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Feb. 8, 2010: Questions that you absolutely can’t answer ‘no’ to

February 8, 2010
Filed under Columns

I have to admit what you probably always suspected as true: There’s a lot of “juicy” stuff that never makes the publication.
We, after all, are devoted to improving industry business knowledge and in so doing, making and then improving our industry relationships. Those two lofty goals assuredly take precedence over feeding the rumor bag that we could assuredly fill.
Does that mean we don’t ask the difficult question when the case warrants it? Absolutely not. But relationships — especially in a data-deficient industry like ours — feed a business magazine as retail sales do a dealership. Without one, you can’t have the other.
But yes, we do ask our share of difficult questions. In fact, I was in the middle of doing just that recently when I hesitated for a moment and said good-naturedly to the source, “I think the grilling is just about over …”
In response, he beat me at my own game by remarking, “That’s OK. Just keep beating me until it feels better.”
With that kind of hilarious but sincere spirit, it’s hard sometimes to focus on the issue at hand. Or better said, the “beating” that should take place. So let’s not get off track here.
Last year, I wrote a column about three business practices that carried a specific dealer badge of merit. That badge? The expression: “I should have done it sooner.” In each of the three cases, dealers said that phrase about a specific practice that they should have initiated at their dealership sooner. To me, there is little else that more clearly defines a “need-to-do” than that phrase. If you should have done it sooner, then that means you already have done it, and it proved its merit. Case closed. (Don’t remember what those three items were? E-mail me, and I’ll send you the column.)
This year, I’m switching tactics. I’m not waiting for another year to pass to identify the need-to-dos in 2010.
Why? Because the market is different and we don’t have the luxury to sit back and see what works and what doesn’t.
So instead, I’ll take the comical advice, “Just keep beating me until it feels better” response and go forward, providing you with some difficult questions to answer and hoping the resulting “beating” means a more profitable 2010.

Question No. 1
Can you describe your consumer database to me?
Beat yourself if: Your dealership does not have a database of names and e-mail addresses of at least 500 customers. And if you don’t, rather than once again going back to your salespeople and renewing the request for them to get more consumer info, admit your shortcoming. Really, stop and consider what a huge blunder this is. Then, tie the practice of getting consumer info to employee bonuses or find an automated solution. Better yet, do both.
Your opponents for the discretionary dollar are way ahead of you on this and as a result have a significant marketing advantage over your store.
Steve Budke, a metric and Harley dealer in Nebraska, was kind enough this year at Profit Xcelerator, a Powersports Business dealer conference and educational event, to explain a successful marketing campaign his store conducts. The campaign is a multi-touch, multi-media approach that connects past new unit buyers to similar vehicles that are now on sale at the store. It makes a heck of a lot of sense, and it has paid off handsomely. But it is totally reliant on the dealership capturing prospect information.
In the present digital age, what could be more important than an e-mail address?

Question No. 2
Are you capturing all impulse shoppers?
Beat yourself if: You stumble, even momentarily, on the word “all.” Because if your Web site doesn’t have an e-commerce tool or shopping cart device, you can’t begin to answer “yes.” A couple of weeks back I received an e-mail from an industry associate who was flying at 35,000 feet and working on his e-mail backlog. Evidently, there are now some airlines that allow passengers to browse the Net during flights. Fast forward a year or two and can’t you see that being the norm? There are so many reasons why dealerships should have e-commerce tools attached to their digital storefronts. Need another one? Think about the thousands of businessmen and women that spend part of their week in the air, flying from one meeting to the next. Doesn’t it make sense that your store tap into that demographic that will likely be Web shopping now more than ever — at 30,000 feet and beyond? Plus, I’m convinced that we as consumers are in a transitional mode, and we eventually will make almost all of our impulse-buying decisions by the touch of a keyboard or phone pad.

Question No. 3
Are you marketing to the passenger?
Beat yourself if: You, like yours truly, had never thought of this. Kudos to Ducati dealer Kathy Jo Porter and her staff at Bend Euro Moto in Bend, Ore., for bringing this concept to our attention. Porter points out the obvious that has somehow escaped our thinking for so long, “Just about every guy has a wife or girlfriend that goes with.” And yet, what percent of those passengers do you think has an idea of the extent of apparel or products that are available to them at a dealership? I’m betting relatively few. How many have been personally invited to the dealership to experience some of those products? I’m betting few. But picture how that would happen, and then the potential results. Porter notes that women consumers — drivers and passengers — make up half of her store’s casual apparel sales.
Okay, enough. “Beating” over.
Feel better?

Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@affinitygroup.com.

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