How valuable is your last customer?


This story originally appeared in the Dealernews August 2010 issue.

Are your best employees the ones interacting with your customers? The ones who know your product line the best, the ones who are the most affable, the most personable? If they aren’t, why aren’t you training them to be?

Suzuki’s Rod Lopusnak asks dealers to consider “The Foot Locker Challenge.” When a person walks into any Foot Locker shoe store, that person gets a better sales presentation than if he or she were walking into a motorcycle dealership to buy a new bike. Foot Locker’s sales staff is professional and well dressed, and usually tries to upsell related products, not just the $100 pair of cross-trainers. Foot Locker employees are trained in the company’s sales processes.
Alas, the same can’t be said for many powersports dealerships.

Lopusnak, who is the OEM’s national sales manager, joined Clark Vitulli, Arnie Ackerman, Paul Leinberger and Steve Johnson on a “Success Strategies” panel discussion held last month during Tucker Rocky’s annual sales meeting and dealer show near Dallas. The hour-long discussion covered lots of things, from MAP policies to the best ways of reducing labor costs and cutting back on inventory. But the two themes that seemed to color every other topic were training and education — and that it’s up to the dealer to set the standard employees must follow.

Vitulli, owner of Harley-Davidson of St. Augustine (a Top 100 dealer) and former CEO of America’s PowerSports, said frontline employees — the greeters, parts counter reps, sales staff, etc. — need to be trained well. These people need to be bulletproof, he said, and have to know exactly what they’re doing in their respective departments.

“If there’s anything that you can take away from this [seminar] it’s that you need to have processes in a dealership, and the owner needs to be there to manage them,” Lopusnak said. “That is the absolute, No. 1 thing I’m seeing, regardless of everything — that dealerships don’t have processes. You have to have processes or you’re not going to be successful, and you’re not going to make money.”

When the tone is set from the top down, the effects transcend departmental boundaries. I think back to any of my previous employers. When the management was good, work went smoothly. If management sucked, so went the workday.

I’m a big fan of the research presentations given by Leinberger, a noted researcher and market analyst, at various MIC meetings. He’s been fairly prescient in forecasting how the consumer market will behave. Ackerman, chairman of the MAG Group, brought the strengths of a successful portfolio of brands; Lopusnak his background with Tucker Rocky and Suzuki; and Vitulli the experience of overseeing one of the country’s largest dealer groups. Each person’s comments built upon the others’ and resulted in an interesting, multilayered conversation. Some of the takeaways:
• Make sure you offer something your competitors don’t.
• It’s important to build a relationship with your customers.
• Stocking parts and accessories that have high turn rates makes sense.
• Make the dealership a fun place for customers and employees.
• Offer training and licensing for new riders.
• Monitor your store’s metrics.
• And my favorite, from Vitulli: “Treat every customer as if they’re the last customer you’ll ever see.”

Sound familiar? These are the fundamentals of any good business. These are the topics that Dealernews columnists and others have covered over countless magazine pages for decades.

Whenever I come across discussions like this one, I can’t help but link them to my own experience with retailers, whether they be motorcycle dealerships or my neighborhood market. The takeaways are the very things I require, as a consumer, out of a retailer. If they’re not there, I take my business elsewhere. I’m not picky, but I know I have options. Why not pick the best option for my needs?

This year’s Top 100 competition again offers a Merit Award for Best Customer Service. It’s an important award, recognizing a dealership for the most innovative and successful customer service program it has created and implemented over the last year. Once you get through your basic Top 100 nomination form, you’ll be sent an e-mail inviting you to qualify for one of nearly 18 individual Merit Awards.

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief

One Response to “How valuable is your last customer?”

  1. David The Motorcycle Alarm Guy Says:

    I totally agree with the statement “treat every customer as they are the last one” Or I treat them like they are the only customer. Customer service nowadays seems to have gone by the wayside. And that goes for just about every business I have seen these days.

    Always try to offer them value in whatever they are looking for. The more value you can offer over the next guy without giving away the farm is the best way to go.

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