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Not just more business -- business when you need it!

The one thing about advertising is that it is very hard to “aim.” Not the outgoing part, the incoming part.

People have gotten very good about targeted advertising. With the Internet, businesses can target very specifically the precise demographics of the people they want to reach. What is not so easy is targeting how people will react to that advertising.

Generally, advertising in the traditional sense (Yellow Pages, radio, newspaper, direct mail) will drive traffic if executed well. But a tire dealer does not necessarily want more business on a Saturday. Same with golf courses, while dry cleaners are pretty busy on Mondays. You get the idea.

So, how do you drive traffic to visit you on a Wednesday morning or a Friday afternoon? You make them a deal. You make it short-notice and make it for a specific time period. Most important, make sure the customer gets the message immediately before the target time when you want more business.

This is done using the latest technology sweeping the country (the world, for that matter), text marketing. Also called mobile marketing, this phenomenon relies on the fact that most people always have their cell phone with them and almost all phones today receive text messages.

Mobile marketing has been around for about five years, but the number of consumers who have phones which can fully utilize the technology is just now coming into the mainstream.

Over half of the population now has a “smart phone” and more than half of the balance have a “less smart” phone that still receives texts. All in all, over 85% of the U.S. population can technically participate.

So how does this help you?

Unlike e-mail, which is opened only about 18% of the time — and often days after it is sent, people who receive text messages open them within three minutes 90% of the time. Also, unlike e-mail, text messaging is rarely considered “spam” because (by law) the customer asks you to send them the text. Further, the consumer knows that to stop you from sending texts to them, they only have to reply “STOP” to your message, and the system (by law) will erase the consumer from the system that sends your texts.

It may be slightly different in the tire and auto service business because of purchase patterns, but, as was stated in Modern Tire Dealer last month, response rates for text-delivered offers can reach a phenomenal 20%! Compare that with direct mail of around 1%!

You invite the customer to get texts from you by offering them an “insiders club” of some sort, the members of which receive special, private messages from you when there is a deal going on or something of significance they need to know. So, if you want a little more business on Wednesday mornings, send a text to 200 customers in your list offering a deal on oil change, tire rotation or whatever you want to promote. You can send the message at noon on Tuesday and the deal can be good only from between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. the following day. You decide!

Being a friend, not a vendor

By having a select group of customers who consider themselves special in your eyes, the relationship changes. They feel special and your messages reflect that. You do not always have to send sales messages, but can offer helpful hints that demonstrate your professionalism and caring.

Text messages are generally not sent more often than once per week. So during a given month, perhaps two of those messages are special sales opportunities and two others offer helpful information.

For example, a non-sales message might remind them when it is time to switch to winter tires — and run a deal for storing their summer tires “just for insiders.”

The point is, without being a pest, you are reminding your customers that you are in a special partnership with them to keep them safe. This goes a long way toward neutralizing the impact of “big box” advertisers trying to undercut your prices.

Mobile marketing is not free

One of the pluses with e-mail marketing is that it is virtually free. Other than the time it takes to build and cull the list, pushing the button to send out thousands of messages doesn’t cost anything. The problem is, many of them are deleted without being read.

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Mobile marketing has very high open rates because consumers know that they are not getting junk from people they do not know. The system is built so that only those companies that have been invited by the owner of the phone can send messages to them. And, the permission is easy to rescind if they made a mistake. Also, it costs for every text you send. The price depends on volume, but you can run a campaign with 500 customers for well under $100 per month. Imagine a 90% open rate with even a 10% response rate on an offer that yields only a $25 profit. That one text would have a net return of over $1,000 — and that is just from one text. Your costs are for a whole month of texts, reasonably up to four.

Consult the experts

Let’s face it. Some people just are not cut out for the computer, cellular or Internet world. Others find it easy. Regardless, you can get help with any campaign you might run. The process is easy, but it takes dedication to remember to send a message on a regular basis. Text messaging companies send messages for you, they do not write them.

One company long associated with the tire business, WECnology, is in the business of making technology easy for those less familiar with it. Wayne Croswell, Tire Industry Association president last year, helps tire dealers specifically with the technology side of their businesses. He has become a quick study on the topic of text marketing (see his article in the July issue of MTD on the subject), and will help dealers who might be confused or intimidated by it. WECnology even has a service that writes texts for dealers and schedules them to get out on a regular basis.

In a recent conversation with Wayne, he told me, “Text marketing is so new, only about 2% of all businesses are using it at this point. Those who jump in now will enjoy a relationship with customers unlike almost any of the other companies they deal with in their daily lives.”

What’s coming next

Right around the corner is a smart phone-based system that will allow you to make special offers to pre-sell services at a discount, have customers pay for them right on the phone and let the customer take delivery later. The ramifications of this are significant.

Groupon has made a big splash doing exactly that. You offer a $50 service for $25. The customer pays Groupon $25 and Groupon sends you $12.50. This is great for getting new customers, if you have a way of keeping them since receiving cash for only 25% of the retail price is usually a loss-leader. (Of course, one way to keep them coming back is to get the customer to opt-into your text marketing program! Groupon, and others like it, is a one shot deal.)

With the new technology, you will be able to send an offer, get the customer to pay immediately on the phone and the system will automatically send back a full-color, bar-coded coupon that you can scan (and immediately disable) right from the customer’s phone. No Groupon-type fees — you keep all of the customer’s payment for the discount coupon.

Text marketing is a technology that will exceed the communication power of the Internet — certainly e-mails — in the near-term years to come. Pay attention. It could make you lots of money.

10 things you can do with mobile marketing in your tire store

1. Build a list of customers who have asked to be contacted.

2. Send special deals to your customers that are good at the precise times when your shop is slow.

3. Generate immediate capital by offering a Groupon-type deal where the customer pays a discounted amount for a future service.

4. Send a public-service message about a local road condition (like a tire-damaging pothole on Elm Street).

5. Send an interest-creating survey about a local issue — post results in your store – or text them to your list — generating more visibility for your store.

6. Create a loyalty program with a “punch card” program where a “punch” involves letting your customer scan a QR code (see below) with his or her phone. So many “punches” makes a selected service free.

7. Send your customers full color coupons — complete with barcodes, if your register reads them.

8. Cross-promote to your list of customers with another non-competing merchant with a list of his or her own.

9. Set a reminder appointment for some period on the future (oil change in four months) and let the system remind the customer automatically.

10. When the customer gets the reminder, let him or her use a single key to accept an appointment or postpone it or request that you call.

QR Code Practice:

If your smart phone does not have a barcode reader, download one for free by opening the Internet on your mobile phone and downloading a reader from http://www.getscanlife.com. (There are dozens available for free, this is just one.)

Roger McManus is author of “Entrepreneurial Insanity in the Tire Industry,” a new book available through the Tire Industry Association’s Web site at www.tireindustry.org to or directly from Amazon. Write to him at roger@ensanitypress.com.

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