Auto Laundry News - February 2011

Convenience — Catering to the Customer

By Prentice St. Clair

I have noticed in the past few months that customers are exceptionally responsive to added convenience. It seems that some customers are won over when I can find some way to make the vehicle delivery process easier, or if I can provide some additional service that would normally cause them extra inconvenience if they were to have to take care of it themselves.

So I thought it might be a good idea to share some of the things that have worked well for me over the last few years. This information is not intended to cause turmoil for those operations for which such convenience offerings are simply not practicable. More simply put, you don’t have to do this stuff. I realize that not every detail operator is set up to provide free pick-up and drop-off service, for example. Or perhaps you are so busy with a regular job load that you don’t really need the extra headaches of trying to bring in more customers by catering to their every whim.

Instead, this information is for those who are interested in finding new ways to capture more customers. It seems
to work best for those who are “on the cusp,” but need some kind of added incentive to patronize your operation.

GET THAT CAR!

Years ago, I was conversing with a customer who had called wanting to schedule a detail. Not realizing that I needed the car for several hours, she was finding it difficult to find a block of time during which she could be without the car. She was going through her schedule out loud, something like, “Well, maybe next Thursday — no, I have to drive to LA that day. Perhaps the following Tuesday, but I have to pick up a client in the middle of the day. And the rest of that week is out because I’m flying to DC.”

Then it hit me! “How are you getting to the airport?” I asked. She responded, “Well, I’m driving my car and parking it there for four days.” Since my operation is a short distance from San Diego International Airport, I suggested that she bring the car to my place, I drop her off at the airport, then pick her up upon her return. She would save $40 or so in parking fees, and receive the added benefit of curbside drop-off and pick-up at the airport.

I was able to offer her the first of what would become known as my “free airport shuttle.” I then applied this concept to a few other customers who desperately wanted their cars detailed but could never find the time to be without the car because their work involved extensive daily car use. It worked like a charm.

What this concept has afforded me is the opportunity to get customers in who traditionally are tied to their cars. It has also brought in customers who just like the convenience of a free ride to the airport.

This is becoming a popular service. Over the Thanksgiving holiday week, I had three customer cars in my possession and with it the flexibility to schedule time-on-task around the family event calendar. In fact, I think that this flexibility is one of the best benefits to the operator because it allows you to stop work on that car should an unexpected or drive-up customer stop in.

It doesn’t have to be an airport, by the way. Just this morning, I picked up a customer in his nicely detailed car from the cruise ship terminal. It could also be the train station. This might work especially well if your operation is near a commuter terminal — you have the customer come to the shop, hop in the car and drop him or her off at the terminal. Then you have the car all day while the customer is at work. At the end of the day, have the customer give you a call when getting close to the terminal, and you can run down and pick him or her up.

HOME/OFFICE SERVICE

Another way to capture customer cars is to offer free pick-up and delivery from the home or office. It never ceases to surprise me how much new customers, in the middle of the phone sales pitch, light up when I tell them that I can pick up the car. I think there is a growing desire among the motoring public to not have to go out.

Think about it for a moment — put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If he or she has to bring the car to you, there are several hoops that have to be jumped through to make this happen. First, the customer has to schedule the time to drive the car to you. Then, arrangements have to be made to have another driver pick up your customer and deliver him or her to their next destination. So that means two people and two cars are involved. The same rigmarole has to be repeated at the time of pick-up of the completed detail.

These types of pick-up and drop-off programs will not appeal to every customer. In fact, most will be leery of giving up their car to a stranger. Moreover, these programs work best with your established clients and those that are referrals. Not everyone is going to let you drive off in their car. For customers who would prefer to not have someone else driving their car, you can offer a ride (in your vehicle) to where they need to go after they drop off their car at your location.

One note, and this applies anytime you are taking possession of a customer vehicle: make sure you ask customers if there is anything important that they might need in the car, like cell phone accessories, security passes, sunglasses, or any other personal items that they may be accustomed to bringing to work and that they should take out of the car.

DO MORE, GET MORE

Another way to provide added convenience for the customer is to offer services other than detailing. Maybe there’s some trim piece missing or broken, or the car needs an oil change.

It could be something really simple. For example, every once-in-a-while, I’ll see that a particularly busy customer’s car is “running on fumes.” Taking a few minutes to fill up the car at the nearby gas station is not a big deal for me. Of course, I add the fuel cost to the ticket, and these customers are quite appreciative that they need no longer worry about refueling the car.

Likewise, if you are adjacent to a quick-lube operation, you can offer to take care of that service for the customer while you are in possession of the vehicle. This could be an occasional, as-needed service or it could be a regular program that is marketed as such with a strategic alliance with the lube shop and a modest discount for the customer.

Consider the idea of minor trim repairs as well. You have probably noticed on occasion that a customer has
a missing or broken trim piece on the car — a cracked taillight, missing wheel cover, or broken side-view mirror. Many of these parts are quite easily replaced with a few hand tools.

It’s pretty easy to get your resale license and open up accounts with your local dealerships and aftermarket parts suppliers. Most such outfits offer same-day delivery if you call early enough in the day, so you don’t even have to take time to go get the part. With a resale license, you get the part at a wholesale rate and charge the retail price to the customer. Additionally, you can charge a modest installation fee.

This is completely reasonable considering a dealership or repair shop will charge an installation fee. But since you are already receiving revenue from the detail package being applied to the car, you can offer the parts replacement service at a rate that is far more reasonable than the dealership and still make some extra money from the job. You can take care of minor repairs for the customer at the same time that you have the car for detailing. You do not necessarily have to be a mechanic to replace a cracked taillight assembly or busted side-view mirror.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR CONVENIENCE?

Yes, I realize that all of the scenarios above involve extra time and effort on the part of the operator. But let’s face it, if a 20-minute drive to the airport is the difference between having or not having that paying customer, I’ll spend the 20 minutes, thank you very much! And guess what, if you do it right, you will be the customer’s hero by making a small part of their life just that much easier.

Of course, there are several things that you will have to consider to offer these services, including insurance, vehicle storage, and the logistics of after-hours pick-ups.

Sometimes airport arrival and departure times are outside the normal business hours of your operation. You will have to decide if you are willing to spend the off-hours time to pick up the customer, or perhaps pay for a cab. Of course, you have to be able to store the vehicle while the customer is gone.

There are additional concerns if employees are going to be assisting in driving customers’ vehicles. You must make sure your garage keepers insurance policy covers transportation of customers’ cars to and from your shop. You may also have to have “porter’s” insurance, which is specifically designed to cover the pick-up and delivery of vehicles from a location remote to your operation.

SUMMARY

Adding convenience for the customer will require the operator to think creatively. The idea is to find ways to make it easier for the customer to patronize your operation, or you can find ways to check off things from the customer’s to-do list. This will require some investment on your part, but in these lean times, we have to find new ways to bring in customers.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail Prentice@DetailinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.

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