Whether we like it or not, winter is upon us. And as the temperature continues to drop here in Wisconsin — and I grow increasingly worried each morning about whether or not my 2004 Ford Ranger is going to start — I’ve been thinking more and more about some of the best tips and tricks we've seen over the years about what dealers should be doing during the winter.

I did some digging and present to you here 3 things to think about as we head into this dark, cold but potentially profitable season.

1. Keep in Front of Your Customers

Industry Veteran and Consultant Bob Clements has written before about the importance of marketing your winter service specials. Clements recommends a 2-step approach: postcard, then phone call.

“We have had dealers across the country try this a few different ways, but it typically works best if you send out postcards about the special to everyone in your database who has purchased from you in the last 5 years,” Clements says. “About a week after sending out the mailer, have your parts people begin making follow up calls to each person you sent a postcard to. Their job is to simply see if the customer received the postcard and if the customer has any questions. It’s as simple as that.”

It’s important, however, to balance between how many calls your parts department can make and how many cards you send out. Make sure to acknowledge their successes as well.

“Your goal is to have the card in the hands of your customer a few days before the parts person makes the call,” says Clements. “While you may meet some resistance from your parts people about this, you know as much as we do there is downtime at the parts counter and they are the perfect people to make calls on behalf of the dealership. Perhaps reward them by bringing in pizza for lunch on Friday if they make X number of calls.”

2. No Such Thing as Boredom

As powersports dealer consultant Mark Sheffield once put it: the best way to practice for the busy season is when you are slow. He draws upon his experience in the military to illustrate the value of preparing for the tough times during the easy times.

“When I was 19 years old and new to the military, I got bored of doing the same tasks over and over again,” Sheffield says. “We’d be tired, the days would be long, and you’d think the officers were never going to let you go back to the dorms. However, there was always some point where everything came together. Everyone knew their role, problems were easily overcome, and what once took hours now took minutes.

“When I went through advanced training, it would take 2 hours to pop the powerplant out of an M1 Abrams, and that was in the motor pool. A year later, we could complete that same task in 15 minutes, in the field, in below zero weather. That’s 9,000 pounds of metal, with the components often hot enough to take the skin right off your hands. Like many of the lessons I learned in the military, it wasn’t until years down the road that I truly understood how important that training was.”

This mentality can be dropped right into your dealership as well. Turning a 1 hour task into a 30 minute task into a 15 minute task — in the middle of January — can save you hours and even days in the spring and summer when you’ve got more work than you know what to do with.

Below are some of the solutions Sheffield says he’s seen over the years:

  • Running plays and scrimmaging. Present scenarios to the team and then run them through to the point of right before they are processed.
  • Team meetings. Sit down with the department employees, discuss issues that you’ve dealt with in the past, and make sure everyone knows how to react to them.
  • Cross train employees in other departments, so that they have a better understanding of how their actions can impact other departments.
  • When things go wrong, sit down with everyone involved and conduct a forensic review. Determine why things went wrong, identify the changes that need to be made to prevent those issues from happening again. Ensure that everyone is clear on the solutions.

3. Celebrate First Responders

In a 2017 article from contributing writer Mike Wiles, he highlights one unique method Williams Tractor — an 8-store New Holland dealer in Arkansas and Louisiana — uses to keep up their winter activity: bringing in local law enforcement.

Store Manager Joe Turner says the dealership has found success in catering to law enforcement, firefighters and vets to get people in the door. Never underestimate the power of a good, free meal.

“One promotion that has worked is a ‘Freedom Friday’ where we invite police, firefighters, active military and veterans into the store each month for a free lunch. Those events, conducted at both Freedom locations, consistently draw anywhere from 10-40 people. 

“We also do a ‘Demo Day’ event, when it starts to get cold in late fall and that keeps our product in the customer’s mind during the winter and seems to help maintain floor traffic. There’s no substitute for getting them in the seat of the vehicle,” Turner says.

What do you do to keep your shop busy and cashflow up during the winter? Use the comment box below or email me at bthorpe@lesspub.com and let us know what your best practices are.

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