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Tech clinics a hit, provide validation to service

Chris Peters, Contributing Writer
September 19, 2012
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Des Plaines Honda program brings customers into dealership

Increasing foot traffic midweek, even during the stronger months, can be difficult for any dealer. With that in mind, Des Plaines Honda, located just five miles north of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, has come up with a new program to help do just that.

From May to November, the dealership hosts tech clinics one Wednesday each month, designed to educate customers about important topics surrounding their motorcycles. The dealership’s service manager, John Lawson, hosts the events.

“Basically we were just trying to come up with ideas to help get people in the store midweek, try and generate a little more business and see if we can stir some interest when people are sitting at home watching ‘Desperate Housewives’ and get them here instead,” Lawson said.

According to Jeff McLennan, Des Plaines Honda’s general manager, the tech clinics are an elaboration of the dealership’s successful Super Saturday program, which was designed to educate customers, while driving door swings in the colder months.
“Harley-Davidson dealers have been doing this for years,” McLennan explained. “They do anything to keep that community together and tied together. For whatever reason, the metric stores are behind the 8-ball on that.”

McLennan and his staff wanted to get out from behind that barrier and bring new customers in, while engaging the current base.
“Basically, we came up with the idea [for Super Saturdays] that we have a number of people who do their own service and we would like to give them some ideas about how to really do it,” he said. “It also puts some validity into what powersports service departments really do.”

Lawson agrees.

“A lot of times we can show [participants] all the things that we do that go along with doing safety checks or pre-ride checks or scheduled maintenance or even just an oil change,” he said. “They see there’s a lot more value to it when we explain it to them rather than when we fill out a repair order, the bike disappears behind a wall for 45 minutes and they don’t get to see what happens. Going through these different things can really establish a value for what we do and get our customers more involved with us on a personal level.”

Des Plaines Honda, which is a Level 4 Honda powerhouse store, primarily deals with street bikes, especially larger cruisers and touring bikes. While the dealership does carry ATVs and side-by-sides and is experiencing increased interest in both, its primary focus and most of its inventory is street bikes.

According to Lawson, the service department has done “very well” in recent months, noting that the dealership survived a recession that many local competitors did not.

Lawson’s first tech clinic, which focused on the importance of scheduled maintenance and pre-ride checks, was held in May and drew around 15 participants.

Monthly clinics hosted by service manager John Lawson have become a popular event at Des Plaines Honda in suburban Chicago.

“The group we had in was a few new faces and a bunch of our usual suspects,” Lawson said. “They seem to enjoy getting the extra information. It helps us build a rapport with the customers and get them more involved with us and their motorcycles.”

Since this is a relatively new event, Lawson expects the attendance will grow, as Super Saturday events routinely attracted 25 to 30 participants.

Lawson said that the clinics stay fairly informal and casual.

“We’re not telling people how to fix their bikes,” he said. “We’re just giving them info so they can make decisions on what to do.”
Based on the instant positive feedback, Lawson and McLennan feel the tech clinics are already benefiting the dealership.

“We work really hard to make sure that our customer base is taken care of and knows that we are invested in supporting them,” McLennan said. “That’s how we make our next sale. The value is unlimited. We need to do it.”

In addition to generating midweek foot traffic, the tech events have a high probability of helping generate more sales.

“It brings people back into our store to increase our potential for sales,” McLennan said. “We see [clinic participants] buying new jackets, buying new helmets. The fact that they were just here, sometimes they think maybe it’s time to buy a new motorcycle.”

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