Monitoring motorists' monthly repair costs may be a tire dealer's best defense against those vexing, seemingly insurmountable cost objections customers lodge.
The technique can also increase customer loyalty by building trust and confidence, a savvy service shop operator told Tire Business.
In my last column, I began discussing the benefits of service sales persons having a car owner's monthly repair and maintenance expenditures at their fingertips. David Benbow, a service shop owner-operator for 25 years in suburban Philadelphia, showed me how he tracks this information with a software program called Take Charge by Automotive Visions (www.auto-vis.com). Mr. Benbow said he's used this program for four years at his business, Flourtown Service Center in Flourtown, Pa.
As he and his business matured, Mr. Benbow realized the future of his full-service shop lay with quality-conscious motorists interested in a long-term relationship with a trusted service provider. Those of us who've worked the service counter know that some penny-pinching motorists can be sold the benefits of quality and value, others cannot. But the more converts made, the bigger and healthier the congregation.
``Suppose we give an estimate and the car owner claims he can get the work done cheaper elsewhere. This invoice-to-invoice comparison the motorist makes is extremely shortsighted because the cheaper provider isn't using quality parts or skilled technicians,'' Mr. Benbow explained. ``We preach that a higher initial invoice ends up costing less per month over the longer haul. Focus them on their actual cost per month.''
His favorite example is the van owner who had a driveshaft universal joint replaced. The replacement joint failed within several thousand miles. Then another replacement joint also failed within a relatively short time. This motorist gasped when he saw the list price on the u-joint Mr. Benbow recommended was nearly twice that of the other ones. But the costlier part ended up lasting more than 100,000 miles!
The moral is that, by far, the highest invoice delivered the lowest monthly repair cost and the best value over the long haul.
The national average expenditure on automotive maintenance and repairs is $109 per month on a 6-year-old vehicle, Mr. Benbow said. This knowledge, coupled with a software program that puts actual monthly costs and miles driven at his fingertips, helps him provide even more personalized service than ever before. He becomes a vehicular guardian angel of sorts.
Whether it's a new or an existing customer, Mr. Benbow emphasizes knowing a motorist's expectations for his or her vehicle. Keep it a short time or long time? Later on, will it be worthwhile to make this car mom's local grocery-getter or daughter's long-distance hauler for college?
One yardstick for these assessments is the national average maintenance costs. If it's a Chevy Cavalier, for instance, another yardstick would be the actual monthly repair averages for other Cavaliers the shop maintains.
Unlike some auto repairmen I've met, Mr. Benbow won't hesitate to recommend bailing out of a vehicle when the monthly repair averages get out of line. In turn, motorists appreciate his candor and concern for their hard-earned money.
``Sometimes we do a bumper-to-bumper inspection and realize that by the time we get the vehicle reliable again-not to mention maintain it-the average monthly costs will be exorbitant for several years. That's a vehicle they should discard,'' Mr. Benbow said.