Have you ever taken a moment to reflect on what it is that makes you and your business successful? Think about the loyal customers you have and ask yourself, “Why have they remained loyal to me when there are so many other choices out there?”
Now reverse the situation: How do you think your customers are most likely to answer that question?
What would they cite as your most valuable asset or service?
I’m sure that everyone will have his or her own reasons for remaining with you. Maybe it’s depth of inventory, speedy delivery service, counter expertise or any number of other services that we regularly perform as part of our jobs. They’re just not really aware that those are the reasons. It might surprise you how little they actually realize what you do, and how far apart your answers may be.
If you have loyal repeat customers it’s because you have worked hard at making them that way. A parts business doesn’t start up with an instant customer base; they may be inherited by buying into an existing store, but that’s really just a foot in the door. You have to prove yourself worthy of their business every single day.
It often starts by providing one particular service or product line that fills the customer’s needs better than what they had been used to. From that point on, you do your best to increase sales by pushing good service. For their part, the customers do the best they can to break you into their way of doing business. You may end up having to tailor your inventory, delivery schedules, even hours of operation, to suit their needs. Boiled down to the basics, you become convenient for them to do business with.
The comment I’ve heard most often when a customer refers to their preferred parts supplier, either a competitor or myself, is “they know what I need and they take good care of me.” This is a compliment for sure, and one I’m glad to hear when it refers to me, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what makes a certain parts supplier more preferable over the next.
Running any type of service-oriented business can be pretty stressful, so we tend to look for partners who offer the most with the least amount of oversight. The average garage owner probably won’t have any idea how many hoops you had to jump through, or tech lines that you sat on hold waiting for, in order to procure that certain part he was having problems with.
All they’ll remember is if it was the correct part delivered at the promised time. This isn’t limited to the jobber store either; but because the counterman is the last link before the final user gets it, we become the reason for the inconvenience when it’s wrong, MIA or defective. When everything goes as planned it’s just business as usual, and that doesn’t stick in people’s minds as much as the problems.
In today’s chaotic business climate of doing more with less, it’s easy to lose sight of the total picture. Everyone throughout the manufacturing and distribution chain must realize that our efforts need to be directed at making life easier for the next link in the chain. It’s the most convenient way I can think of to keep yourself in the customers’ No. 1 speed-dial position, and that’s the one with the biggest payoff.
Mike Gordon, a 20-year counter sales veteran, works the counter at Sanel Auto Parts, Concord, N.H.