By Catherine Lukas Ter-Horst
Our economy continues to change, and more consumers are adjusting with fewer equipment purchases. When you consider the combination of smaller household budgets and lower disposable income, plus the slow economic growth, more and more consumers are opting to prolong the life of their equipment as one way to keep expenses in check. Helping fuel that trend is the fact that today’s equipment is built better, so it lasts longer.
The good news for you: Consumers are becoming more and more proactive in the care and maintenance of their equipment. That translates into more opportunities for you to sell parts, accessories and full service. Historically, these areas generate higher profits. With this in mind, you should position your business to capture this changing market of service-oriented customers.
Last year, during my visits to dealerships, many of the dealers I met with shared with me their plans to focus on and invest in their service departments — installing new lighting, adding more technicians, making their service departments more visible — to meet the growing consumer interest and demand for high-quality service.
As service becomes a bigger piece of your dealership’s business, you’ll need to discover new and different ways to sell your service. Here are a few areas that you should consider implementing in support of those efforts:
* Turn your service into a product. Challenge yourself to really think about the service that you want to specialize in and provide. Identify the key types of service you regularly provide, and promote them like you promote equipment. Just like you have pre-season and end-of-season specials on equipment, package your service to include end-of-season and pre-season maintenance. For example, in the fall, you could package storage and winterization along with winter equipment preparation; and in the spring, do the same, promoting both as seasonal transition service. Rather than your customers thinking about all the things they have to do with their equipment, they’ll remember one thing: the convenience and cost-savings associated with you providing a seasonal change-over service and storage package.
* Time is money. Unlike selling a new piece of equipment that’s already packaged, and to some extent already priced, service includes multiple components — parts, labor and time. Start tracking the time it takes your technicians to service standard pieces of equipment, assign a dollar value to that time, and market that service as a package deal — like a parts and service combo. Offer a percentage off installation when a customer buys a new belt. Be sure to also include equipment packages. An example might be to include two free blade sharpenings with the purchase of a lawn mower. And, don’t forget to build in the amount of time it takes to sharpen lawnmower blades or install a belt.
* Create different service packages based on customers’ needs. It’s important to create packages that meet different types of customers’ needs such as tune-up packages or repairs. For example, if you perform small-engine repairs, you could combine it with free pickup and delivery. The price of your service is offset not only by the “free” offer, but the convenience. Any way you can add something extra with a perceived value, to something your customers and prospects need, can help you create attractive service packages.
* Increase your local visibility. When it comes to service, your customers are local, so make sure you focus your marketing efforts and dollars to reach out to your local area. To reach the growing population of online consumers, be sure to showcase your service department and service specials. Also, make it easy for visitors to schedule appointments while on your website. As a bonus, offer a special discount for service scheduled online. Be sure that your dealership is included on websites like Google+Local, Superpages, and Yahoo Local. And, don’t forget about marketing your service department with traditional media like your local newspaper, radio and billboards.
* Develop personal relationships with your customers. Developing relationships builds trust, credibility and most importantly repeat business. Key ways to build relationships are by providing quality service, meeting customer expectations and commitments, and making sure you are known for your expertise. Remember that you can build relationships anywhere — inside your dealership and in your community. People are more comfortable doing business with people they know, including friends and people they interact with through community organizations.
* Make sure consumers can find you. When your customers remember you and the quality service you provide, they should have an easy way to contact you. Make sure your contact information is prominently displayed on your business cards, receipts, invoices, vehicles, signage and website.
When it comes to selling more stuff to your customers — like service — you need to think about your business differently. Consumer demand for equipment service is rising and is not expected to slow down. The dealership that finds smart ways to package and sell services will do well in this new economic environment. This means that you must package, price, and market your service department with the same zeal that you market equipment.
Catherine Lukas-Ter Horst has more than 15 years experience delivering innovative solutions in product development and management; online marketing and distribution; training and development; and Web-based technology. As Product Manager at ARI, Catherine works closely with the company’s management, sales and development teams to launch and enhance products designed to help dealers sell and service equipment more efficiently. She can be reached at (414) 973-4548 or Terhorst@arinet.com.