DETROIT — Nothing says "spirit of the season" like...a wheel alignment?
Auto service might not seem the obvious choice for a holiday gift card, certificate or coupon, but growing numbers of car dealerships are finding that such promotions build business and enhance customer satisfaction.
Waikem Auto Family, which operates six franchised dealerships in Massillon, Ohio, offers gift certificates for vehicle reconditioning: $159 for cars, $169 for pickups and SUVs.
David Waikem, the group's co-owner, said he expects to sell about 25 of the certificates this year, with 15 of them snapped up in November and December as holiday presents.
"This kind of happened backward," Mr. Waikem told Fixed Ops Journal.
"When we had requests for donations to nonprofits for things like gift baskets, people wanted something valued at more than an oil change and tire rotation."
The company also sells 30 to 40 gift certificates each year, in varying amounts, for other maintenance and repair work at its dealerships, Mr. Waikem said.
Although the promotion heavily discounts labor and parts costs, he adds, the maintenance and reconditioning certificates do not provide enough sales volume to warrant offering plastic gift cards.
Graff Chevrolet in Bay City, Mich., offers gift cards that build on the dealership's rewards program, said Lisa Rechsteiner, co-owner of the store. The rewards plan enables customers to earn points redeemable for service work and other purchases.
During the December holiday season and a few other times each year, Ms. Rechsteiner said, Graff offers a special promotion: The purchase of a $50 gift card returns $10 worth of bonus points; a $100 card includes $25 in bonus points.
A gift card buyer can keep the points or add their value to the card. Ms. Rechsteiner says the dealership operates the card plan through General Motors Co.'s Preferred Owner Program, although it handles its own accounting.
Graff's gift card sales help the dealership "build our database" of service customers, Ms. Rechsteiner added.
Elgie Bright, who heads the automotive marketing and management department at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., said he sees more dealerships selling gift cards.
"They are good for promoting things like accessories and service," Mr. Bright said. "They could be used in a variety of ways for everyday anticipated automotive needs."
Janell Townsend, a professor of business administration at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., said gift cards tied to vehicle service provide a "clever approach" to boosting immediate business and strengthening long-term customer relations at a dealership.
But Rick Wegley isn't convinced. The instructor at NCM Associates, an automotive consulting firm in Kansas City., Mo., said that gift cards and certificates for vehicle service aren't big sellers, even during holiday shopping seasons. And when they are purchased, he added, their recipients often don't redeem them.
Too many other gift items battle for customer attention and dollars at this time of year, Mr. Wegley said.
He added: "You can't compete with Santa Claus."