By Bob Clements
With the season in full swing, you have already had a chance to see how your wholegoods strategy for the 2009 season is working for you. The flow of customers through your store and the sales that you are capturing from them are strong indicators of how 2009 will look at the end of December. With a lot of season still in front of you and the flow of business becoming routine, now is a great time to take a few hours and do some tweaking on the retail aspect of your dealership.
Retailing involves many aspects of your dealership; it pulls together your marketing efforts, product training, Web site, physical property, and the image you are trying to create from a potential customer’s perspective. In this article, I want to focus on the physical appearance of the outside and inside of your building, and offer a few ideas that you can quickly implement to impact both your sales volume and your profitability.
The sale begins when the customer pulls into your dealership
Regardless of how much you spend on newspaper, radio, billboard and Yellow Pages advertising, as business owners we do it for one reason: to get people into the dealership. Our ads reflect, in some way, an image we want to convey to customers about who we are and what we have to offer, so that when they walk into our store, their expectations can be met and the equipment they want can be purchased.
In all of my years working with dealers, I don’t believe I have seen any ads that promote how mean and nasty your employees are or guarantee customers that if they buy from your dealership, they will regret it for the rest of their lives. Quite the opposite is true. Your marketing tells of the great employees you have and the wonderful experience customers will enjoy if they choose to spend money with you.
So after you have spent the money to create a perception of whom and what you are, customers pull into your driveway and perception meets reality. What they see from the road to when they walk through your front door will set the tone of the sale as they start to interact with you and your employees. Take some time either today or tomorrow, and walk (don’t drive) from the road to the front of your business. From a customer’s point of view, carefully evaluate the image of your dealership, from the signage to the landscaping, and decide if the image you see is one of a successful business.
When I pull into the driveway/parking lot of one of my dealers, I am looking at two things – landscaping and signage.
Regardless of the space you have, nothing stops you from making sure it is clean and picked up. It is absolutely crazy to spend money to attract customers to your dealership only to have them pull into a store that has weeds and trash littering the parking lot.
As a dealer, you represent everything that is green and fresh to a customer. In most of your customers’ worlds, there is nothing more breath taking than a well-landscaped and well-cared-for lawn. Every mower and handheld product you sell is marketed to either consumer or commercial customers who are dedicated to making that happen. Yet, they pull into your dealership, and see what? Grass that needs mowing and weeds growing out of cracks in your parking lot or sidewalk?
Let’s get serious for a moment. All of the money you spend on your image is blown away the instant your customers pull into a dealership that is poorly landscaped. There should never be a time when your grass isn’t mowed. Keep in mind that you have a service department and service technicians who need to test every mower that is repaired. Have the techs test it while they are mowing your grass.
Buy some weed killer, and get rid of those weeds. Invest a few dollars in mulch and flowers, and brighten up your outside. You spend plenty of money to get customers to your store, take a little time each week and make sure they are excited about having made the journey. The image of a successful dealership starts in the parking lot.
Clermont County Equipment often uses balloons and signage to effectively display its products.Although there is not much you can do at this time of year to make changes to your building signage, there is a simple, inexpensive way to enhance the message you are communicating to those customers by utilizing banners and flags to add color, catch customers’ attention, and create excitement.
In nearly every city and county, you are allowed to put up a banner for a period of time to highlight your business. Your goal in retailing is to move customers from your parking lot to the inside of your store and have them expecting to find something exciting. That‘s what banners give you the ability to do.
Look at car dealerships. On a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, they use banners and flags (and yes, an occasional inflatable gorilla) to create a sense of excitement for those customers looking to buy a car. Let’s say I drive by two separate car dealerships. The first simply has cars sitting outside. The second has cars sitting outside, flags waving, and a “Factory closeout sale” banner. Which one will I choose to go to first? I will probably pull into the second one complete with cars, banners and flags. Why? It has piqued my curiosity. The dealership is telling me something is going on.
More and more, I am finding that dealers are discovering that banners are an inexpensive, colorful, eye-catching way of promoting their business. Banners can be hung from the building or a flagpole, or staked out in the parking lot. In addition to being inexpensive, the nice thing about banners is that they can be changed frequently, allowing customers to think that new and exciting things are going on in your dealership.
The key to success with banners is to not overuse them because, like billboards that are not changed out on a regular basis, your customers will finally stop noticing them. As you do new banners, select different sizes and colors to continue keeping your customers’ attention.
The sale is won or lost on the inside of your store
We can take this same concept to the inside of the dealership. We know that it is important to create a look on the outside that pulls customers inside your dealership. In the same way, once customers are inside, you want to utilize your wall and floor space in a way that will introduce them to the various wholegoods you sell and maximize the sales and profitability from each square foot of space. In an OPE dealership, we expect to generate $100 gross profit per square foot of wall space and $125 gross profit per square foot of floor and lot space.
Your goal is to create an environment that directs customers to your products, as well as in some way answers questions, prequalifies, and potentially even sells the product without you or your employees having to spend a lot of time with them.
I’ve had the great fortune of working with Clermont County Equipment in Milford, Ohio. The dealership’s owners, brothers Bob and Gary Mount, and their sales manager, Dirk Marder, all work hard on both the outside of the dealership, drawing customers’ attention to their products, and on the inside as they creatively use their floor space, wall space and displays.
As sales manager, Marder understands that his goal on the inside of the dealership is to display equipment in a way that encourages both impulse and planned buying.
He is always looking for new ways to display his products and recently added a new floor display from Billy Goat Industries that gives him a great deal of flexibility. The display uses a stacked design, so that instead of eating up floor space, which is a precious commodity at every dealership, it is designed to consume the vertical space.
Dirk Marder, sales manager at Clermont County Equipment, is always looking for new ways to display his products, and recently added this new stacked-design, space-saving floor display from Billy Goat Industries. Billy Goat will make the display available to all of its dealers with the launch of its Billy Goat Merchandiser Program in July 2009.The display is built so that Marder can separate it into three pieces, which gives him the flexibility to utilize the display anywhere in his store, regardless of the space he has available. The graphics on the display add a great look. It is built with its own literature racks and has enough room to add a small flat-screen television with a DVD player. This type of display allows a customer to walk up, learn about the product, and make a buying decision without a lot of help from a salesperson — all critical points when you have several customers who are waiting to have someone help them.
From Marder’s perspective, the display meets the following three elements that all dealers should strive to achieve on their sales floor:
Motivate the customer to spend money;
Project the image you are trying to create for your store; and
Keep your costs low
Marder understands that all the money he spends on promotion and advertising is less effective or even wasted when efforts are not made within the store to effectively merchandise his products.
I highly encourage all of my dealers to evaluate manufacturers’ displays and to utilize those that let you take advantage of your floor space. Any display that allows you to use the vertical space on your showroom floor will add to the overall profitability of your dealership.
Just as banners add excitement to the outside of your dealership, they can also add to the atmosphere inside. Something as simple as a bright yellow banner, which has “Check me out” or “Prices slashed” on it and placed near a display, will pull customers over to take a look at what you are offering.
With the season in full swing, you don’t have a lot of extra time to make big sweeping changes in your store’s appearance either externally or internally. But, by spending a few dollars on the outside of your dealership — watering to keep the grass green, planting flowers to brighten things up, adding a banner and/or flags to create an eye-catching appearance — you can attract new, potential customers. Investing your marketing dollars on the outside of your store can entice people to stop by and find out what is going on inside of it.
Once customers arrive, the same thing goes for the inside of your store. Now is not the time to paint the walls or install new lights to brighten up the showroom. However, now is the time to get with your manufacturers to evaluate a new display that will allow you to quickly change the look of your showroom or to add some signage or banners that announce something special is happening in the store. If you don’t have time, don’t hesitate to get your manufacturers’ sales representatives involved in the process.
For manufacturers’ sales representatives, this is the slow time of the season. So, instead of them just stopping by to check in on you, get them involved with helping you get their equipment displayed, wiped down, priced, and ready to sell. The good reps aren’t afraid to get in and help you position their product for sale. If they are not willing to do it, perhaps it’s time to consider replacing that line with one represented by someone who is interested in partnering with you.
I encourage each of you to take some time over the next week and evaluate your retailing effort. Look at the outside of your dealership as a new customer sees it pulling into your parking lot for the first time. Is the grass green, growing, and nicely trimmed with no weeds showing? If so, good for you. If not, let your service shop employees know that when they test a string trimmer or mower, they need do so on your grass.
If you haven’t used banners, I encourage you to consider putting one up next month that shouts a message. Whether it is an “Inventory Reduction Sale” or a “Factory Closeout,” a banner lets customers know something exciting is happening inside your dealership.
On the inside of your store, reset and freshen up your displays. Make sure that all of your equipment is priced. Put up signs that draw customers’ attention to any specials. If you are using floor displays now, try to reposition them to create a new look. If you don’t have any floor displays, get with your manufacturers, see what they have to offer, and work with them to maximize your space. With the season well underway, anything you can do to improve sales and profits will go a long way toward making 2009 a great year.
Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.bobclements.com.