To differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, take a cue from other retailers (yes, you are a retailer, too). It might be stating the obvious, but view your dealership as a store and your customers as shoppers.
The first step to approaching “retail innovation” is to take a hard look at what you are — and what your customers see. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can determine what you're doing right, and what might need to change.
The goal is to make the customer happier and improve the shopping experience. It's not just about price. Yes, that's a big draw today, but not the only one.
Determine what brings them back and gets them to tell their friends and family about you.
As designers for all types of retailers, as well as some of the Midwest's most successful auto dealers, we have a few ideas that you can implement now at little cost to build customer interest and loyalty.
- Clean up
Get rid of visual clutter, including unnecessary “in your face” information. Make sure the store is immaculate, including rest rooms.
- Communicate in a new way
Look at your signs, both fixed and temporary. Consider putting up fresh, simple graphic messages that “touch” the consumer. Create an emotional response. Not all customers equate balloons and giant gorillas with a positive experience. What can you say that will make them believe in you?
- Freshen up
It's amazing what a shot of color does, so paint a wall. Put down new welcome mats, add plants. Suddenly the dealership feels new — and at a minimal investment.
- Reroute the traffic
You can choreograph the customers' experience. Retailers change product displays all the time to keep inventory looking new and fresh. Your vehicles are merchandise. Consider repositioning them in the showroom every few days.
- Rearrange furniture
Consider how you can offer comfortable and warm waiting areas, some quiet areas and some with entertainment (TV). Offer the comforts of home.
- Keep customers engaged
Provide a reason to come back, such as offering seminars on car care. How about appealing to women buyers — car safety tips or how to change a flat? Free car wash one afternoon a week? Keep customers thinking of you and your dealership as the “good guys”.
- Give something back
Look for ways your facility can be an asset to your community. What does the local market care about? Can you help in any way? Can your site be used for a community event? It's great PR when you do that.
- Put your face with your good name
You are the owner — if customers see you are on the floor working and listening — you build trust and show you care enough about them to be immediately accessible. Putting yourself out there to be recognized signals that you personally are committed.
The easiest “change” to embrace is attitude. In this economy we all have to be positive. Nix the negativity. See yourself and your dealership store as the best and make it so. Little things mean a lot.
Now is the time when your budget may dictate that you only do little things, but a thought-out plan for small, low-cost changes will have a big impact. Ultimately, it will create customer confidence and loyalty in your dealership. Innovation, logical, customer-driven thinking, and simply putting your customers first, do not have to cost a lot.
Elsa DePalma is vice president of Chicago based DePalma Group Inc., architects and specialists in dealership brand strategies, design, and repositioning.