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These customer "extras" provide the most bang for the buck

Friday, September 16, 2016 - 07:00
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In 2009, Dan Menafee decided it was time to walk away from collision repairs after a 40-year career, the last half of it spent managing shops in southern Maryland. Before saying his goodbyes, he picked up the phone and delivered to ABRN the best advice he believed he could give anyone wanting to repair vehicles for a living.

"Ask yourself how much you're willing to pay for your customers," he said.

Obviously, he was referring to the cost of doing business, but Menafee framed the statement oddly in reference to a challenge he had spent several years handling. The owner of the shop where he worked was growing increasingly frustrated at the business's inability to draw in customers after losing several key DRPs. Finally, he turned to a business consultant who put together a reorganization plan that included new layouts for customer marketing and perks. The thinking behind the program was sound, on paper at least.

Some of the most successful shops in the country pampered customers with a host of extras--everything from extended pickup and delivery hours, lavish waiting areas, complementary gourmet coffee and snacks, business centers and child play areas to free automotive services. Menafee remained unconvinced.

"I'm all for making our shop as convenient and nice as possible for customers," he said. "But this wasn't working for us. I couldn't see it helping us turn the corner." With that, he decided to depart the industry.

Ironically, Menafee may have exited the market at the very moment repairers were changing their position on perks. The shifting terrains of collision repair were being remade by fast growing MSOs built for speed and looking to grab up as much territory as possible.

(Photo courtesy of G&C AutoBody) G&C AutoBody believes its paltial shops are a key part in differentiating its businesses and offering customers treatment on par with dealerships and specialty retailers.

Customers, too, were changing. Access to online estimates and convenient scheduling allowed them to focus on finding shops that could provide service as soon as possible.

Don't count out the power of perks just yet. The thinking on what extras work best for shops and motorists has evolved. They remain an important part of doing business for many shops.

Definitions matter                           

What counts as a perk these days?

Part of the changing nature of perks is their definition. Some repairers consider conveniences such as pickup and delivery and free WIFI necessary costs of doing business. Others extend the definition even farther to include any extra steps shops take to promote themselves through positive customer experiences.

For the purposes of this article, perks refers to any additional niceties beyond a quality repair and standard customer service (scheduling, regular updates and a friendly attitude). While this definition may seem dated, it helps illuminate the changing perception of these bonuses and  their many forms.

Perks with problems

When ABRN last spoke with Jimmy Lefler, owner of multi-Top Shop winner Lefler Collision and Glass, he was unveiling his innovative and leading edge business's newest creation, a valet concierge program for rental cars. That program had Lefler employees delivering rental vehicles, along with the necessary paperwork, to customers at their homes and jobs. The program was designed to allow customers to skip what could be an inconvenient trip to the shop or rental agency.

Setting up the concierge service was no simple task. Lefler's had to invest time and resources investigating the ins and outs of renting and eventually had to work out an agreement with the rental company that permitted the shop's customer service specialists to assume the roles of agency employees.

The program proved to be popular with the shop's clientele. Its success came with some significant downsides. Namely, the service drew away a large chunk of the business's resources, far more than anticipated.

"When each of our stores are bringing in 5 to 10 cars every day, the logistics and manpower required are greater than the current staff can handle, making the program costly to staff," explains Lefler. "It basically requires a team of its own."

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