A time-honored expression says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. An automotive-oriented corollary to this axiom says the path to the poorhouse is paved with low prices! In this column and the next, I'll recommend therapy for dealers afflicted with low-price phobia. I urge owners and managers to consider these points before they waste another moment worrying about competitors who offer ``the lowest price'' on tires or automotive maintenance and repairs.
Price versus value
To most consumers, value denotes the advantages and benefits they get for their dollar. The more they get for the buck, the better the value. Providing the best value rather than the lowest price will eventually earn tire dealers a more desirable breed of customer.
Many of the prospects dealers face across the service counter already have learned that the best value seldom comes in at the lowest price. Their teacher may have been another service shop or a plumber, carpenter or electrician who lured them with a lowball price and subsequently snagged them with an incomplete or improper repair job.
Understandably, these people aren't anxious to admit this or relive the experience with your service department. What's important is they're probably more receptive to the ``good-value'' gospel than you realize.
In previous columns I've emphasized that while some consumers recognize and understand good value, others don't.
There is and always will be a percentage of consumers-not just motorists, but buyers of all goods and services-who are too simple-minded to comprehend anything beyond mere numbers. To them, the lowest price on any purchase will always indicate the best deal.
Similarly, you can win over some people by adding extra value to your services. This breed of consumer appreciates that when you finish servicing their car, it's always spotless inside and out. Plus, they always find new literature on vital car care tips on the seat. Other motorists are completely oblivious to these extras.
If you're an observant individual who's worked in the auto repair business for any length of time, you probably noticed a correlation between price or value and the caliber of clientele a service shop attracts. Service shops that offer nothing but the lowest price always attract the larger share of the motoring dregs-the tightwads, chiselers, skinflints, chronic whiners and malcontents.
Meanwhile, service personnel at service shops selling value see relatively few dregs simply because they discourage their patronage. After all, these shops promote proper repairs at competitive prices instead of hawking the lowest prices. So, they waste less time embroiled in pointless arguments over price. And they suffer less heartburn over comebacks caused by the wrong decision-providing the lowest price instead of a proper and thorough repair.
Watch service personnel who sell value at work. They always seem to have more time for crucial chores such as selling more service and managing the business.
Now ask yourself which type of clientele you prefer. If your competitors crave the dregs of the automotive service prospects, let them have them! If their low-price philosophy results in short-cut repair work, comebacks and paper-thin margins, they'll have their hands full making ends meet year in, year out.
But if you prefer customers who will pay fair prices for good work, focus on value instead of lowball pricing. All things being equal, fair prices should translate into fair profits for your store.
Cultivate this clientele by structuring your service philosophy and marketing plans accordingly. Don't assume everyone knows what he's getting for his service dollars. Be sure all your service menus, job estimates and promotional materials clarify what's included in every brake job, wheel alignment, engine service, oil change etc.
Moreover, all service personnel should be able to explain the importance of each value-added detail to consumers.
For instance, they should be able to communicate that every brake job includes new brake fluid. Fresh fluid contributes to safe, reliable stops because it helps keep the hydraulic system clean and working properly.
Exploit the old ``show and sell'' technique often. Have examples of expensive brake hydraulic parts-especially antilock system components-that were ruined by neglected brake fluid.
Until my next column, remember the advice I often hear savvy old shop owners give younger managers: ``The easiest way to get rid of your worst customers is to raise your prices!''