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A Helping Hand


10/1/2003
By Brian Cruickshank

Customers can sometimes be a real headache. But they're also the very reason you're in business. Make sure they stay in business too.
 

"This job would be great if it weren't for all these darn customers."

Come on - be honest. You may not have said it out loud, but you've certainly thought it. We've all felt that way at one time or another. Especially in this business, it often seems like customers are a barrier to making a buck - or staying sane. The supplier/repair shop dynamic is often one of give and take: You give and the customer takes.

Of course, customers are the sole reason you're in business, and without them all sorts of good things would happen: Your delivery vehicles would remain idle and clean, those incessantly ringing phones would be hushed and delivery totes would stop piling up in the back room. Then again, you'd also be out of business.

Customers are a necessity, so we all learn to love them. That's easier said than done considering all of the things they do make your day a real challenge.

Consider returns. One quarter of all the parts you send out the door with your driver will be back as a return. I would estimate, however, that the majority of the returns are sent back by a minority of your customers. Your return rates can be an interesting statistic, since the number and frequency of these returns can pinpoint those shops that are succeeding and which ones are struggling.

Then consider receivables. How many of your customers stretch their payments beyond 30 days? How many are beyond 60 days? How about 90? From Rhode Island store owner Walter Mclaughlin's comments on page 10, it sounds like more and more shops are asking for such extended "terms." Those who are stringing you along like this probably don't do this for sport; they are more likely struggling to stay afloat.

Finally, consider the sizeable pressures your repair shop customers are under - multiplying vehicle platforms and complexity; technician shortages and personnel issues; equipment purchases; competitive issues; customer headaches; and management problems. It has often been said that a repair shop can lose more money in the front office than it can ever make in the bays. Many of these repair shop owners are former technicians who decided that they wanted to own their own business. They didn't come from business school - they came from a creeper under a car.

Regular, frequent account reviews are essential to gaining a sense of how your customers are doing. Returns and receivables, for example, are two key indicators that show the overall health of a repair shop. If these numbers start to become a problem, call your customer and ask how business is. Offer a helping hand. Your store's relationship with customers doesn't end with each parts run. Their survival is essential to your own.

Customers are a relationship that must be coddled, stroked, prodded, kidded and sometimes, gently kicked in the rear bumper. They are more than a voice on the other end of the phone; they are the future of your business.

Sure, customers can be a pain. But just try running a business without them!













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