If you’ve been around long enough, chances are you’ve been told on an occasion or two that it’s best to make hay while the sun is shining. As you might guess, the roots of this medieval proverb come from a farmer’s wisdom that he best tend to his crops before it’s too late to gather them. Of course, at the time this phrase was coined, vehicles had four legs and a heartbeat, not eight cylinders and a gas tank. That said, parallels can clearly be drawn to the automotive service industry.
For us, Fall isn’t merely time to put down IPA’s in favor of our favorite Octoberfest; it’s the one season we can count on procrastinating drivers becoming reluctant customers. And whether you’re boss and full-time wrench at your own garage or part of a larger automotive service organization, making hay on seasonal preventive maintenance can make or break the year…and your business.
Are you prepared to take advantage of the opportunity harvest season presents? Here are a few suggestions:
Prepare your soil. Your environment says a lot about you, and more importantly, the quality of work your customers might expect. Hire experienced, ethical employees as a way to establish consistency and reliability. Equip your shop with reliable machinery and new technologies. Stay current with new techniques that can give you an advantage over lesser competitors. Most importantly, stand behind your work. Display your guarantee clearly for all to see. As a customer, there is nothing more comforting than to know you put your money where your impact is.
Select and plant your seeds. Understand there is no single variety that is best suited for every soil or growing condition. If not impossible, it’s implausible to draw enough business to thrive from a single customer type. While I’m simplifying for effect, extend your appeal beyond oil changes and break jobs. But for those you do, make sure they are the most positively memorable your customers have ever had. Add value. Why not become the go-to expert for pre-purchase inspections in your part of town, or become a “Certified Female Friendly” shop through AskPatty.com. For women who have been taken advantage of, this means everything!
Water and pest control. Without attention and care, forget about germination. Irrigating your relationship with your local community is the key to exposure, familiarity, favorability and ultimately, endorsements that will tip the scales in your favor over others. Rather than placing a ho-hum 10% coupon in the weekly ad flyer, send regular emails with useful content to your audience. Share photos of you and your happy customers. Get in the habit of asking your customers for feedback and referrals. One of the most inexpensive and effective ways to grow your business is through your existing network.
Fertilize your crop. This might sound simple, but thank your customers for their business. Reward your regulars by personally extending discounted service or a gratis oil change from time to time. When you earn a referral, show your appreciation in the form of a gift card to a local establishment that suits the individual customer.
Fuel up the combine. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. Doing so will enable you to allocate your resources to the various jobs that come in as efficiently as possible. Cross-train and educate on new repairs, techniques and equipment. Minimize turnover by starting with the small things. Treat your employees right, pay them respectably, and offer decent benefits. Consider flexible scheduling and extended hours when possible.
Harvest time. It’s finally time to make hay! The most effective way to take advantage of your efforts to this point is to automate your process. Consider an automotive service software product that manages leads and quoting, scheduling, project workflow and invoicing – a flexible product, like Ooboo. Simplifying the process, becoming more productive, optimizing resources, and retaining more customers are things every shop can benefit from, no matter how small or large your operation is.