Challenges that affect our business consist of three basic elements. Things you have no control over, things you have limited control over and things that are completely under your control.
Understanding and coming to accept these items takes time, patience and a measure of courage.
Some things just happen TO you. Taxes have to be paid. State or Federal regulations have to be adhered to. Your best customer files for bankruptcy. Somebody just t-boned your newest service van.
Other challenges can be affected by your decisions and actions
-Insurance rates (do you have a safety program?)
-Utility bills (put a lock box on the thermostat)
-Interest Expenses (control your inventory)
-Receivables aging (tighten your credit standards)
Some items are COMPLETLEY within our control
-How well our people are trained
-How efficient our
-The tools we use to convey our image (people, and advertising).
Since we can do little about the first two categories listed above, this month, I want to focus only on items that, by and large, are totally under our control. As a business you have the unique opportunity to create, support and promote the image you want your customers to have. Like it or not, customers have an opinion of your company, and its standing in the marketplace. Customers arrive at this image based on what they observe, how they are treated and how well we communicate with them. We have spent a great deal of time this year talking about all of the customer engagement factors that help to build the image of your dealership in the mind of the customer. We have discussed crafting a definable value proposition and using both internal and external venues to communicate this value message to both employees and customers.
While we are doing all that we can to create and cultivate our value message, we many times ignore very visible but often overlooked areas where our message of quality and value can be supported. I want to touch on two of these things that are ALWAYS in view of the customer, and they either support or detract from the hallmarks of quality and value that you are seeking to build.
Nearly all dealerships provide some level of uniform garments for their staff. Our dealership provided shirts, pants and coveralls through a local uniform vendor. The uniform business is much maligned in our industry, and for good reason. The sales promises made by uniform companies are seldom kept. We are entrusting our image to a vendor whose profitability is based on getting the maximum wear out of a garment. We on the other hand are expecting that this supplier will replace garments that don’t connote the image of quality and value we want to portray.
The goals of the dealership, and the goals of the uniform supplier are really at cross purposes. The very nature of the motivations on both sides of the transaction create an adversarial relationship. You want your men to look better, but the uniform vendor wants you to put up with how they look, to get maximum wear out of the garment.
There are ways this relationship can be managed, in order to motivate both sides toward alternative goals. One way would be to arrange your agreement to include mandatory replacement garments as part of the initial negotiation. Let’s say that six months after a new agreement is signed, the uniform vendor is duty bound to prove that they had replaced 10% of all rental garments every calendar quarter. This would cycle all garments over the period of 2.5 years; a much faster cycle than they normally want to see. Yes, costs would be higher, but your image would be protected! How valuable is that to your organization? I’d be willing to spend 20% more for uniforms, if I was perpetually proud of the way the crew looked every day. If all of the companies competing for the business had to provide the same level of compliance and service, you should be able to negotiate a pretty good deal anyway. Having a compulsory replacement policy will actually allow the uniform vendor to have the latitude to deliver on what they promise. They now have the tools to care for your image.
You can also use purchase incentives to sweeten the deal. Uniform companies sell more than just uniforms. All of the companies we dealt with offered janitorial supplies, carpet runners, mops and buckets, hand towels, toilet paper, hand soap, shop rags, cleaning supplies, first aid kits and promotional items from hats, to shirts, to jackets, to belt buckles.
Some dealerships purchase these items from the uniform company in addition to uniform rentals. There are however probably some, if not many, of those items that the dealership acquires from other suppliers. What if we tied the purchase of these items from the uniform company to their willingness to increase replacement rental garments? Leveraging the purchase of these promotional items could be a way not only mitigate overall costs, but also consolidate vendors, while securing your image.
As great as clean uniforms are, its even more important for the crew to actually wear them. This should be mandatory. At minimum, every tech should have a company shirt and a clean hat with a company logo. Hats get dirty quickly, and yes, they are an expense, but consider that it’s the first thing your customer sees. A technician showing up in a greasy worn out hat just does not support the image you are trying to build.
Service vans are expensive to acquire, expensive to equip and expensive to operate. One of the ways we can get a little value for the money we invest in rolling stock is to properly use the visible surfaces of the van as an advertising medium.
Many of you already do this. Vehicle wrapping has become very popular and costs are reasonable for the quality and visual appeal that normally results from a good wrap. The visual image portrayed by your service vans should do three things.
- Promote a unified image. The colors, the content and the theme of the graphics should be similar. They don’t have to be identical, but they should fit a visual standard that supports the image you want to portray.
- Include contact information that is clear and definable. This isn’t just passive image advertising. It should be designed to have people contact you. Both your website and your phone numbers should be prominently displayed.
- Sell something tangible. Offer one thing of value that would motivate a customer contact. This is where you can show some differences between the vans. Each van can have its own unique message.
- We carry pallet rack in stock – call for a quote
- Let us train your lift truck operators – contact us for information
- Pallet jacks for as low as $295.00 – always in stock
- Tires that pay for themselves with the fuel they save – contact us
- We rent forklifts by the day, week or month – delivery available
All this said, one thing I have observed is that - less is more. Don’t get too wordy or try to put too much sales messaging on the van. One tangible item of value is really all that is needed. A litmus test might be to look at your vans with a critical eye. Ask yourself, is this really the image we want representing our company? Sometimes it’s a thin line between sharp and obnoxious.
One last item. The sharpest looking truck in the world is wasted money if it’s dirty. This is an image killer. If you don’t have a system of accountability to ensure that your vehicles show up clean at the customer’s place of business every day, you may as well not wrap them at all.
Image many times is difficult to manage. There are so many things that can affect it. It is however something that we do have a measure of control over. It’s up to us to continually care for it, promote it, protect it and use it to add value to all of our other customer offerings.
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 35 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail email@example.com to contact Dave.