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The Need for the Expert Counter Pro


7/1/2005
By Dan Maslic

Does your store have an "expert" in front of the counter? If not, you're missing the opportunity to add value for your customers.
 

Expert marketing can help raise revenues. We all know that. But the broad definition is not what we're focusing on here. What we need to focus on is the "expert" in expert marketing. That would be the counterperson. And that totally changes the meaning of the term "expert marketing", doesn't it? We're actually not talking about marketing itself, rather a part of it - the value proposition. The counterman - the expert we're talking about - is the most important aspect of your store's value proposition. After all, anyone can rent square footage, stock the shelves with parts, pay for some local ad spots, and Presto!, you're in business. But how long do you think that will last without an expert on hand? Customers will shop for price unless you give them reason to do otherwise. That's why you need a value proposition. That's why you need an expert.

When you look at different retail sectors, it's sometimes easier to analyze the value proposition that other businesses present than it is to analyze your own. Like staring at a puzzle for too long, sometimes you need to look away. So let's take a look at Home Depot. They sell business to business, and to consumers. Same as a parts store, only they're usually paying more property tax or rent. They need a value proposition, as they are not alone in the business of selling construction materials. Home Depot took a long, hard look at its target market and decided that they needed to offer their customers convenience, selection and advice. They never aspired to have the cleanest stores nor be the cheapest in price. But, with their carefully crafted value proposition, they continued to beat their next closest competitor by double the revenue for fiscal 2004, and banked a higher percentage of that revenue in net profits. The others - as they say - are trying to catch up. Home Depot took that tack of offering its customers advice and "how-to" seminars through their highly skilled and knowledgeable employees, most with a background in their particular departmentelectricians working in the electrical department, plumbers working in plumbing, etc. And the pay-offs keep coming. Home Depot's customers shop there because of the value proposition, not the price.

So back we go to our parts store to sit and think. Who are our primary customers? Are they dealers or DIYers? What types of vehicles do our DIY customers drive? Do they like to customize? Do they maintain them well? These questions, and others, give you a better understanding of your market. Creating a successful value proposition can't be done unless you understand your customers. But once you understand them, your experts can take over. The expert counterperson is there to provide advice, suggestions and remind customers of what equipment or parts are necessary to complete a certain job and get a vehicle back on the road with as little hassle as possible. That will keep customers coming back.

IT'S NOT JUST UPSELLING, IT'S PROVIDING A TOTAL SOLUTION
Somehow, "upselling" got a bad name as of late. If a sleazy used car salesman tricked or pressured you into buying a big truck when you asked for a small compact, you've been had. When a counterman suggests that you buy a brake hardware kit, high-temp grease and brake cleaner when all you asked for was a set of brake shoes, he didn't just upsell, he provided an effective repair solution. The counterman that did the above and also recommended that while you were fixing the brakes you made sure to check the condition of the steel brake lines, hoses, emergency brake cables and fluid levels, well, that is one example of expert marketing. That provides the customer with a repair solution, a helpful reminder and shows the genuine sincerity and care the counterman has for his customers. Yes, it's more profitable, but that doesn't make it any less helpful. After all, it allows the customer to perform the job more in line with how a professional would. Doing the job cheap isn't necessarily doing it right or even the best way. The DIY customer is generally not as proficient or as thorough as a professionally trained technician. An expert counterman can help provide a customer with more than just parts; he can provide a complete repair solution for his customer that is based on a combination of product knowledge, automotive expertise and experience. This will allow the DIYer to make more effective repairs and drive a safer vehicle.

An expert counterman can also help the professional technician. When the tech orders up a slew of ignition components, the expert counterman might ask if the tech needs dielectric silicone. Things like this slip through the cracks needlessly. Forget the silicone on a distributor-mounted Ford TFI module and you may have a warranty on your hands and an unhappy customer. I don't think that, as a professional technician, I'd complain about the odd reminder here or there when I may have forgotten something.

Professional techs can also benefit from the expert counterman's product knowledge. I installed a $180 fuel pump in a car not knowing that the entire module cost only $360. For the hours of labor involved and the age of the sending unit (which was replaced separately 4 months later), I'd rather have gone with the new module had I known it was sold that way. If the tech doesn't want to make a decision like that, at least he can present the options to his customer along with the pros and cons of each route. This helps the tech as well if the customer goes the $180 pump route and the sender expires two months later, there's little argument on whether or not warranty work exists. Having access to an expert counterman can save professional technicians countless headaches.

Clearly, we can see the benefits of expert marketing. We know we need expert counterman to support our customers and strengthen our store's value proposition, thus helping to drive profits and increase customer loyalty. All that said, we now have to think about our experts. They need help too. They need proper training and the support of management. Have supplier/manufacturer reps come out more often to increase your staff's product knowledge. Also, having staff members attend training or participate in online automotive training is extremely helpful, as are videos and home-study CDs/DVDs. If the management works to support their staff of experts, everyone will experience the benefits of expert marketing.













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