60 Percent:
Cater to the Majority of Your Customers

By John Shepanek

    In my travels, I'm often asked by operators of quick lubes, "How can I increase my car count on a limited marketing budget?" My response is almost always the same: "How well do you know your existing customers?" Amazingly, very few can answer, even though their existing customer base is their primary source of new business! And the fact is, without knowing who their customers are, it's very difficult to allocate a marketing and advertising budget to reach the people responsible for their business!
    So, imagine their surprise when I tell them that women make up almost 60 percent of the fast-lube industry's market! When I ask what they've done to market to three-fifths of their customer base, more often than not I'm greeted with a blank expression! Most have never considered the possibility that there should be a difference in the way they market to men and women.
There is a real difference not only in the way you market to women (i.e., the means and message you use to get them to your shop), but also in the way you treat them once they're in your lube bay, wash or detail center.
    This month, I'd like to focus on making your store "female friendly," i.e., how to make your store the kind of place women feel comfortable patronizing.
    Getting a car serviced has traditionally been something a man would do. However, with 60 percent of those getting their cars serviced these days being women, that tradition has obviously fallen by the wayside.


    What have you done to break down the traditional barriers? Have you installed a baby changing station in the ladies restroom? Have you developed service cards that explain the various services you offer, cards which explain your services in an honest, straightforward manner?
    Are the members of your staff paid on commission? If they are, any service they suggest to a female customer is immediately suspect. The goal of your staff should be to serve your customer's needs, and meet or exceed their expectations without them feeling as though they were "sold" a service.
    If customers are aware of a service need for their vehicle, and you explain the consequences of taking care of a service need vs. not taking care of it, you will have involved your customer in the decision-making process. By getting your customer involved, you are gaining their commitment for the services discussed and selected. If the issue of commission is brought up (it likely won't be), it can easily be diffused by simply saying, "we don't pay on commission, but instead on the quality of service we provide."
    As you discuss service needs with a customer, whether that customer is female or male, old or young, you're building a relationship based on trust. By taking a commission structure out of the picture, you can honestly say that each member of your staff is responding to each customer's unique needs. Trust is a fragile possession. You have to nurture it and never betray it. Because once trust is lost, a long-time customer is gone forever.


    Because many women feel insecure about their knowledge of cars, they worry that unscrupulous lube technicians will take advantage of them. Your lube shop should strive to provide a safe, trustworthy and comfortable atmosphere for women.
    When a woman enters one of our lube bays, we do everything we can to put her at ease. There's no such thing as a "stupid question" about any aspect of our service, and our goal is to make first-time customers (and returning ones, too!) unafraid to ask about any part of the service experience with which they're unfamiliar.
    The difference between the woman sitting in your lube bay now who returns in 3,000 miles and the woman who cashes out and never returns can hinge on something as seemingly inconsequential as having a microwave available to heat a baby's formula, or having clean restrooms stocked to meet a woman's special needs.
    Walk around your shop. Look at it from the customer's point of view. Is it clean and neat? Are tools scattered around? Are shop towels lying around, or are they neatly folded? Are your staff members in clean, matching uniforms?
    These are things your female customers are more likely than men to take note of. Add them up, and all these little things create your customer's perception of your professionalism. Succeed in addressing your female customer's concerns and perceptions, and your share of the "elusive 60 percent" will very likely increase - at your competitor's expense!


    Don't overlook the fact that women can service-write, greet and lubricate a vehicle as easily as a man can. Women are gradually looking to quick lubes as an employment opportunity, so give them a chance! If you're in a tight employment market, don't overlook recruiting women for positions in your store!

John Shepanek, chairman and CEO of Oil Can Henry's, a Portland, OR-based fast-lube operator and franchisor, at one time owned eight car washes. Prior to entering the oil change business, John was involved with franchising and brand building at Straw Hat Pizza and PepsiCo's Taco Bell.


AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Co., 2125 Center Avenue, Fort Lee, NJ 07024 (201) 592-7007 Fax (201) 592-7171.