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Want to grow your business this spring? Try giving away a service

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Want to grow your business this spring? Try giving away a service

Commitment-free vehicle inspections give tire dealers a chance to market their services to prospects who come into their stores. Many consumers delay or avoid preventive maintenance. A free inspection can motivate a driver to take a vehicle to a shop to see what’s needed to prepare a vehicle for warm weather driving after a harsh winter.

Free vehicle inspections are not a gimmick at Purcell Tire & Rubber Co., according to Bill Guttery, director of marketing and advertising. The Potosi, Mo.-based company provides services and retreading for consumer, commercial, industrial and mining vehicles through 70 locations. Forty-five outlets are retail, commercial and combination retail/commercial stores. The company offers free visual inspections for retail customers in April during National Car Care Month and October during Fall Car Care Month.

“We do these promotions because we are in the trust business,” says Guttery. “Being a family-owned and operated business, we feel it is important for us to help families. We care about families, and our customers are part of our family.”

Purcell developed an inspection form for technicians to follow when performing the free visual inspection. The company’s form is based on recommendations set by the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association.

MAP’s Uniform Inspection and Communication Standards are designed to give consumers information needed to make an educated decision on repairs for their vehicles. The MAP standards ensure consistency across the industry as well as across Purcell locations, according to Guttery. “Everything is rated either a red, yellow or green so the customer can see quickly the things we feel need attention immediately, what might need attention later and what is fine.”

How does Purcell turn prospects who come in for a free inspection into paying customers? The company follows up its free inspection with an offer that converts to sales: a car care package.

To promote both offers, Purcell mails postcards to all addresses within three miles of urban outlets and five miles of rural locations. Existing customers receive service reminder cards. The postcards and reminder cards provide details about the free inspection and the car care package.

The car care package costs $39.95. The price covers an oil change, tire rotation and battery analysis. “We don’t look at the battery and say it’s OK; we put it on the charging unit and check the whole system,” says Guttery. Customers who purchase the car package also receive the free visual inspection.

Although Guttery declined to specify sales figures, he says Purcell sees an uptick in car counts and work orders during the free inspection periods. The promotion’s most important long-term benefit is the personal information customers will exchange for a free inspection.

“Whenever you see an increase in car counts, you see an increase in your database,” says Guttery. “Now that customer gets our service reminders every three months. That database entry is really valuable.”

Tie into national publicity

The non-profit Car Care Council provides an assortment of marketing tools dealers can use to promote the National Car Care Month campaigns at their stores. Rich White is senior vice president of the Auto Car Association and executive director of the Car Care Council. He says more repair shops participate in the car care awareness campaigns each year.

“They see the marketing advantages. Any way you can tie in with a national program, the kinds of national publicity, the visibility of April as National Car Care Month, you can leverage what’s going on.”

White says National Car Care Month has received significant media coverage every year from the mainstream media as well as local news and popular websites, with stories on such outlets as CNN, Fox News, Weather Channel and Yahoo! In fact, last year Ellen DeGeneres announced that April is National Car Care Month on her nationally syndicated television show.

White suggests wrapping a message to prospects around lower gas prices. “The pitch for tire dealers to consumers would be to invest that savings you’re experiencing at the pump into your car’s dependability, reliability and further savings in fuel costs while performing some things that will reduce the amount of gas you use.

“Now is the time to do some preventive maintenance which will avoid costly repairs. It’s a time to invest and take advantage of these savings.”

In addition to offering free vehicle inspections, White says dealers can use National Car Care Month to reach customers through social media, traditional media and advertising. Dealers can also add a link to the electronic version of the Car Care Council’s Car Care Guide to their websites or offer copies of the print edition of the booklet to their customers. White says the publicity surrounding National Car Care Month also provides opportunities for dealers to offer discounts on services and in-store giveaways such as tire pressure gauges.

Manufacturer incentives

Manufacturers of brakes, wipers, belts and hoses, headlamps, emissions control devices and shocks and struts frequently time their discount and rebate programs for the spring months. The incentives can help close a sale on services recommended to maintain a vehicle or improve its performance.

Gary Ida, owner of All Season Tire Co., which does business as All Season Tire Pros, runs his own springtime special for checking alignments. “Most of the time we try to push shocks and struts at that time. Usually a manufacturer will run a special and we try to promote that.”

Ida began working at the Eau Claire, Wis., shop in 1976 and took over as owner in 1978. Commercial tire services are offered in a building with three 100-foot-long drive-through bays for tractor trailers and four bays for tire and alignment work. Auto and light truck services are provided at the five-bay building next door. He employs 15 people.

He says the store is usually so busy in the spring that he doesn’t have to run a lot of specials to get people in the door. Ida offers seasonal tire storage services, which gives his technicians a chance to inspect vehicles when winter tires are swapped for warm weather tires.

“We try to stay out in front of the customer on every item. We let them know about flushing the brake system, the coolant system, and the power train system rather than wait until they are broken down. Customers trust us to tell them what they need.” ■

Car Care Council updates Car Care Guide

The non-profit Car Care Council has added 20 pages of new information to its Car Care Guide. The booklet helps consumers better understand how to care for their vehicles.

“The guide is a valuable tool to use when discussing recommended maintenance and repairs with customers. Plus, it’s a great giveaway for customers to keep in their vehicles as a useful reference guide,” says Rich White, senior vice president of the Auto Car Association and executive director of the Car Care Council.

The booklet’s new content discusses finding an automotive repair shop, alternative fuels, understanding the warranty, vehicle telematics, careers in the auto care industry and environmental awareness.

The Car Care Council says the 80-page guide uses easy-to-understand everyday language rather than technical automotive jargon, fits easily in a glove box and covers the most common preventive maintenance occasions and procedures that should be performed to keep cars safe, dependable and efficient.

Available in English and Spanish, the Car Care Guide can be ordered online at the Car Care Council’s website, www.carcare.org.

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