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Vehicle inspections: Cash cow

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CLEVELAND—There are a lot of untapped service dollars tire and auto repair shops are missing out on because they fail to provide preventive maintenance inspections, according to Mike Hudgins, a sales trainer for Mighty Distributing System of America Inc.

“Do more than the customer asks,” he told attendees of his seminar during the International Tire Exhibition & Conference (ITEC) in Cleveland. “If a customer comes in for an oil change, check the car over and let him/her know of any problems. Do a 32-point inspection, an 18-point inspection. If you service 20 vehicles a day and you do a 26-point inspection, how many sales opportunities do you have? Five hundred and twenty sales opportunities in one day. If all you do is service those 20 vehicles and do what I ask you to do—a tire rotation and an oil change—how many sales opportunities do you have? Twenty,” he said.

“So I don't care if your car count has gone down. If you change the way you do business by inspecting those vehicles more properly, you're doing me a favor as a consumer by letting me know things, and you're also giving yourself a chance to sell a lot more during the day.”

He said it can be annoying for a customer to take a car in for service one week and then find out the next week that something else needs replaced on the vehicle. “My first thought (as a customer) is, 'Why didn't that guy catch that?' Even though I might have just taken it in for a tire rotation and oil change, what I'm really saying, as a busy consumer, 'Check the whole thing over and let me know what's wrong with it because I really don't want to deal with it anymore.'

“So that's that new consumer today and maybe you're experiencing that.”

Mr. Hudgins said the main reason technicians don't want to do inspections is they think there is not enough time or that the customer doesn't want them checking over the vehicle. However, he pointed to one dealership he visited that was able to do a 32-point inspection in eight minutes by using several technicians to check various items—much like a NASCAR pit crew.

He suggested dealerships start offering inspections with oil changes and then expand the inspections to other maintenance services.

Mr. Hudgins referred to a Car Care Council survey that found 84 percent of vehicles on the road need services or parts.

“My question to you is, 'What is your method for checking those cars?'” he asked attendees. “If all you're doing is doing what I ask you to do, like if I come in and say I need an oil change and tire rotation, and that's all you're doing—you're missing these sales.

“So maybe it's time to change how we go about greeting the customer and working with the customer. Maybe we need to implement some things to capture some of these sales....”

Most of the following tips he offered came from his customer base that he visits around the country, Mr. Hudgins said. Those include:

c Offer nitrogen—Mr. Hudgins said Mighty Auto Parts serves more than 600 new car dealerships nationally and has seen a lot of nitrogen fill tanks going into many of these dealerships.

“Down the road, nitrogen is probably going to be free, so you can decide when you want to get into that market. You may want to get a nitrogen machine and have it paid for now by selling the service because we're seeing trends around the country where people are giving out nitrogen fill free to attract customers. So that might be something you might want to think about.”

c Provide diesel fuel injection service—”I know what you're going to say: 'We don't see that many diesels.' That's because you have your blinders on,” Mr. Hudgins told his audience. “There are diesels driving by your shop every day.” Noting that diesel vehicles need tires and brakes, as well, dealers should advertise that they provide services for diesel vehicles on their websites and store signs and post a menu of services specifically for diesel vehicles. “You can cater to a market that doesn't have a home,” he suggested.

c Test fluids—He encouraged dealers to use professional tests to check a vehicle's power steering fluids, coolant, transmission fluids, etc., and staple the results to the vehicle's inspection report.

c Replace cabin air filters—”Ninety percent of cars have cabin air filters and guess what, 90 percent can be done in 10 minutes or less. It's a $30,000 or more profit potential for you,” he said. Cabin air filters are 4 to 5 percent of a shop's sales, according to national averages, meaning if a shop services 100 cars per week, it should be replacing five cabin air filters just to be average, Mr. Hudgins added.

c Check the wipers—”Every time a customer comes to the counter, I don't care if they're in to ask for directions, ask them, 'How did your wipers work the last time it rained?' Because when do people think about when they got bad wipers?” he asked rhetorically.

c Educate, don't vegetate your customers— He urged dealers not to put their customers in a trance watching talk shows on the waiting room TV. He suggested converting the waiting room into “education centers” with a screen that plays videos on the importance of vehicle maintenance, a magazine rack and service menus that describe vehicle services you offer.

“The customer is in there waiting. Why not educate them? They may not buy today, but they might buy something tomorrow, rather than letting them just watch TV.”

c Certify technicians and service managers on preventive maintenance—”Do they know how to sell a transmission fluid flush or a steering flush? Why do I need a brake flush?” He urged dealers to have their employees complete an online certification course so they can talk to the consumers about why their vehicles need preventative maintenance.

c Sell air filters—”The national average on air filters is 14.6 to 22 percent depending on the type of shop you are. So 15 percent of 100 cars—if you're seeing 100 cars this week, are you selling 15 air filters?” He noted that clean air filters can increase acceleration and fuel economy. Dirty air filters foul the spark plugs sooner, so to save added costs down the road, dealers need to educate the consumer on the importance of replacing such items.

c Don't feed your competition—Know your market, Mr. Hudgins advised, including learning what the competition is selling and for what prices, whether they're doing preventive maintenance and if their technicians are trained.

He also suggested dealers update their service equipment. “There's a lot of new technology out there that makes it easier for me to get my car serviced at your shop and faster and more efficient. So think of updating if you don't have it already.”

c Complete a report card on your business—Track services sold and compare your sales with national averages and consider combining services you offer. For example, a belt can last 100,000 miles but the tensioner may last only 75,000 miles, he said. “So when you change a belt, preventive maintenance would almost dictate that you go ahead and sell the consumer on the tensioners.... That's how you grow your sales, one or two services at a time.”

c Take advantage of national promotions—All suppliers offer national promotions that dealers should participate in to boost sales, he said, and draw repeat business.

c Appeal to business consumers—If a businessperson has to get a car repaired, it's taking time away from doing emails and reports. So provide wireless access for their convenience, Mr. Hudgins suggested, which is very inexpensive.

He also advised providing computer workstations, installing comfortable furniture in the waiting area and providing fresh coffee, bottled water and a children's area with video games and movies.

“Think about some things to do to attract the consumer, the female consumer, the family person, the business person, that maybe you got too involved in your business that you might be missing.”

c Feature service menus—”Are you offering your customers choices, whether it be brake choices, whether it be oil change choices? That is the way today,” he said, adding that dealerships should provide good, better, best levels of maintenance services.

“Consumers are 85 percent more likely to purchase things they see than being told about it. So don't just tell them you have a menu and you got this price and this price and this price on an oil change. Have something printed up.” And don't just staple it to a wall, he said. Frame it so it attracts consumers to look at it. They'll read it even if they are having something else done on the car. List a service, what is included and why it is needed, as well as the prices, he said and let the menus educate customers and soft sell them.



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@crain.com; 330-865-6127.
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