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This is not new topic for me, but I need to revisit it again. And I will keep revisiting this topic for the sake of our industry. For independent repair shops to "thrive" today, you must take a proactive approach with regard to business. If you only want to "survive" you can stop reading now. Waiting for the phone to ring, or for cars to breakdown, or for a customer to drive into your shop asking for a repair or service is business suicide. The days of broken cars lining up in front of your bays are over. Sure, cars still breakdown, but you cannot thrive with a wait-and-see strategy. Make sure you perform multipoint inspections on all cars in for any type of service. Yes, any type of service or repair. Look up vehicle history on all vehicles. Let the customer know of needed services, missed services and services due. And lastly, book the next appointment. Yes, I know....Joe's been preaching this over and over and it does not work in your shop. Fine, then let me focus on those shops that do book the next appointment. Because those are the shops that are adopting a proactive approach...and I will see those shops in the future.
Back in the late 1990’s, I began to get concerned about car counts and customer retention. Around that time, cars were beginning to become more reliable and many of the services and tune up components we once counted on, were going away. I also started to notice that many customers were going to the quick lubes for their oil changes. To be honest, I couldn’t blame them. There was a time when I did not offer any “wait” service and I was never concerned about the oil change business. That all changed. I began an all-out blitz to get my customers coming back to me for their next oil change. I especially made it a point to inform customers of their next appointment when we did not due their last oil change. I just informed them of their next service date and made sure they received a service reminder. The plan took time, but it worked. It increased car counts and customer retention improved. We still use this strategy to this day. Make sure you speak to all customers at car delivery about their next service. Book it in your calendar. And if the car was not in for an oil change, check the oil sticker, enter the date in your CRM reminder system, and assume that the customer wants to return to you. We need to be proactive these days. We cannot wait for the phone to ring, we have to make it ring!
34 years ago, when I opened the doors to my shop, I had broken cars lined up in front of the bays on a daily basis. Thank God for GM, Ford and Chrysler. Cars back then broke down at any alarming rate. We didn’t have to be the best sales people either; broken cars just arrived at our doorstep. We lived in a reactive world, where we repaired one car after the other. Those were the days! Well, those days are gone. Today, if you wait for cars to come to you, you may be waiting a long time. With extended service intervals, improved car quality, and less maintenance items to service and repair, we need to take a proactive approach. We need to improve our image, hire the best people, adopt a culture of continuous training, speak to all customers as if they are best friends or family, inform them of needed future services, book the next service, sell preventive maintenance and deliver world-class customer service. Most important; Create the customer experience so memorable, so enjoyable, so rewarding that when they leave your shop, they think to themselves…. “That was a great experience, I’m coming back.”
Car count is a key performance indicator (KPI) showing you the health of your business. But before we blame low car counts for the reason why we are not achieving our sales goals, we need to take the time to look at all the numbers; analyzing labor and part margins, average repair order (ARO) production issues, other critical KPI’s, customer retention and workflow processes. Only after a thorough analysis can we begin to work on the issue of car counts. This is not to suggest that a shrinking car count is not a problem. Many shops are experiencing declining car counts for a number of reasons: increased competition from dealers and mass merchandisers, improved car quality, decreased factory scheduled maintenances, decreasing vehicle visits, and other of factors. The key thing is to track all key numbers and vehicle visits per year, per customer. If you see your car count trending down and you are not meeting your sales objectives, and all other KPIs are in line, then you need to address this issue. But, are you really losing customers? You may find that that customer visits per year is the problem. With increasing scheduled oil services and the perception that cars don’t need maintenance, this is a big problem. And it may be the problem for a declining car count. A more proactive approach, selling preventive maintenance and other services will help. In addition, bump up your marketing efforts, especially with you existing customer base. And lastly, make sure you stand out by providing world class customer service.