January 28, 2000
What do some tire dealers need to do to grow their businesses? I´m convinced they need to realize that image-building is an ongoing process that demands their attention day in, day out, every month, every year.
Once that concept has sunk in, these owners and managers yearning for bigger things will probably reach their goals.
When I talk to tire dealers and service-shop operators around the country, I´m awed by their seemingly new-found fascination with professionalism and image-building ideas. But they never learned that those who don´t study history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Sadly, cultivating a friendly, positive sales atmosphere and professional image are age-old concepts our industry´s still struggling to achieve!
A recent discovery in my storage loft really drove home this point. I was rummaging through boxes of old books and trade journals I´d purchased from a retired local technician who was cleaning out his basement. While searching for one particular book, I found the December 1952 edition of a Cincinnati-based publication called Automotive Service Digest.
Interestingly enough, this appeared to be an installment of the publication´s management series called, "The Service Manager´s Handbook." When I saw that it covered topics such as selling service and building customer confidence, I had to read it.
The fact that the material sounded as if it was written yesterday is both enlightening and sobering. The theme´s the same one I´ve been discussing in this column for more than 10 years.
The bottom line: Image and professionalism are timeless concepts. That said, I know readers will appreciate some of the pearls I found in a trade mag nearly a half century old.
Marketing giants such as Walmart Stores Inc. boast that they personalize their stores with a "greeter" who literally greets every customer coming in the door. Believe it or not, the first item I found in this publication discussed techniques for making customers feel at home in a service business.
"When ... customers arrive faster than they can be handled, you almost need a system like they have in the delicatessen or meat market of giving each one a number.
"But that´s too impersonal. A lot of shops handle the problem by having someone greet each person as he enters, even though nothing can be done for him immediately," the writer advised.
He went on to suggest that the boss train someone for the job, explaining that the greeter could be a bookkeeper, office girl, vehicle porter, etc.
No, it ain´t Sam Walton, but the fellow was definitely on track!
Those of us old enough — I mean mature enough — to remember the old days may have forgotten that people were actually in a hurry in 1952. The writer cautions: "It´s strange but true that a motorist who has waited perhaps seven or eight minutes to explain his problem may be bursting with indignation when he is finally met."
I´ll bet that sounds familiar to anyone who has worked the service desk or sales counter.
Regular readers know I have badgered them many times to focus on all the little details that add up to creating a positive sales atmosphere. Obviously it´s difficult, if not impossible, to sell successfully if the atmosphere isn´t right.
Once again the more things change the more they´ve stayed the same. The article I read stated, "And it is only by keeping everyone in the shop alert to the job of greeting each motorist ... that keeps customers in a receptive frame of mind so that they can be sold whatever their cars may actually need."
Imagine this, the writer has the audacity to discuss good manners. Remember good manners? "It is both good business and good manners to listen attentively to everything that your customer wants to tell you," the author said. Although you may already know where the customer´s story is going, he emphasized that "you pay your customer a compliment when you listen to him."
Furthermore, some "chance remark" the customer makes may put you on the right diagnostic path.
This old article reminds me that these procedures are so easy. That´s why we all implement them so well, true? Tune in my next column for more pearls from ´52!