Sales+Marketing General Fixed Operations Shop Customers

4 Steps to Identify Your Target Customer

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Bill Wheeler has spent his life in and around the automotive industry. His father was a service advisor, and Wheeler spent his early days learning (and witnessing) the importance of proper customer engagement—something he takes to heart today as service director at Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“When you start focusing on the money, you lose sight of what your business really is,” he says.

Customer engagement is the key, and that’s something that can’t be achieved without understanding your customer. Whether for constructing marketing campaigns, setting up a facility, determining products, or simply engaging one-on-one with vehicle owners, identifying and understanding your department’s target customer is critical to your success.

Wheeler and three other fixed ops leaders share their steps to identifying your ideal customer for each department.

 

The Experts

  • Bill Wheeler, service director at Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Karre Gjerding, service manager for Schwieters Auto Group, Chevrolet and Ford dealership in Cold Spring, Montevideo and Willmar, Minn.

  • Richard Anguiano, parts manager at Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura, Calif.
  • Andrew Wright, vice president of Vinart Collision Center in Allentown, Pa.

 

The Process

Step 1: Know your area’s key demographics.

Start by taking a look into the area’s median income, Wheeler says. Then, survey your customers to see what they prefer in your business, he says. Do the majority of repeat customers want the shop to stay open on weekends?

“I’ve been in Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Colorado and you could be at two different Honda stores but what you sell in one area could be completely different than the other area,” Wheeler says.

Gjerding says ways to reach the ideal customer vary in an urban setting versus a rural setting. For the rural area he is in, he doesn’t reach customers farther than 100 miles and typically only markets to those within 25 miles. He says this could be even less for the metro area where more competitors lie within short distances from one another.

Anguiano searches for new customers no further than 50 miles away from the dealership. Instead, Anguiano offers free clinics at the dealership to entice customers from around the area. Over a light dinner of sandwiches and chips, Anguiano is able to meet personally with customers.

 

Step 2: Utilize your personable team.

Wright implemented processes to make sure employees can provide the industry-wide trend he says is happening now: convenient service. The industry is moving toward hiring people who can perform express services, Wright says. He makes sure the staff is knowledgeable and can explain effectively what work was done on the customer’s vehicle.

“We want to be everyone’s selling and servicing dealership,” Wright says.

When customers reach the “at-risk” level with not coming into the shop for about six months or more, Gjerding says it is time to make the personal follow-up call.

“Say, ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you in awhile. Do you still own your GM product?’” he says.

Market information can be gleaned from these personal touches to the typical e-mail or mail follow-up done by dealerships.

Wheeler says hiring someone in the hospitality industry is a good route, as they tend to be savvy in customer service and understand how to reach out to more potential customers.

 

Step 3: Take a closer look at time.

Wright identifies the target customer through the frequency in which they come into the dealership. First, he targets the “loyal” customer who comes in routinely, followed by those who come every six months, and those who have lapsed for two years or more. Time is an important factor, especially for his dealerships that skew toward more maintenance work than repair work, Wright says.

An overall target customer for Wright tends to skew female, on average 48 years old and a median income of $80,000 for customers who buy new cars, he says. But, for used cars, the customer is female only half the time and generally has a slightly less household income.

“We want options across the board,” he says.

Marketing software AutoLoop identifies people who fall within those time parameters, Wright says.

Gjerding says, oftentimes, manufacturers can provide lists of people who have not come in for recalls or have purchased somewhere else in the area. For Schwieters Auto Group, a Chevrolet and Ford dealership, General Motors provides the company’s lists.

Time can also be essential when first learning who the store’s customer is. Wheeler goes into a new store and spends 30 days observing the typical demographic.

 

Step 4: Market based on the product you sell.

Gjerding has seen customers more likely to jump ship to another competitor if their cars reach an old age, so he offers repair discounts of 15–20 percent for those vehicles.

Another way to market is to target repairs needed on the vehicle and bring the customer in that way, he says. For example, you can do a marketing campaign based on age of vehicles and tires if you see data of a 5-year-old vehicle with 50,000 miles on it.

Tools to identify a market include looking at purchasing habits of loyal customers and median income of your car line and manufacturer, Wheeler says.

While marketing with discounts can enhance your business, Anguiano says focusing on money deals alone is not productive. Parts should focus its marketing to on-time service and courtesy toward its customers, he says. Then, the business can offer a discount like Anguiano’s that ranges from 25–35 percent.

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