Tire dealers who want to succeed in the automotive repair business must grasp three automotive facts of life. First, neglected maintenance causes most automotive failures. Unless dealers recognize this, they won't sell maintenance as convincingly as they should.
Second, a steady flow of relatively quick-turnaround maintenance work is essential to a healthy service business.
Third, because most motorists don't think of maintenance until it's too late, it's difficult to oversell most maintenance services. Unless you-the automotive expert-convince them of the value of preventive maintenance, the ``too little, too late'' scenario will likely repeat itself.
In this and the next column, I'll review overlooked elements of successful auto service marketing.
I continually meet owners and managers who gripe that their service departments aren't reaching potential. These people missed the three precepts mentioned above, and there are reasonable explanations why-explanations that are valuable lessons for all service personnel.
One common reason is owners and managers usually aren't technically savvy, learning about auto service from personal experience and from the store's technicians.
This combination won't necessarily yield a well-rounded viewpoint. For instance, bosses often are awed by their techs' tales of mechanical mayhem and errant electronics out in the bays. Unfortunately, these tales may skew the owner's or manager's perspective.
You see, fundamentals bore many techs. Their discussions with bosses often concentrate on gory details of the system breakdown or component failure and the complexity of repairing the vehicle. They conveniently fail to inform their bosses that something as basic as inadequate maintenance or no maintenance whatsoever was the root cause of this seemingly horrific breakdown.
What's more, many techs are so busy turning wrenches and getting work out on time they don't consider the maintenance factor in the breakdown they just repaired.
Meanwhile, the owner or manager, who's trying to grow his auto service business, is thrilled by the ``big-ticket'' work his techs are doing. What concerns me is neither the techs nor the bosses saw the proverbial big picture here. Sure, the average age of vehicles on the road today is nearly 9 years old. A tight economy is forcing many motorists to invest heavily in repairing their existing cars. So increased volume of mechanical repairs is understandable.
But they missed the message that neglected maintenance really spurred most of the work they're seeing. Belts and hoses that should have been changed about every 36 months were completely ignored until they failed and caused the engine to overheat. Overheating led to the blown head gasket and/or cracked cylinder head noted on the work order.
Engine coolant and the coolant thermostat should be changed about every 24 months. How many cars in service bays right now still have the original equipment 'stat and factory-fill coolant?
How many heat-related breakdowns in the shop originated from an overheating condition caused by an old thermostat sticking shut? How many of the perforated radiators and heater cores they replaced this month resulted from depleted corrosion-protection additives in old, worn-out coolant?
And how much mechanical repair was a consequence of infrequent oil changes? The closer you look, the longer the list of maintenance-related failures becomes.
Whatever the reason, adequate maintenance on many vehicles presently in the shop was not sold. Smart owners and managers will create a brighter future for their service business by not allowing maintenance to go unsold a second time. With missionary zeal, they'll convert these vehicle owners into regular maintenance purchasers.
Experience shows that normal wear and tear on higher-mileage vehicles generates lots of mechanical repairs. But emphasizing regular maintenance to existing customers as well as incoming service prospects achieves two goals:
It keeps bays busy with frequent, relatively quick-turn-over maintenance services. That way, techs aren't sitting around waiting for big-ticket jobs-which tend to tie up bays longer.
The more often you get the vehicle into the bay, the more likely you are to spot impending failures and sell the necessary repairs before a competitor does. Ultimately, this approach is a lot healthier than waiting for a complete failure or total breakdown to force vehicles into your bays.