Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2010   by Tom Venetis, Editor

There is no greater solution than knowing the customer

It involves fundamentally reorienting how the business looks at its customers and how to approach them; and making decisions on who the business wants as a customer.

On a recent trip to Vancouver, I took some time to visit Ronald Tremblay and his son, owners and operators of the independent service shop The Garage, to talk about the state of the independent service industry and why many continue to struggle. During our conversation, Tremblay made the point that many shop owners and managers who take training are too often looking for a ‘magic bullet,’ a single all-purpose solution that will fix the problems of the shop, from financial difficulties to staff issues that the owners and managers are struggling to understand and bring under control. These owners and managers show up often having taken several other training and management courses already, and finding each time the problems remain or have gotten worse.

The problem, I remarked, is similar to a popular television program where troubled restaurants or cafs are given an expensive makeover, from the dcor to the menu. The premise of the show is the makeover will suddenly transform a fading or failing business into a successful one in only a few days. The sad reality is many of those remade restaurants and cafs fail.

The problem which the show sidesteps, and which Tremblay agreed was too often the case even amongst many independents, is the businesses featured have much deeper and more profound structural problems. A new dcor or menu will only delay the inevitable as the owners never address the real problems. Certainly management issues are one cause of business problems; another is lack of control over costs or proper inventory control, for example. The biggest problem — regardless of whether the business is an independent service shop or a restaurant — is not truly knowing one’s customer; more critically, which are the revenue generators and how to effectively reach them.

Tremblay mentioned one shop in central Canada which found a way of discovering and reaching those revenue generating customers. What this shop did was to go through its customer database and then contact select local customers to invite them for an inspection of their vehicles and for the vehicle owners to get to know the shop’s technicians and service writers. Only a handful took up the offer. This might seem a failure after sending out a hundred or more invitations; but what has to be remembered is each vehicle owner who came spent over a thousand dollars with the shop on maintenance and repair work. The shop did the same thing again, bringing in another handful of car owners that soon gave the business over a thousand dollars in work. Over time, the shop built a customer base which brought in consistent maintenance and repair work. The result was an increase in revenues and profit.

All this came about because of a concerted effort by the owner and staff to reach out to customers and to begin cultivating those that bring in regular work and revenue. This involves more than simply management training (which is important in itself and needs to be done by many more independents on a regular basis). It involves fundamentally reorienting how the business looks at its customers and how to approach them; and making decisions on who the business wants as a customer. Not every customer is someone you will want and it is often better to let them go than to spend time, effort and money trying to keep them as they are more expensive and trouble than the little revenue generated. It involves database analysis, customer profiling and more customer and community outreach that promotes better understanding of the importance of vehicle maintenance and of the shop’s services. It takes time — but it is an investment just as important as keeping the bays clean, regular technician and business management training along with a fresh cup of coffee and a friendly hello to the person who walks in the front door looking the staff to help them.

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *