By Mary DellaValle
What a difference a year makes. For starters, 2008 has brought with it a slumping economy, the threat of a possible U.S. recession, gas prices at $3 a gallon, Federal Reserve rate cuts and a spiraling mortgage industry, making it difficult not to think about one’s financial future, especially if you’re a business owner.
During an economic downturn, discretionary spending tends to wane, as consumers worry about their ability to make their regular monthly payments and watch the interest rates on their savings take an unsettling dip.
As a shop owner today, what can you do to safeguard your business, and keep frugal customers returning to your shop for service for both routine maintenance and necessary repairs?
What actions are you taking to prepare your shop for this economic slowdown?
Steve Louden, president of Louden Motorcar Services in Dallas and long-time ImportCar Editorial Advisory Board Member, has a different outlook.
“The word recession is not in our language around here,” he explains. His eight-bay shop, founded in 1977, services only upscale imports such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, has logged year-over-year record sales for the past four years, and is tracking at an 11% increase for Jan. 2008 vs. Jan. 2007.
“One of my favorite sayings and the subject of one of my AMI seminars is, ‘nothing happens until something is sold’ until that customer walks through your door and says ‘yes.’ ”
So, your focus needs to be on the repair and service sales process, which Louden says begins with marketing your business. While word-of-mouth advertising is important, it only goes so far; a successful shop today needs more.
“Your people have to also be trained to sell needed service when that person does walk through the front door,” explains Louden. “Every vehicle being driven into your parking lot needs some work, whether the owner knows it or not. It’s up to the shop personnel to find it and sell it.
“As far as shop marketing, we’ve increased our budget each year for the past four years and the sales follow right along. What is a good percent? Between 5% and 10% (As a comparison, most national franchises require some number around 10% of gross sales).”
Having a good website is also a must, according to Louden. And if you don’t have one, get one ASAP. “Not having a website today is like not having a telephone number,” he remarks. “Make it simple, straightforward and easy to navigate. Forget the exploding cars and Star Wars theatrics. You will lose many potential customers before they even get started.”
Louden concludes: “Do what you have always done to be successful, but more of it. If you don’t have a marketing program, get one. There are no magic formulas; just good, old common business sense.”
Good advice, I’d say…
Louden Motorcar Services was the first shop in Dallas to be designated an ASE Blue Seal of Excellence facility, with 100% of technicians being ASE-certified. It’s also a Bosch Authorized Service Center. For more information and good advice, go to www.loudenmotorcars.com.