How to Cultivate Your Image

What does the appearance of your dealership say about you? Plenty, says marketing specialist Kimberley Lukas of ACDelco, noting that a messy service department gives an instant bad impression, even if the best mechanics in the world work there. And if those top-notch auto technicians are wearing grease-smeared clothes, it creates another bad first impression. If first impressions aren't good, they

What does the appearance of your dealership say about you?

Plenty, says marketing specialist Kimberley Lukas of ACDelco, noting that a messy service department gives “an instant bad impression,” even if the best mechanics in the world work there.

And if those top-notch auto technicians are wearing grease-smeared clothes, it creates another bad first impression.

“If first impressions aren't good, they are going to cloud subsequent impressions,” Lukas says. “A shop area doesn't have to be pristine or sterile like a hospital. But it should be neat and orderly.”

Employee appearances and the appearance of the dealership itself go a long way towards creating the right image, Lukas says.

She adds: “Business is about perception. What customers see is what they perceive they will get. If technicians take care of their tools, it indicates they take care of customers' cars.”

Lukas is an expert at how to cultivate a positive brand image. An important element of that is keeping things ship shape. Beyond the visuals, dealers should focus on a business vision by determining what makes their stores special.

“It means figuring out what you do differently or better than the guy down the street,” says Lukas. “What message do you want to send out?”

That point of difference can be any number of things. Well-established family-owned dealerships might tout that venerability. Technology-oriented stores may leverage such know-how.

Also worth playing up is if a dealership has a comfortable service department waiting room with amenities such as Internet access where customers can work, study or otherwise pass the time away.

In marketing the two or three things that make you stand out, “keep it simple and concise,” Lukas says. “You don't have to spend a fortune.”

She also recommends dealerships create a basic customer-relationship management database, using software to track customers' vehicle maintenance schedules; the number of vehicles in households; ages of those vehicles; customers' birthdays (so you can send greeting cards); and dates of last shop visits (so you can send reminders such as, “Hi, we haven't seen you since last February.”)

Also recommended: sponsoring car clinics which instruct people, from mature adults to new drivers, how to car for their cars. “It shows you are not just in business to make money,” Lukas says.

The goal is to create loyal customers who spend more money, spend more often and refer others to your place of business. From a marketing sense, it also is cheaper to retain existing customers than get new ones, she says.

Although cultivating a positive brand image is important, it's essential to live up to brand promises and subsequent customer expectations.

Do what you say you'll do, Lukas says. For instance, dealerships need to make sure vehicles are repaired correctly, quickly and when promised.

“People without a lot of time just want their cars repaired properly,” she says. It can stress people out if they don't have their cars. Service department personnel “need to be sensitive to that.”

Tips on Enhancing Your Dealership's Image

Marketing expert Kimberley Lukas recommends doing the following to enhance your image:

  1. Identify attributes that make you different from the competition.
  2. Evaluate your business from the perspective of the customer.
  3. Create a plan to improve your image, then communicate it.
  4. Leverage your brand recognition.
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