In any business, there are highs and lows. Times when things are really busy and times when they’re not so busy. Ok, let’s be real: they’re slow.
I get it. Been there. Done that. It’s frustrating and can sometimes be, quite frankly, terrifying. Especially if it happens year after year.
That’s what we learned when we had our repair shop. We could not figure it out but every single October we experienced a huge drop in our car count. I think, looking back, it took us 2 years to figure out what in the world was going on.
In this blog post, I am going to share with you how we figured it out and what we did about it to prepare for future years.
How do you know when you’ve got a slow season?
After moving to our second location, we didn’t realize a drop until year two. Frustrated that the weeks during October were looking slow - much slower than a typical month - we knew something was up. We looked back at the previous year and saw that there was in fact a drop in the previous year’s October.
In addition to looking at schedules, financials, talking with our team we also talked to our customers. We were able to discover that the big impact was The State Fair!
Well, the NC State Fair is truly a big deal. Schools are out of session, people make big plans for the State Fair and we learned it is a long-standing tradition for many. We had lived in NC for a few years but not long enough to realize the enormous impact that the State Fair had on a business.
Down here in Louisiana we plan around football. In NC during the fall, we learned that you plan around the NC State Fair.
What other circumstances can impact an auto repair shop?
Maybe your state fair doesn’t impact you as much as it did us in North Carolina but there can surely be other circumstances.
Some for example include:
- Summer (some say this is a myth)
What to do when you know you’ve got a slowdown coming?
You don’t have to be creative but it can be helpful! I love trying to find creative ways to get people in the doors. Pulling the creative bit might be too much for some people but it worked for us. Let me tell you what we did.
We were so proud of our work-with-the-fair idea. And, yes, it worked for us.
When we realized what had happened in October and what caused it we decided to work with what we knew. Knowing that people in our area loved the NC State Fair and that they’d prioritize it over other things we knew we had to do something different.
So, here’s what we did.
We offered 3 different tiers with our October State Fair Promotion.
The first tier.
Anyone who scheduled a service during the month of October received a free shuttle to and from the State Fair. It didn’t matter what they spent!
The second tier.
Anyone who scheduled a service or repair of at least $250 received the free shuttle to and from the fair as well as four free admission tickets.
The third tier.
Anyone who scheduled a service or repair for $500 or more received the free shuttle to and from the fair, the four free admission tickets and 20 free ride tickets.
Customers would drop their vehicle off with us in the morning, get shuttled to the fair and meanwhile we did the work on their vehicle. We picked them back up that afternoon and returned them to the shop where they got their vehicle.
Not having to deal with the horrible experience of finding a parking spot, then walking sometimes over a mile to the fair, was another great benefit to our customers. Our shuttle dropped them off right at the entrance.
It was truly a win-win! The customers loved it and it kept us in the black in October. We had fun with this promotion and it caused us to think creatively in other seasons of our business.
Tips to plan for an upcoming slow season:
If you find your repair shop in a slowdown here’s some tips to help you develop a plan for turning that slowdown to a positive time for you, your team and your customers.
- Move forward by looking backwards. Take a look at your past year’s during the same time. Get a realistic idea of what it has been like in the past. Write those numbers down. It’s important to know where you’re coming from so you can set goals for where you want to be!
- Set a goal. How many cars do you want to see during that time? Maybe it’s not car count. Maybe it’s a certain number of specific types of services. Whatever YOUR goal is for YOUR shop at that particular season, set that goal. Write it down.
- Stop and think about what the cause of the slowdown is. If you get a good idea of what is causing the slowdown you can begin to think of ways to work with it or around it. Look into that cause. For us it was the state fair and we went to their website and gathered information. We looked at why people wanted to go there, what the fair offered that we could use in combination with our business. Do your research. Make the cause of the slowdown your friend. It’s not your enemy - find a way to befriend it! There were some slow times in our business where we hosted certain types of events to increase exposure and awareness. Once it was a Chamber Business After Hours. Another time we hosted a clinic for girl scouts and another time we worked with a local organization to create an offer that benefited their non-profit. When customers came in during that time, we made a donation for every oil change done that month to the nonprofit we were recognizing that month (during one October we donated to a local breast cancer foundation that we cared so much for). The nonprofit helped us promote our special offer to their followers. It was a true win-win.
- Educate your team. Probably the biggest thing that gets missed in marketing is when we, as shop owners, make decisions but fail to tell our team about it. I mean everyone! Of course your service advisors need to know, but so do your technicians, detailers, parts professionals, finance… every member of your team needs to know. They can help spread the word. They also get excited to be involved in the process. Consider even offering a reward to the team member who refers the most customers.
- Promote, promote, promote. Tell your customers and followers ahead of time and repeat promotions during the time of the promotion. You can do this across the board in your marketing.
- Email campaigns
- Social Media
- In networking meetings (BNI, Chamber of Commerce, etc)
- Track results. After the promotional period is over, take some time to look over your results. How did you do? Did you achieve your goal? Share the results with your team. Tweak your process, ideas and promotion. Debrief on how things went so you can be better next time.
What I hope more than anything is that this blog post sparks your creative engine. That you get your brain blood pumping and are encouraged and inspired to come up with some way to boost your typically slow time.
It doesn’t have to be some super special idea. It just needs to be effective. You won’t know until you try!
I’d love you to contact me with your idea(s). Tell me your typically slow time and what causes it and we can toss some ideas back at you. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get going!
If you need help promoting your special offer, then let me know. We can help!