't do this every time they're in, they'll be more susceptible to finding another shop that will - regardless how handsome or pretty you are.
Another real business improver is to make a note on the repair order of anything the customer declines to buy on that service visit. Review it with them when you deliver the car back. Send a reminder letter 30 days later, outlining what you recommended, giving them prices and asking them to call you for an appointment if they'd like to get any of it fixed. We've also found it improves response rates if we provide a compelling reason to buy the things we suggested in the letter. Well, duh.
I've come to believe that when people don't buy today, it's usually because of time or money. This approach gives them some of both.
In addition, put this in a "carry-forward" status, so the recommendations carry forward to every subsequent repair order or appointment. At that time, ask them again if they'd like to buy. Doing this on a regular basis has done more than anything else we've tried over the last few years, to increase our sales and to level them out.
The third buying motive can be the strongest. New motor oil standards are a very unique marketing opportunity for the shop owner who stays on top of technology. Classes are available on motor oil standards and new motor oils. (Click here to see AutoInc.'s November 2009 story for more about motor oil standards).
Changing oil at three months/ 3,000 miles is not a good way to protect today's engines. In fact, it's no way to determine a service interval, either. Months and miles have become meaningless regarding motor oil.
First and foremost are the actual engine manufacturer's requirements for the motor oil. This is serious stuff. If you put the wrong oil in a BMW, the engine will not survive until the next oil change, and your shop is liable for engine replacement.
Next in oil importance is how the car is driven. What is the average "trip cycle" when it's started and driven? Does it go 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 30 minutes on average? This makes a huge difference in the life of the oil, as does the temperature and humidity at the time.
So, what I've done is to offer three oil change packages: three-month/3,000 miles, four-month/ 4,000 miles and six-month/8,000 miles. Each uses a different oil that's formulated to go the distances for the cars we service in our market.
Four of the three-month changes cost about the same over a year as three of the four-month. So, the money is the same, they make one less trip and the engine gets better protection. Both oils are standard-based oils, just with different additive packages.
The six-month oil is a full top-rated synthetic. Two of them cost little more per year than the others. We sell this by telling customers that their car only needs to come in twice a year and that's when maintenance is due. As a base, we at least need to inspect the brakes and rotate the tires. This frees the customer of ever doing "just an oil change" again.
It gets better - they can make an appointment for the next service interval before they leave the shop. Now they don't have to remember to call for an appointment or any of that bothersome stuff. They're all set, just like the dentist. Twice a year, they're free of car worries and their engine gets better protection.
This solves everyone's problems - your business just became as level as it can, your customers get superb convenience, great quality and the price is a great value. Best yet, you're selling what no other shops around you are. You truly have "the shop with no competition."
Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that have been contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2010, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org.
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