5 Strategies for Selling to New Customers

Oct. 31, 2019

How two shop owners have been able to achieve high repair orders through building relationships with first-time customers.

In the midst of a small Washington town, past the community’s one traffic light and single Subway fast food restaurant is Auto Tech Services. Outside of the repair shop is a large 3-by-20-foot banner near the parking lot with the words, “Maintenance Is Easy to Schedule, Breakdowns Are Not” in large lettering. 

Leon Martin, co-owner of Auto Tech Services in Rochester, Wash., has been a driving force at his shop to put this slogan up around the business. 

When Martin joined the shop in 2006, Auto Tech Services had an annual revenue of $76,000 and an average repair order (ARO) of $196.

“It was nonfunctional. They made $76,000 in their best year,” Martin says.

 Through shop slogans and his specific and unique processes⁠—especially when it comes to first-time customers⁠—Martin and his staff have been able to produce a yearly 20 percent growth. The shop now has an annual revenue of $1.7 million and an ARO of over $900⁠—an impressive feat for any shop, let alone one in town with a population of 2,500. 

About 70 miles away from Auto Tech Services is Valley Automotive & Electric in Covington, Wash. Although less than 100 miles apart, what connects these two shops is not their locations, but their high AROs. Bryan Kelley, owner, has been able to grow his shop over the last 16 years to an ARO of between $800 and over $1,000, through strong communication and purposeful customer relationships.

These two Washington general repair shops discuss their individual strategies for selling high dollar repairs to first-time customers, while increasing ARO and making strong customer connections along the way.

Strategy No. 1: Shop Tour

Every customer that enters Auto Tech Services is offered a thorough shop tour⁠. 

Martin shows each first-time customer the different pieces of equipment on the shop floor, as well as introduces them to members of the staff, including his or her name, title, and length of time in the business. Staff members are trained to give a smile and a handshake or a greeting to the customers walking through.  

 One of the most important stops on the tour is the shop’s recycling center. There, he makes a note of what will get recycled and hauled off site. Auto Tech Services recycles almost everything, including waste oil. The whole operation causes very little landfill activity, and showcases how clean the business is. 

“I want the new potential client to be totally relaxed with our way of doing business,” Martin says. “I want them to see what we do and how we do it; if you see what people are doing and how they are doing it to your car, you become relaxed too.” 

This step of the process strengthens the relationship with the customer and makes him or her more comfortable when it comes to investing in his or her vehicle. 

Forming strong relationships with customers is also a huge priority at Valley Automotive & Electric. Kelley says that each transaction should start with the relationship, and that the relationship should be built on trust.

This first promise you make to a customer starts at the front counter, Kelley explains. But, that doesn’t mean it stops there. 

Strategy No. 2: Health Assessment 

There is more signage in Auto Tech Services than what’s visible from the outside. There’s a large sign behind the counter says, “Knowing the Truth About Your Vehicle,” which symbolizes the shop’s dedication to educating customers on everything they would need to know about their car.

At Martin’s shop, full vehicle inspections are called “comprehensive health assessments,” and are more thorough than what they average shop does, he says. They take digital pictures and short video clips of everything in the vehicle that may need attention, the videos help showcase anything that has movement but shouldn't. 

Along with sending a digital report to customers, Auto Tech Services provides a clear folder with a 6–10 page document including a full report on the guest’s car. The whole comprehensive health assessment service costs $179, and is recommended to every new customer, as well as guests that haven’t been to the shop in a while. 

“Here’s the thing: If a customer is ready to spend $179 to have a thorough assessment done on their car, the likelihood that they are going to spend more than that is very strong,” he says. 

Kelley has offered photo inspections at his shop since the early days⁠ (around 2006⁠) and the process at Valley Automotive & Electric has stayed pretty much the same since⁠—except for the technology, of course. He has his staff photograph every part on the vehicle that needs attention and email or text the information to the customer. But Kelley says the key is knowing how to present the findings.

Once the customer receives the information, Kelley’s team will call him or her and explain to look over the report, and that the shop will call back to follow up. This step is crucial, Kelley says, and needs to be followed. 

Strategy No. 3: Full Diagnoses 

Martin also recommends an inspection to customers that come into the shop for a high investment replacement. He wants the opportunity to check the rest of the car to avoid having the customer spend thousands of dollars on one item, only to have trouble six months down the road with something entirely different.

He explains that it benefits both the customer and the shop to diagnose everything on a vehicle and repair it in one visit, considering the customer is already investing in a large purchase and may be willing to fix everything to ensure a few trouble-free years.     

“This also brings the average RO up because they (the customer) will spend $5,000 at one meeting rather than $2,500 per time,” Martin says.  

This is also where the shop’s “Maintenance Is Easy to Schedule, Breakdowns Are Not,” sign comes in handy, and encourages customers to invest in their vehicles. 

Strategy No. 4: Perspective Shift

Martin has done the math, and has come to the conclusion that the typical amount of repairs and services that drivers knowingly bring their vehicles in for is around 17 percent of a shop’s total sales. The remaining 83 percent is comprised of all the unknowns that customers are unaware of and that are brought to their attention through the conversation between the service advisor and car owner.

Calling customers and telling them what was found is the key to making ARO what it needs to be, Martin says. But many times, service advisors will pre-judge customers on their spending capabilities. 

“Most service advisors will tell themselves, ‘There is no way this person will spend this much,’” Martin explains. “Of course they won't if you believe they won't.”

It all comes down to approaching the situation with a mindset that customers will largely invest in their vehicle, it’s all about perception, Martin says.

Strategy No. 5: Number Discussion

An important step in the entire sales process at Valley Automotive & Electric is discussing the numbers with service advisors. Kelley looks to see if the numbers are up or down from the weeks prior and speaks with his staff on why the numbers are the way they are, if any processes were missed, etc.  

They discuss customer service, attention to detail, shop cleanliness, notes, completing inspections⁠—every piece that contributes to ARO.

“Average RO is more of a symptom than it is something you can rally the troops around,” he explains. “If you focus on that (solely the ARO number), the guys become focused on that one item. You have to balance that and talk about things important to each position and then look at the results to be able to treat the symptoms.”

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