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What to do about car counts
Posted to Shop Management Forum on 6/16/2012 43 Replies

The question of car counts and their importance to a repair shop has once again come up for discussion. A variety of opinions have been shared, some with better validity than others and far too many have been based on too little information from the person asking the question.

If your shop is in Detroit's inner city and your car counts are diminishing (well, duh), the worst thing you can do is to check the cars over better and work harder for upsells. This strategy assumes that you had too many cars before and didn't look them over well enough. This strategy assumes that your customers want them looked over.

Your problem is that your market is crumbling economically and you either need to close up and move, or figure out a better way to offer more value to the people that are left.

I present this situation simply to illustrate that good advice to some is not always good advice to everyone. It depends on where you are now.

Back to car counts. We have a great fast food place that started locally and has the best burgers, fries and stuffed bun sandwiches you've ever tasted. I've never had a burger that was as good as theirs and never been able to duplicate that great tasting beef at home.

At one time, there was another franchise across the street from them that was the classic early fast-food failure. The burgers were not very good and the fries were limp and greasy. Their sign out front nearly always advertised multiple burgers for a buck.

At lunch time, the line for the great food was long, the parking lot at the cheap food place was empty. Even though the price was cheap, the value was in paying more.

Let's take a quick look at the 4 kinds of buyers, probably started by Steve Donovan.

"A" customers--love their cars, want to keep them and take care of them. Failure to keep them up to date on things that need to get done will push them away. If their car fails to start because something was overlooked, it may cost you their business. These people are happy, well adjusted, generally make good money and have learned the value of planning ahead. They will call when it's time to do scheduled maintenance.

"B" customers--love their cars, don't always do the maintenance. They may not be aware of maintenance needs and can frequently be sold maintenance fairly easily. They may be leasing cars or trading frequently in order to avoid car repairs or to have reliable transportation. They can be educated about car care. They will schedule oil changes and will call for an appointment when problems develop with their cars.

"C" customers--don't know cars need maintenance. Might be young, may not have the money for maintenance. They'll drive in when they have a problem.

"D" customers--don't care if it leaks, squeaks, rattles or creaks. If it gets them from point A to point B, it's good. They'll have it towed in when it won't go any further.

None of these are good or bad, they're just different and each want different things. Understanding the difference is a key to marketing to them. Offering a cut rate oil change will almost never attract an A or B customer. Failure to check a car over will drive them away. Checking a car over for seriously poor people may repel them, because they can't understand prevention. They're always behind things financially, so prevention doesn't resonate with them.

If you want to attract a better clientele, start with 3 things that illustrate quality and WILL attract a better clientele, while at the same time REPELLING some undesirables:

SOAP, PAINT AND LIGHT--CLEAN the place so it's spotless. Floors should look like no one has fixed a car there before. Many drips and spills can be caught and cleaned easily by using drywall mixing tubs from the lumberyard stores. These tubs are about 2 feet by 3 feet and do a nice job. Each of our techs has 5 of them. One for each wheel and one kept clean to catch coolant that can be re-installed when performing cooling repairs.

PAINT the walls and ceiling white if possible. Clean and paint all shop equipment so it looks like it just came out of the box yesterday. Have a color theme if possible.

LIGHT the place so it's blinding inside. You should not need "trouble" lights to do brake work, undercar or engine work if you have proper lighting.

Take pictures of everything in your shop, from the outside to the bathroom, to underneath the work benches and the front office area. We all walk past things in our shops that may not look good and we get used to them. Pictures will help you better see what customers see.

This clean image will attract good paying customers with nice cars, nice clothes and nice jobs to your business. Those who seek something for nothing will not think that they are likely to find that at your place. They will drive on by.

This is a good start to improving your business and the best marketing that you can do.

The point about car counts is that if an increase attracts the wrong people, it's the wrong thing to do. If it attracts the right people, it's good. If we are going to increase the amount sold to each car owner, we need to understand what each owner wants. Offering a large list of needed repairs and maintenance to a "D" customer may drive them away. FAILING to offer the exact same list to an "A" customer will drive THEM away. There's nothing inherently wrong with "D" customers, many of them are great when they come in.

Understanding is the first building block of success.

Becky from Nebraska

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