FENTON, Mo. — For retail shops selling clothing, shoes, entertainment, etc., customers walking through the door generally are excited to buy something they really want. Maybe they even saved up for it.
In the tire and automotive aftermarket, a customer normally walks in the door after a road disaster, or avoiding for as long as possible a vehicle repair or postponed routine maintenance. Any way you look at it, it's more of a grudge purchase — one the customer doesn't want but really needs.
The question for automotive aftermarket professionals is how to cater to this clientele and create the best way to speak to customers to sell these less desirable services, such as mounting and balancing, shocks, struts, etc.
“I believe every shop wants to find a ‘best way' approach, but it varies throughout the country,” said Jim Berberich, owner of Fenton-based Al's Automotive & Tire, in an email interview with Tire Business.
“We show our customers the condition of their tires that warrants the need for replacement, ask them if they have noticed conditions that are consistent with the tire condition such as pulling, loss of traction, etc., and then offer them at least two options for tires that would best improve the performance of their vehicle and have the best cost per mile.”
Paul Buckheit, president of Staten Island, N.Y.-based All Tire & Service, shared a similar sentiment.
“I would reference Goodyear's five steps to a tire sale and get out to the car and see what you're dealing with,” he said.
“Take a look at what you're going to be working with for the next 45 minutes.”
He advises that a technician should go out to the car and take a look, just like he or she would do while selling a tire.
Services are not necessarily all one price. For instance, if the vehicle a technician is working on has a 20-inch rim, then there would need to be more time spent in the service bay, Mr. Buckheit said. That is why a technician must check out the vehicle, then the service adviser provides the customer with a personalized estimate, factoring in labor costs.
There are a variety of demographics that will be coming into a shop for repairs, but Mr. Buckheit said he approaches them all the same.
“Over the years, I think the visual displays have gotten better,” he said.
Showing the customer some point-of-sale and visual information provided by aftermarket companies — for instance, a brake, shock or strut display — “are pretty effective” when dealing with customers, Mr. Buckheit said.
“The nice thing about suspension is it really hasn't changed a lot in many years,” he added. “Most people know what a shock absorber is and what it does.”
A technician needs to start by looking at the suspension to determine what is happening and whether there is a problem. Mr. Buckheit said a technician should road test the vehicle and check for ride control problems, tire wear, leaks, etc.
“Customer complaints factor into that also,” he said.
Asking the customer what they are experiencing can help direct a technician to what is wrong with the vehicle, such as asking if the vehicle bounces a lot or if it nose dives when the driver steps on the brakes.
If a vehicle needs work but the customer gives push back, Mr. Buckheit said he tries to turn it into a positive experience.
“If somebody is giving pushback, to me that says either I don't know you or I don't trust you. So that's an opportunity to maybe do a little show and tell and go the extra mile to get them onboard,” he said.
Al's Automotive's approach to dealing with pushback, according to Mr. Berberich, is to never argue with a customer but instead explain the services with a medical profession analogy. For instance, he might say: “Your ball joints aren't going to heal themselves just like a torn meniscus isn't going to repair itself. The problem won't go away, and left untreated, the damage may be more catastrophic and more expensive.”
This may help a customer understand repairs in a different light. While he said he does not necessarily approach different demographics specifically a certain way, he may when it comes to driving habits.
“We have some pretty aggressive women drivers who need excellent cornering and traction features,” Mr. Berberich said.
“Men sometime want a rugged-looking tire for their truck or SUV, just for the appearance. The rest fall in between.”
When attempting to sell a mounting or balancing job or shocks and struts, there is a difference between how to sell to a customer who is coming in for the service as opposed to if a technician discovers a problem and recommends the service should be done.
“Similar to the tires, we want to show them what we found whenever possible, then we discuss our findings and let them know how this need ranks on a scale of ‘urgent' to ‘it can wait,'” Mr. Berberich said.
“We want the customer to always feel in control of their service decisions.”
Mr. Buckheit said no matter how a vehicle gets in the shop, it is always checked. However, if a customer is coming in for the work, the shop would want to know where the initial inspection was done as well as some more background information.
“If they are coming in for the work,…we will get a full explanation at the counter as to what they are experiencing; why they think that they need it,” he said.
Additionally, the shop most likely will do a road test to make sure the service was diagnosed correctly.
However, if a customer was bringing in a vehicle for a different service, he said, then the shop would not automatically do the road test but instead a standard 32-point inspection check.
For shocks and struts, Mr. Berberich said if the shop waits until there are visible signs of failure, then it has not served the customer well.
“Those components hit their peak around 60K, and that's when we start asking the customer about any changes in their ride,” he added.
“We explain the other components that are negatively impacted by not replacing shocks or struts and let them make the decision.”
While other areas of technology in auto service may be constantly changing, vehicle suspension has remained relatively the same—with a few enhancements.
“It's just a different way of doing the same thing, but nothing that is out of the reach of most aftermarket shops,” Mr. Buckheit said.
Al's Automotive & Tire has added some more technical diagnostic equipment and also implemented a Web-based inspection system that integrates with its shop management system, he said.
The result for the customer is a more professional-looking test results form, and the reporting data is very helpful to the business, he added.
“The photos we capture during the inspection are displayed real time on our website so the customer can easily review our findings as well.”
Both shops regularly train their employees on how to sell and speak to customers.
“Tire and other sales are not much different than making a root canal sound appealing,” Mr. Berberich joked. “Our job is to create the WOW service experience that puts the customer at ease and helps them get through the procedure.”