How to Handle Lot Loiterers
Whether you’re in the heart of a downtown metropolitan with three parking spaces or you’ve got a massive parking lot with over 50 to choose from—nobody wants to stare at the same vehicle for weeks on end because a customer is not coming to pick it up.
Whatever the reason may be—from a lack of funds for getting the work done or the owner has multiple vehicles—a vehicle that is not being worked on is bad for business. It’s taking up space that another customer could be using.
A lack of parking has never been a huge issue for Fifth Gear Automotive, which has two locations in Texas. However, with parts taking longer to come in, it was important to stay ahead of the problem and find ways to get vehicles on and off the lot as quickly as possible.
John Miller, director of business development for Fifth Gear Automotive, says the Lewisville, Texas, location has roughly 60 spaces for customers, employees, and company cars, which include loaner and porter vehicles. To save space, Miller says the business first tried to buy a nearby lot for employee vehicles. When the owner of the lot denied this request, Miller says Fifth Gear Automotive struck up a deal with a nearby business that allowed employees to park their vehicles there. Taking employees’ vehicles out of the lot opened up a lot of space, but it still left the issue of vehicles that were dropped off by customers and awaiting pick-up or awaiting the funds to make the repair.
“A lot of folks, it’s out of sight, out of mind,” Miller says about customers who drop vehicles off for work and don’t come to pick them up right away.
A customer who has two or three vehicles may not be in a huge rush to come pick up a vehicle that’s been repaired and may wait two or three days before coming to get it. Another customer may have a vehicle that requires a large amount of work and either they don’t have the funds at the moment, or they don’t think the vehicle is worth repairing for that amount. These customers will leave vehicles because, Miller explains, it’s not taking up space in their driveway and nobody is charging for it.
For shop owners with large parking lots, it may not be a huge problem, but it can still be a frustration to see the same vehicle day in and day out. For shop owners with smaller parking lots, it can become a large issue with customers or employees having to search for parking, which can result in lost business.
Miller says that his shop typically has one to five vehicles per week that are waiting in the lot to be picked up. With 60 spots, Miller says it doesn’t seem like a lot, but a simple solution helped free up these spaces and help keep business moving.
Four years ago, Miller says the team began doing weekly walk-arounds of the shop. These walk-arounds included the parking lot. While in the lot, every vehicle out there is evaluated and a game plan is devised to get vehicles that have sat in the spot for longer than normal back to their owners.
Miller says each vehicle is on a case-by-case basis and usually reaching out to the customer to get an update does the trick. If a customer is having trouble coming in to get the vehicle, a rideshare vehicle is offered to pick them up. If the customer simply doesn’t want a vehicle anymore, Miller says the shop will take the vehicle off their hands. Certain vehicles are donated to charities and others can be fixed up for the shop to use as a loaner or company vehicle. If a vehicle has been on the lot for a month and there’s no sign of it being picked up and the customer isn’t making a decision on it, Miller says the shop sometimes mentions charging for storage.
“We don’t do that until we get into desperate mode,” Miller explains. “We don’t want to charge.”
Even just the mention of charging usually serves as the carrot on the stick to get the customer to come get the vehicle, Miller says.
Before implementing walk-arounds, Miller says there were two to three times as many vehicles in the parking lot waiting to be picked up as there are now.
For any owner struggling with vehicles taking up space in the parking lot, Miller suggests assigning someone in the shop to take ownership of getting ahold of customers and coming up with a game plan to get vehicles off the lot. Then, implement walk-arounds to assess the situation and assign vehicles that need to be moved to that person.
“Assign something to someone; they can get it done. Otherwise, someone will assume that someone else will do it. We put their name on it. [For example] Jeff will talk to customers, get status and get it off our hands by the end of the week.” Miller says. [For more tips, see 3 Tips for an Open Lot]
3 Tips for an Open Lot
How to keep parking available for customers—no matter the size of your lot
Often, the reason customers aren’t coming to pick their vehicles up is because they don’t have a way to get to the shop and are waiting for a ride. Eliminate this by offering an Uber or a Lyft to come get them, suggests Miller. Not only does it get vehicles off your hands, but it’s also a great perk for customers.
If you have very limited parking, even one extra vehicle on the lot can cause an issue. Another common occurrence is customers having a friend or family member drive to the shop in order to give them a ride home. Because of this, there are two vehicles for a certain amount of time rather than just one. Miller suggests getting around this by advertising and encouraging using the customer shuttle if your shop has one.
Move Employee Parking
One effective way to save a number of spots for customers is to move employee parking to a designated area. Whether it’s in the back of the shop or a different parking lot altogether, this can free up the area for customers to park and keep the parking lot from looking congested. Miller says they originally tried to purchase another nearby parking lot, but when that wasn’t working, Fifth Gear struck up a Gentleman’s Agreement with a nearby business where they allow Fifth Gear employees to park there.