Everyone who has been in the parts business for any time at all usually has a following of some sort. That following may be as simple as friends and family or as wide as people being sent your way because someone has seen what you are capable of. We have to get people to our store somehow and that requires some form of marketing because, the old adage that “if you build it, they will come” is no longer a complete truth.
If you are in a big box store you will have to forgive me for a moment. The truth is that the big box stores have larger budgets, as it would seem, to market themselves and promote ways to get customers into their stores. This marketing is often done by people who have been trained on the major markets and ideology of the marketing profession.
Their advantage is their experience as marketing directors. However, we smaller stores and groups do not have unlimited budgets or marketing professionals to help us. So what do we do to help ourselves get people through the front door? We cannot cover it all here. However, we can review a few steps, and with a little effort, you can research and build a good marketing plan.
A poor plan, poorly executed, is still better than no plan at all! The best laid plans often fail but, you have to plan your play and play your plan. Planning can be the most difficult part of getting your marketing started. The options are unlimited but, simply stated, you should first choose the market segment you are going to target. Example: teens who want cool interior products; middle-aged folks who need to save time; or do you target the professional technician? These are just a few examples, but you have to consider these options before you just venture into spending a bunch of money on marketing or an advertising campaign.
Decide on the market segment you are going to target, i.e. farmers, teachers, truck fleets, big truck fleets, construction or teens. This is important as you have to consider all the options out there. Some believe there are no one-size-fits-all advertising or marketing techniques and those of us on a limited budget try to do just that. Often, we don’t have a good idea about who we are really trying to get into our stores. That shotgun effect fails more often than not and we waste our money.
It is possible to combine some of the market segments if they involve very specific products or services. The goal is to get people in the store. So, we are going to have to come up with some ideas to get them to the door. We have thousands of products in our stores and many of them will cross over from one segment to another, and therefore, we can send a sales flyer out that will cover it. If we are targeting a farmer, we can’t expect him to be interested in an OBD II scanner, but the fleet customer might be. So we have to choose our products wisely as we head into the market.
Use the tools you already have. So far, we have determined who we are going to market to and the products or services we are going to offer. For this example, let’s look at the farmer. In the small communities we have files upon files of Farm Exemption Tax Forms. Those are ready-made marketing tools as we have the names and addresses for us to send out a special price on whatever we are going to sell.
There are two ways to increase sales: get your current customers to buy more or gain new business. In this case, the farmer is a regular customer, but he may not know you can get International Farm-All 140 seats, PTO shafts, points, plugs or plug wires. So, send the customer something specific that may or may not be known. Use the tools already in place because there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel. Take those existing lists or files and go through them and separate them into market segments, find specific products and now you can customize the program to the specific customer and even personalize it if you wish.
Take this opportunity to build a relationship with the customer. Those of us who have smaller stores rely on those same repeat customers and most of the time we have honed our talents at relationship building. We have mastered the idea of making repeat customers a priority. But now, we need to add new ones and if we can get new customers in the store then we have a chance to get to know them better and that gives us the opportunity to better perform steps one thru three again.
Keep searching. There is no end to the list of ideas that can help build new business or add to existing business. Many articles back we covered the importance of merchandising and moving the old products out and the new ones in. For us veterans of the business it gets very difficult to let go of the old products that used to sell every day. We all know that the 58-147 is a 350 water pump and we use to have as many as five on the shelf and now we barely even need one. Then, there is the ever-popular Ford Control module socket or tool that we just have to keep no matter how few of them we sell anymore. The point is that the customers will tell you what you need but you have to listen to them. The “head down, mouth shut and ears open” method will tell you a whole lot about what you need to do to keep them coming back.
Listening to the customer is a big step toward earning new business or gaining more business from existing customers in the market. But, customer retention will be key and that will be discussed in a later issue. The fact is, we can use any number of analogies to describe our plan but, a poor plan poorly executed is better than no plan at all. There is no one-size-fits all marketing program and if there was a magic button there would be no need for all this. There will be some trial and error but, do not get discouraged and keep searching for what works best for you. Plan your play and pay your plan!
Gerald Wheelus is general manager of Edgewood Auto Parts, Edgewood, Texas.