Today, progressive businesses are going after new customers instead of waiting for them to walk through the door. And alert owners and managers are building for the future by attracting maintenance-minded customers. Here's one way it's done.
Choosing better jobs
Our subject, ``Mr. Owner,'' has a six-bay facility in a major metropolitan market. The eight-year-old business draws a mostly blue-collar clientele from nearby homes.
While doing select jobs for a restoration/exotic car shop, Mr. Owner culled various higher-end vehicles from the exotic car owners. These cars, which the restoration shop wouldn't bother servic-ing, included Toyota Cressidas and MR2s, Mazda RX7s and 929s, BMW 3-series and 5-series cars, Nissan Maximas and Z-cars, and assorted domestic luxury cars.
Mr. Owner converted these motorists into regular customers by parlaying his business' strengths, which include a one-stop service philosophy, a friendly ``boss-is-always-accessible'' atmosphere, a ride program and proximity to public transportation.
``It didn't take long for us to see the same pattern. The people who own these cars want good value, but they're also very busy,'' he told me. ``Heck, that's how they became successful at what they do.
``We get them to and from the office quickly-no questions asked. We also give them the eye-to-eye contact and accountability they don't get at bigger businesses.''
His shop had earned a reputation for performing heavier mechanical work (internal engine repairs, engine swaps, transmission replacements etc.) neatly and quickly. But the slimmer margins on these jobs, which always seemed to tie up bays longer than planned, convinced him to attract a larger percentage of predictable, quick-turnover maintenance work.
Just as he predicted, maintenance work on these higher-end cars could be done properly and profitably in a full day or less.
``I saw that all my competitors just waited for work to come in. I figured if I wanted a better clientele, blind luck wouldn't bring them here-I had to get out and ask for the order,'' he explained.
Coupon ad delivers
Mr. Owner scanned a city map for upscale neighborhoods within easy driving distance of his shop. He earmarked an area and called the local salesperson for a coupon book marketing company.
``I wanted to associate my shop with the kind of upscale stores and restaurants I knew Yuppies patronized. This outfit had coupon books with promo offers from all the toney places, so I decided to take out a coupon ad,'' he said.
To reach 10,000 households in the target area cost less than $500, including preparing the coupon ad for his shop. The coupon offered free safety and emission inspection, a maximum outlay of 35-40 minutes labor per vehicle, and expired in two months.
Five weeks later, as this issue went to press, the coupon had generated more than 20 new customers. Each car needed at least one legitimate repair or maintenance procedure, from oil changes and brake work to timing belt jobs.
When he followed up with lists of needed and recommended work, the owners authorized the work.
After deducting the cost of the ad and 40 minutes labor per car, the venture already is profitable.
The new customers are so pleased they are generating word-of-mouth referrals. Equally important, they're providing invaluable marketing information. For example, the cars the new customers drive are upscale and in good condition, but averaged several years older than Mr. Owner estimated. There's a dearth of good service centers in their area, so the people value a one-stop service shop near good public transportation.
He also discovered that, like the boutiques and restaurants they frequented, these motorists valued personal service and trading on a first-name basis. The new customers are neither ``rubes'' nor spendthrifts-they expect an explanation for all charges. They also reinforce a familiar trend: Young professionals' busy lifestyles make them demand 100-percent reliability from their vehicles.
Mr. Owner said he'll try boosting word-of-mouth referrals with a free oil change and car wash for every referral. The next move is to target another upscale neighborhood with the same coupon. Based on the initial results, he thinks he can attract 60-80 maintenance-minded people within a year.
``If I succeed,'' Mr. Owner commented, ``it'll be like reinventing my business. Regardless, I won't be sitting still!''