Quality Care Service Centers and Quick Lanes are giving Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers around the country added income, keeping otherwise wandering service business in house and attracting non-Ford buyers into the showroom.

Twenty Quality Care Service Centers and 84 Quick Lanes currently are in operation.

“The main distinction is the Quality Care Service Centers are away from the dealer's primary place of business, usually four to six miles away,” says Scott Eldridge, alternative service manager for Ford Customer Service. “Quick Lanes are usually on site.”

Mr. Eldridge says both facilities are intended to re-capture customers who have left dealership service departments and retain those customers who may leave.

Brett Rodman of Rodman Ford in Foxboro, MA, says 35% of the Ford owners that patronize his Quick Lane would likely have been lost to independent shops.

Mr. Rodman's Quick Lane opened in May of 2000. He says it made money from day one, but just started making “enough money” in the last two months.

“It's building up,” he says. “We're doing a lot of brake jobs, tires, rotations and my guy is conditioned to sell exhaust, so we do a lot of that.”

It wasn't so easy for Les Eck of Rusty Eck Ford in Wichita, KS. His Quick Lane opened in May of 1998 and profitability came two years later.

“It took that long to get the right manager,” says Mr. Eck. “It's now becoming more profitable, but it was tough. It's not as easy as it seems. We've lost money. It's very seasonal, and winter time is tough.”

Mr. Eldridge says, “The three ‘drivers’ are price, treatment and convenience. We have done a lot in the last few years to address price. We've succeeded because we've learned a lot in terms of trying to retain and re-capture customers and what are the key elements that dealers need to deliver with these alternative service facilities.”

‘Up-selling’ is the way to make money with a Quick Lane, says Mr. Rodman. But he calls it a delicate balance. You can't up-sell so much that the lanes get clogged up and hamper the convenience element for other customers.

“You have to be convenient and profitable at the same time,” he says. “There's a fine line between over-booking the Quick Lane bays with up-sold service and making sure the people who just want oil changes can get in and out.”

Mr. Eck agrees, “It's definitely a different mentality than we've had. It's a cross between a Firestone tire store and a Quick Lube.”

The first two Quality Care pilot stores opened in 1992. That program launched in earnest in 1995. Quick Lanes debuted in 1997.

“We've had two or three close out of both programs,” says Mr. Eldgridge. “It is building a business. It's not, ‘Open for business and the public beats down the doors to come in.’

“They're attracting customers who are already having their vehicles serviced somewhere else. Our objective is not to take customers out of the (dealership) service department. We want incremental business.”

Although the main goal is keeping Ford owners from getting service outside the dealership, the facilities attract non-Ford owners.

“For the Quality Care Service Centers that are off site, non-Ford business is about 20%,” says Mr. Eldridge. “For the Quick Lanes that are on site, it's about 30%.”

Mr. Rodman says his non-Ford Quick Lane business is about 35%. For Mr. Eck, it's 40%.

“It's bringing more people into our dealership that we didn't have before,” says Mr. Rodman.

Do some of these non-Ford driving service customers come back when it's time to buy a new vehicle?

“It happens all the time,” says Mr. Eck. “We now have 20,000 names of customers we've never had before.”

These facilities give dealers other marketing options, says Mr. Eldridge.

“It gives the dealer the opportunity to introduce used-car customers to a service experience that's different than the dealership service experience,” he notes.

Mr. Eck says the Quick Lanes came in handy during the Firestone tire recalls. He could do tire changes there without tying up his service department.

When customers go to a Quick Lane or Quality Care Service Center for any kind of service, their vehicles get free inspections. This presents the opportunity to up-sell them on needed services.

“We want to do more than oil changes,” says Mr. Eldridge. “We try to slow the customer down a little bit so we can do a vehicle inspection and do their brakes or whatever else needs to be done.”