A shop owner in Inverness, Fla., writes: “I just joined our local Corvette club. I am thinking about offering a discount to other members. Does anyone do this? I normally don´t offer any discounts. What would you use as a discount, a percentage or just a dollar amount?”
Tom Ham, replies:
“As with any marketing, start with some type of basic trial initiative, then track it and see if it is worthwhile. It can vary greatly from one shop to another.
“As far as the amount, shops have success both ways. Exact dollar amounts that are too small tend to get ignored. However, ones that are too large may not be credible.
“The big thing to remember is to clearly state a maximum on any percentage discounts so you do not end up giving a huge discount on a large job (like an engine) that has low gross profit.”
Doug Fentiman, president of Robert Maxim International Inc. in Vernon, British Columbia, answers:
“Networking of any type can be productive if done correctly. Clubs and groups used to be yesterday's equivalent of today's social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. You developed contacts and business relationships from interacting with people.
“But what has remained the same is that if you are perceived as only there for what YOU can get, it may backfire and you may be shunned. Most times a discount is not required if you develop a relationship with fellow group members.
“Years ago, I was asked to join a community service group run by local business people, and it was very rewarding. But I had to be patient and invest time and effort before seeing results. In a way I had to pay my 'dues' in the eyes of fellow members and gain their trust. Like any form of marketing, presence and consistency is rewarded.
“In the end, my joining the group resulted in developing some of my largest and most profitable commercial accounts.
“Offering a discount should not be required. As Tom (Ham) said, it may actually decrease your credibility. People may become suspicious of why you need to discount your services to fellow members. If you focus on developing a relationship with fellow members, discounts shouldn´t be needed to attract them as customers.
“If you want quality customers, they should be attracted on the basis of trust of a fellow member. I suggest getting involved with the group and contributing in ways to make yourself stand out. This can be sponsorship through time or money.
“Often just being a member and letting people know who you are and what you do is enough.”
The shop owner in Inverness, Fla., replies:
“A while back I told one of the guys from the club that when I am working on my 'vette if he wanted to put his up in the air, he could.… (H)e came by. I put it on the alignment lift so he could get under it.
“I pointed out a few things for him. I didn´t try to sell him anything or offer to do anything. He now is coming in to have quite a bit of work done.
“I normally don´t like to even work on cars but I will say I enjoyed it, because I wasn´t trying to make money. It was just friends hanging out. I know a lot of people who always want to look under their car. I am thinking about offering a free lift use just for inspections purposes on Saturdays when I am working on mine. We are not open on Saturday, so it wouldn´t interfere with customers….”
A shop owner in Woburn, Mass., replies:
“Be VERY careful. I was president of a few classic car clubs in the past (a local Classic Chevy Club and two hot rod clubs) and found it can bite you in the butt.
“Offering discounts are good, BUT there will always be a few members who take full advantage and ask you to go over and above what you offer because they are fellow club members.
“In the past I have had club members ask for $2000 custom paint jobs, free labor and the like. They forget that the work you are offering is your bread and butter (where you still need to make some kind of profit), and not just buddies hanging out at a friend´s garage doing work together...
“Just tread very lightly and make sure you are clear in what you can/cannot offer.”
A shop owner in West End, N.C., replies:
“People have a very odd view about this. They think your goal is to help them preserve the marque, and therefore, (do) it pro bono. Cheapskates populate clubs because of the discounts. It really hasn´t brought business that I didn´t already have.”
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Ham's Automotive Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. (The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.)