A shop owner in Whitmore Lake, Mich., writes:
“Just wondering if anyone has a process to solicit small business owners who may have a handful of vehicles (plumbers, electricians, contractors, etc.) but may not have a fleet repair plan.... We have one account with six trucks, and he was one of our best customers.
“I am thinking that many of these businesses are not replacing their vehicles and will need more service on them. Any ideas?”
A shop owner in Inverness, Fla., replies:
“One easy way is to give a free oil change to the person who makes decisions on repair. It´s cheaper then placing an ad for fleet work.
“Another thing I have done is go out with some business cards and Brach´s candy. Place four or five pieces in a small snack bag with a couple of business cards. Just stop in and introduce yourself. Don´t try to sell. Do this a couple of times before you get into selling.
“Make yourself different. We used to offer after-hours repair. They need their vehicles during business time. I had a second crew work until midnight. Worked fairly well. You're already paying for the space, so it´s only the cost of the employees that it affects.”
A shop owner in Traverse City, Mich., answers:
“I have five fleet accounts and am planning more. My fleet rate is the same as regular customers, but they get 20 percent off if paid by the 15th of the month. I´ve had some get lazy but afterwards I don´t give the discount once they pay on time.
“I did lose two that went to 60 days, they paid, but now go somewhere else. OK by me. As for the night shift, if parts are available, great.”
The shop owner in Inverness, Fla., replies:
“One of the keys for night repair is either stock the common parts or have the vehicle in by 3 or so. It gives time for check out and (to) order parts. This worked really well for a long time for us. We only stopped because I kept getting less involved with the business.
“I had a couple of guys come in late in the afternoon. One was given a key and would lock up when done. Any problems (of) not finishing something were written down, and we would put someone on it first thing.”
A shop owner in Omaha, Neb., writes:
“I have lost one of my accounts due to price. They went to another shop that employs illegal immigrants. I have given them a discount of 10 percent on parts and labor. It has helped a little. Any other ideas with keeping a fleet? This particular account has over 150 vehicles.”
Tom Ham responds:
“I think we can often spin our wheels a lot trying to figure out what they want. How about setting up a meeting with them and asking them in-depth exactly what they want? Then tell them you will go back and see what you can do and let them know.
“If they want so much that you make no profit, you may as well save the wear and tear on everyone and search for other customers. Or, you may be able to adjust your offering to what they need and still have a decent return.”
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.)