You pull up to the intersection, and on the side of the road is someone in a chicken suit waving a sign for a nearby taco stand.

This person jumps, dances and waves at people to draw in business. Meanwhile, I drive by a local quick oil-change place, and one of the guys in a uniform is out front with a sign advertising $14.99 oil changes.

What can we learn from these people? Now, before you think I’m saying to get a chicken suit or put your porter out front holding a sign, I’m not saying that at all. It would cheapen the brand and lower the image of your operation.

But let’s look beyond the surface. Here’s what I think the guy in the chicken suit can teach us when it comes to energizing our fixed operations.

Attitude: Years ago, good friend Jim King shared a saying I use all the time, “When the wind stops blowing, start rowing.” The people using the chicken-suit approach have decided to start rowing! They tell us by their actions they will not accept defeat. It’s their investment. In some cases, their financial lives depend on the growth of their business.

Let’s look at our people. Do they have that can-do attitude or do they continuously come up with excuses for their poor performance? I call these managers the “bad finders.”

You can depend on them in some respects, but underperformance always is someone else’s fault. They develop creative ways to place the blame on someone else, particularly auto makers. I often have heard someone say, “If the OEM would only do this or that, we could do that.”

My suggestion is to raise performance expectation levels. These people need leadership and need to be around people who will not accept whining and complaining.

Yes, they may have been with you for years, but it may be time for them to move on if they can’t move the business ahead. Get someone who has that chicken-suit attitude, someone who will not accept defeat. 

The Challenge of the Business: Market conditions continue to change. Managers without the chicken-suit mentality continue to fall farther behind. Typically, their customer repair-order counts are dropping. Technician and advisor frustrations are increasing. It’s time to get to work.

“Vendoring” your way out is not the answer. There is no magic bullet that will fix everything. Find new and creative ways to grow the business.

Several auto makers have taken a leadership role and are offering assistance in helping their dealers drive traffic.

One way is through fleet service. Nearly one out of five vehicles driving past your dealerships is in some type of fleet. There are only a few things I’ll tell you that you must do. This is one of them. Get in this business.

It requires someone going after it; a visit to the local fleet customer; a tour of your facility; value pricing; and the development of a why-do-business-with-us brochure.

For many managers this is all new. The more progressive ones saw the value in fleet business long ago. While others whined, they were making things happen.

The “chicken-suit manager” will secure the fleet account and develop a VIP club for the employees of the fleet customer.

Some stores are offering service for all makes and models. Your manager needs to develop ways to advance this expanded business. Now, why would Toyota owners service their cars at a Ford dealership? They won’t, unless you sell them on why.

How many of your technicians have experience working on cars of other brands? Your manager needs to conduct an inventory of skills for all of your technicians and find their depth and promote it.

When each used car is sold, sell the customer on the value of your dealership’s service department. If they have fears, hit them head on. Introduce them to technicians and develop sales aids to use at time of delivery. A number of the OEMs are offering parts for other makes, so that fear can be addressed and abated.

Another approach is to offer free retrieval of check-engine light codes. The big-box service outlets have separated this service into two operations; code retrieval and diagnosis. Many managers are holding onto our old way of doing business and charging $100 and more to read the code. Those days are over.

Your customers want to do business with you. We need to make their obvious choice your dealership. Get your chicken suit on.

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.