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Emergency marketing strategies for car count lulls

Getting extra cars during tough times is about tenacity, ingenuity and the basics
Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 07:00
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If your shop’s car count could be better, you might want to listen to Pennsylvania shop owner and ATI coach Mike Bennett explain how he keeps shops as close to capacity as possible. Most smart shop owners have a comprehensive marketing calendar that includes a balance of new customer acquisition efforts in concert with tried and true customer retention efforts. Marketing by definition is the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods (or services) from seller to consumer. More clearly defined for our industry: marketing is ANYTHING we do to get cars to our shop. I would bet for the most part your marketing calendar and strategy does a fair job of keeping your bays full and your techs busy. It is inevitable though, despite your best efforts, planning and management, your shop will hit those brief periods where the schedule looks light and the fear of techs wandering around the shop with no cars in the bays looms ever larger.

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As a shop owner I know this very real fear. Honestly, it is more like a panic. It’s that thing that keeps us up late at night or causes us to take that test drive by the competition to see how your fellow shops are doing. The phones aren’t ringing and everyone is looking at you for the magic bullet and all too often we just feel helpless with what to do. As a coach, I have gotten the panicked call more times than I care to remember: “We are slow, and I need cars fast!!” Despite the best marketing plan, your shop will inevitably hit those brief periods where the normal reminder postcards or emails just don’t seem to be working like they normally do.

Let’s face it; we can’t control the weather, the economy, holidays, tax season, the government, plagues, wars or elections. I’m sorry to say, but in these moments there is no single magic pill. Getting those couple of extra cars to your bays in these tough times is all about tenacity, ingenuity and yes, THE BASICS. Over the years, we have developed what I like to call Emergency Car Count Strategies. As a procedure, we have a process in place that recognizes low car count situations and triggers a series of actions we take each time to combat the slow phones and get those couple of extra cars in the bays. Below are a few of the most successful immediate and near-term emergency car count actions as well as some often overlooked longer term actions that I know can work for you:

Phone mining
Print out the last three months of recommended services or previously declined work. I am sure that most of you have a routine CRM program that touches your customers with either a post card or email.

Reach out directly to these customers and offer a 5 percent discount if they schedule in the next week. This is not discounting at the counter presentation to get the sale. I am vehemently opposed to that sales tactic, and we have other more successful strategies to deal with a customer’s pricing considerations. This is providing a special discount as a follow-up to drive cars to your bays in a period of time you choose when you are looking to fill your bays. It’s a “special circumstance” incentive for them and of course for you. I mean 95 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing, right? The script for this phone call sounds something like this: “Hi, Mr. Smith, I was looking over our notes on the Honda today. I see that when we had it in on (insert visit date) we discussed and recommended (brief review of recommendation and value). I know at the time you weren’t quite ready to have that done. The reason for the call today is that I have a few openings in my schedule I would like to fill. As this is an important (service or repair) for the Honda, I thought I might be able to make a mutually beneficial offer. If you would be interested in getting the work done in the next five days, I would like to offer you an additional (discount offer) off the job as a special incentive for scheduling with me today.”

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If you are unable to speak directly to your customer and you have to leave a message, the script is a little different. The key to being most effective with the offer above is to get your customer on the phone and engaged in a conversation. I have found it most successful and likely to get a return call if the voicemail is something like: “Hi, Mr. Smith. This is (your name) with (your shop). I needed to speak with you regarding the Honda you had in with us on (date and mileage). Could you please give me a call at your earliest convenience at (phone number)?

Make four-month maintenance reminder phone calls. Look back in your management system history for vehicles that were in for an oil change/maintenance service four to six months ago that have not been back since. Call them up and present the following short-term offer: “In reviewing your service history, it looks like the ’08 Honda should be just about due for its next service at XX miles. The reason for the call today is we have our XX service special (seasonal special) which includes: XX, XX and XX, and it will be expiring in about a week. I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to take advantage of the special, if you are due, before it expires. We would hate for you to come in in a couple of weeks having not known about the offer and lose out on the savings.”

If you have fleet customers, now is a good time to call them and see if they need anything done. If you haven't visited or touched base with your fleets, local businesses, hotels, etc., in the last four weeks then trust me, some have forgotten about you. Just a few weeks ago, my shop had an instant positive experience in revisiting local hotels’ front desks and the community college information desks. We have traditionally had great relationships with them and have historically gotten a lot of referrals. First, we were surprised that in more than a couple of cases there were new personnel that had no idea who we were. Second, we were amazed how quickly we got referrals after visiting them and reintroducing ourselves. Clearly even those who knew us had “forgotten” who we were. One great idea we have used as a reminder of who we are and what we do is a candy jar placed on a counter or front desk. It has chocolate candy inside and the company name on the outside.

We learned that you should have a list and calendar of fleet and business clients to visit on a four to six week rotational schedule.

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