As 2017 comes to its end, I will spend the remaining weeks of the year trying to keep our employees focused on finishing strong, while trying to prepare goals and strategies for continued growth and improvement for 2018. Unfortunately, planning for 2018 has proven to be more difficult than my past few years. 2017 was fairly easy for me; we entered the year with more business than our facility could hold and I could only forecast modest growth. All I really had to do was hang on and fix or address issues and problems as they happened.
2018 will be different than any other year. Phase one of our expansion is scheduled to be completed the first of the year, which will increase my service department by 25 percent. That gives us much needed space to breath and Derek Zeck, the owner, expects 25 percent growth in customer pay service work. Unfortunately, the second we are able to move into the expansion, we will be short handed. We have been hiring as many technicians as we can but we ran out of room for them to work. We have even put six techs in five bays and rotating days off throughout the week. My other problem is that this first expansion is not the end of our construction; we will have various departments and areas of our lots torn up for at least the next 18 months. So, how do you come up with achievable goals for each department when you are not sure what the construction will do to efficiency?
I also want to consider the gloom and doom from all of the experts out there. Currently, they are forecasting a down year for new vehicle sales and continually shrinking margins as customers use Google to get a price for a vehicle anywhere in the nation. Now more than ever, fixed operations are expected to produce and cover most of the overhead. However, according to the Cox Automotive 2016 Maintenance & Repair Study, “After buying a car, 72 percent of customers are opting for third-party mechanics. The main reasons are price and customer service, with 58 percent of respondents indicating they didn’t go back to the dealership for service work because they felt they would be overcharged.” It appears to me that, as an industry, we have done a poor job of explaining the benefits of our dealerships and retaining our customers.
So, what is my plan for 2018? For the first few months of 2018, it is my hope to maintain our current levels of sales as we change several of our procedures for the expansion. Before I go out and market the new space, we need to get back to the basics of customer satisfaction. We need to retrain our advisors to be salespeople. As I have written before, my current advisors have been nothing more than order takers for the past year. I would like them to be able to concentrate on the customer and their needs. Of course, this means that I will need a few more advisors and an additional manager. To combat the independent shops, we have hired a manager from one of the chain tire and light maintenance shops to run our quick lane and help us compete and hopefully retain our customers for life.
One of the best ways for us to improve customer satisfaction is to improve is our communication with our customers. Additional advisors will help, but if our customers are anything like me, they don’t answer their cell phones if they don’t recognize the number. I do, however, always look at the first few lines of every text message I receive when it pops up on the screen, regardless of if I read the entire message right away. I want our advisors to start using text messaging to communicate with our customers more. Our DMS has had the ability to email customers from the advisors’ computers for several years, but just like any change we make, it is hard to get people to change the ways they have been doing things.
As you can see, 2018 is kind of a mystery for me right now. It promises to be challenging and exciting. I hope that our employees, especially the advisors, don’t start scheduling more as soon as we open the expansion. We will need time to figure everything out and write procedures that will allow us continued growth. As you can see, I have a little work to do for next year. So here is wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous 2018.