Directions: Which Customer is Coming into Your Shop?

Directions: Which Customer is Coming into Your Shop?

Different mindsets in a tough economy produce different service options.

In this nationwide economic slump, we are hearing that technicians and counter people are seeing increases in traffic and parts sales as cost-conscious consumers keep aging cars on the road.

And, in these tough economic times, many shops are finding that the age-old mantra aimed at their customers of the importance of preventive maintenance is now paying off.

One shop that is seeing the benefits of the preventive maintenance message is Stock’s Underhood Specialists Inc., in Belleville, IL. Its shop owner and Underhood Service editorial advisory board member Paul Stock said he is using this economic slowdown to market and advertise to customers who are weary about purchasing a new vehicle.

“We discuss the benefits of keeping their present vehicle at the counter — in fact we always have done that with our customers,” Stock said. “We have been preaching long-term preventive maintenance for more than 24 years and have run a preventive maintenance club to sell those benefits.”

Stock said many people don’t realize that today’s vehicles can go “forever” if properly maintained. However, with the poor economy and rising unemployment issues, consumers may be easier to educate these days.

“We keep a picture of an odometer on our counter that shows over 500,000 miles — from a Ford Windstar, no less,” Stock said. “I tell them that my personal vehicle has more than 230,000 miles on it. They need to know how we can benefit by the same care that we recommend — it’s basically (we) practice what we preach.”

However, other shops are seeing some motorists scrimping on routine maintenance to save money, such as pushing back regular oil changes and other recommended fluid replacement intervals. At one Santa Rosa, CA, import shop, maintenance orders are down about 20% from the last year, according to the shop’s service director in a recent Santa Rosa Press Democrat article.

That mindset can backfire on the customer — the service director reported that major vehicle repairs have increased significantly at the shop. So, we are seeing how some big-ticket repairs could be a result of financially squeezed car owners putting off routine maintenance. But which of these trends will continue with today’s vehicle owner — following recommended service intervals, or less emphasis on preventive maintenance?

For Nate Smith of Optimal Auto Care in Santa Cruz, CA, it may not matter. Smith said the good news is that the automotive repair business is generally recession-resistant. “Although people may choose to postpone repairs or maintenance, they are still much less likely to purchase a new car, and that has a very positive impact on the aftermarket,” Smith said.

He explained this recession is different from the one we faced in 2001-’02, where back then, he had many customers purchase new cars when the financing went to 0%.

“That really hurt our business since we work on imports that all have four-year warranties.”

“Given the sudden deflation of the U.S. economy, that is not going to happen this time. So, we have a lot of customers who are going to keep the old car running — and that’s overall a very positive condition for the aftermarket,” he said.

Throughout the year, we will keep a close eye on the nation’s economic conditions and how it relates to the service repair industry. Some of the responses you will read will be from our advisory board members. However, if you would like to comment on some of the conditions affecting your shop or report on business practices you have implemented, send me your e-mail address and I will forward you a short repair market questionnaire addressing the topics we will cover in future issues.

Edward Sunkin has been the editor of Underhood Service since April of 1999. He has been a member of the Babcox family of automotive aftermarket publications beginning in December 1994, when he joined the jobber/parts specialist magazine Counterman as an associate editor. Sunkin also spent three years as managing editor Engine Builder, learning about the engine and small parts rebuilding and remanufacturing industry.
Besides Underhood Service, Sunkin also serves as the editor of Tomorrow’s Technician, an automotive-related trade magazine delivered to more than 50,000 students enrolled in NATEF-affiliated schools.

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