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Free Dealership Oil Changes Backfire

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The daughter of a long time customer came to our shop the other after the dealer, during their free Oil Change service, informed her that she would need brakes on all four wheels. (This dealer gives free oil changes with the purchase of a new car) She called her father from the dealership and the father emphatically told her to get the car out of the dealer and bring it straight to Joe. She brought with her the invoice that clearly stated: “Brakes needed front and rear, pads at 3mm”.


After a road test and a four wheel brake inspection, we found that she only needed rear brakes. The front measured at 5-6mm. In addition, the car was due for its annual NY State inspection, the wiper blades were torn, and the tires needed rotating. She authorized the rear brakes, the wiper blades, the Sate Inspection and I included rotating and balanced the tires at no charge.


She was happy and upset (at the dealer) at the same time. I did not discredit the dealer, but did bring up the fact that sometime free is not a good value.


This situation got me thinking. This car had 42,000 miles on it and has been going back to the dealer since new for the free oil changes. So, in that time, the dealer was unable or could not establish a relationship strong enough for this customer to trust them. When the customer needed repair work that would actually cost them money, my relationship won out.


I think this is a lesson for all of us, don’t give up on what makes us so strong as independent shop owners: The relationships we have with our customers.


I plan on working hard finding out what customers have purchased new cars recently with free service and market to these people that free is not to be confused with value. I also plan on inviting these customers for my FREE safety check, after all these are still my customers and I want to make sure their cars are safe and maintained.


Let’s brainstorm on this and see if we can share ideas. The customer may still go to the dealer for that free service, but their hearts are still with us. WE need to capitalize on this.

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Joe it sounds like you have really built up a loyal group of customers that truly trust you....that's great! We have only been in business now going on 3 years and sometimes it feels like its a real uphill battle convincing customers that we are just as and even sometimes more trustworthy and skilled to service their vehicles. For your FREE safety inspection, what were you planning on including in this......the 24 point oil change inspection?

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I have to ask myself - do customers really believe they are getting 'free' oil changes or, as another dealer was advertising, free tires for as long as you own the vehicle? I can maybe see a struggling shop giving away $15 worth of oil and a filter in the hopes that they generate some traffic and build a customer base but eventually someone (the consumer) pays for that oil change in some form. I can't even imagine how the tire deal works. They must have a clause that you need to bring in the car for an 'inspection' every month or else the deal is void.


I guess this marketing does work though. Locally the 'free oil change for life' marketing campaign started with 1 dealer and within no more than 2-3 months every dealer in the area was on-board. I doubt they would join if it was a money loosing deal.

Edited by JohnzCarz
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Joe it sounds like you have really built up a loyal group of customers that truly trust you....that's great! We have only been in business now going on 3 years and sometimes it feels like its a real uphill battle convincing customers that we are just as and even sometimes more trustworthy and skilled to service their vehicles. For your FREE safety inspection, what were you planning on including in this......the 24 point oil change inspection?


We have a mulitpoint inspection checklist we perform with every LOF service, we will use this (without the LOF, of course). I need to think about how I contact these customers. I wil probably tie it around a service reminder, knowing that thier oil service was done already. I am not concerned about the give-away either. I have learned in the past, that every good deed comes back to us and the rewards of the good deeds outweigh any short term monitary loss.

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