The challenges of past years have forced many dealers to look beyond their franchise brands for potential service and parts department customers.

A lot of dealership managers tell me their stores service all makes and models, but their advertising and marketing doesn’t really reflect that. It becomes a best-kept secret.

I hear a lot of excuses but if we really intend to widen business, it must be done with a planned approach, focus and commitment.

Let your customers know if your dealership services all makes and models. I’m an optimistic who doesn’t buy the stinking thinking of managers who tell me it won’t work. How can we make it work? A recent article says the average household has 2.28 vehicles. Let’s assume this is true. This is a great opportunity.

Start by announcing to our existing customers that we service all makes and models. Create a flyer that helps build your brand. Attach the flyer to all service invoices at time of delivery. Instruct cashiers and advisers to tell customers something like: “We are excited to let you know we have expanded our world-class service to include all makes and models. This flyer provides you with a summary of our services. If the need should arise, please give us an opportunity to earn your business.”

Here is what else you should do:

  • Take stock of skills. Toyota owners won’t get their cars serviced at a Ford dealership without a compelling reason to do so. A lot of your technicians are certified in other makes and models. The service manager should do an inventory of staff skills. You might be surprised with the depth of it. Automotive Service Excellence certifications are good, but brand-specific is better.
  • Parts availability. Several OEMs now offer other brand parts. This can be a huge advantage in securing additional service business. Some parts manager will not stock these parts because of the lack of sales history. That becomes a circular argument. Consider bypassing the demand-stocking logic.  
  • Time Promise. The No.1 motivator of purchase beyond need is convenience. A guarantee or promise to complete work within a specified time will draw customers. 
  • Tires. I love tire sales. They are a great way to retain customers. Offer the availability of tires for all makes and models.
  • Coupons. Many managers get carried away using coupons. Don’t go crazy, but offer coupons for specific things, such as a servicing a family’s second vehicle.
  • Service clinics. They can be so much more than just a service-specific event. They can be a dealership event with all departments benefiting.
         It’s always been said the best form of advertising is word of mouth. That’s not true. We have been told that so many times, we start to believe it. The best form of advertising is when the consumer samples the product or service. Walk the aisles on Saturday at your local wholesale club and see how they give out samples.
         How can we duplicate this in our dealerships? With service clinics. Offer free car inspections. Invite the customer to your dealership for this. Don’t overtly sell anything. Just make a good impression. Customers will sell themselves on picking you as their service provider.

These are a few tips to get the ball rolling. Marketing is a game. Just like in sports, develop a game plan and execute it to the best of your ability. If that doesn’t get the results you want, revise the plan. But don’t stop playing the game. If you make the wrong moves, try again with something else.

Fixed-operations consultant Lee Harkins heads M5 Management Services based in Pelham, AL. He can be reached at 205-358-8717 at leesv40sw@aol.com.