Part Two of a Two-Part Series
Originally published as Editor’s Notebook, February 2009 Issue of ImportCar Magazine
This column continues yesterday’s discussion with ImportCar Advisory Board members who shared their business projections and expectations for 2009. Here, they take that commentary a step further to discuss the strategies they’re employing to stay competitive, gain market share and win new customers in what has become a very challenging business climate. In summary, their advice is to “focus on the customer” exceeding their expectations and gaining their trust, and going the extra mile to keep your shop top of mind.
Chris Klinger, co-owner, Precision Inc., Tucson, Ariz.;
Mitch Schneider, co-owner, Schneider’s Automotive, Simi Valley, Calif.;
Bob Dowie, owner, Village Auto, Chester, N.Y.; and
Steve Louden, president, Louden Motorcar Services, Dallas.
What actions are you taking to see your shop through these tough economic times?
Klinger: Continuing our advertising budget for sure! Providing five-star levels of service in an effort to ease the minds of the growing number of financially burdened consumers.
We are also looking for real estate opportunities for future locations. We have saved money for the past few years in the hopes of capitalizing on a fall back in the real estate market. We hope to secure an additional location that previously would have been unaffordable.
Schneider: We are focusing on “value to the customer,” a long (30-year) tradition of world-class customer service, technical expertise, more aggressive marketing, more frequent customer communication, et al. We recently began sending out a monthly newsletter and shooting four new cable ads, and plan on going back on cable during the second quarter. We’re going to ratchet up our web presence and do whatever else it takes to achieve “top of mind” awareness.
We are also exploring various ways to become more active in the community with regard to community service. In other words, “We ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Except getting ready for the next 30 years!
Dowie: We are trying to get by with fewer techs, and while we always try to work smart, that’s even more important in this economic climate. Even the folks who aren’t struggling to make ends meet are acutely aware that it’s not a good time to spend more than you have to. The smart shop owner and manager feel the same way; spend what you have to. But be very careful not to over-extend.
Louden: The over-riding buzz word today is…CASH FLOW. And I mean POSITIVE. You have to manage it very carefully. With today’s credit crunch, I would imagine it is next to impossible to factor your accounts receivable. And, be extremely careful of customers who say they will send you a check when they get back to the office after you have delivered their car.
These are the times when a shop owner wishes he or she had taken advantage of those seminars and business classes. Those who regularly advanced their business education are probably sailing through these rough waters pretty well.
In closing…a bright spot. We are experiencing numerous customers who want their car to last them until better economic times and thus are spending money to keep their present car alive, instead of trading it for a new one.
We’ve experienced tough economic times in the past and we will come out the other side in better shape than when we started.
Interviews conducted and compiled by ImportCar Editor Mary DellaValle.