Creative ideas from the Top 100

Mike Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Feb 13, 2012
By Mike Vaughan

I WAS LOOKING through some of the 2012 Top 100 Dealer competition entries recently. It’s an interesting group, varying not only geographically but, as expected, in terms of products carried, percentage of male and female customers, physical size, and dollar return on square footage. It’s a real eye-opener.

That being said, along with the differences there are also similarities, particularly with reference to mission statements. Without exception, everyone wants to deliver the best customer service and buying experience possible. There also are a lot of mentions that the buyer is not simply a “customer,” but rather a member of the family. Harley-Davidson entrants often speak of introducing the customer to the “Harley-Davidson lifestyle.”

Some of the entries provide great detail in responding to the questionnaire, showing examples of what the store did for various business strategies, and the outcome in terms of sales or increased traffic results. Others just kind of fill in the blanks — and you’re left to guess at whether this or that event or promotion was successful or not.

I’ve been checking out Top 100 entries since I first landed at Dealernews in 2004. The process generates feelings of admiration in the creativity and attention to detail that some dealers reflect in their entries, and, in contrast, dismay at the other dealers who seem to miss the boat on how to generate visibility, positive buzz, and hopefully increased sales.

Here are some of the more innovative ideas that our Top 100 dealers have implemented to keep their businesses profitable:

Consumer review forms located in parts, service and sales areas. Some forms actually are handed to the customer by the employee waiting on them. Other times, I presume, the forms are just available on a table or counter if the customer wants to fill one out. This is a great tool for fine-tuning your team. And it would warrant a follow-up 'thank you' to every reviewer you can identify.

A tax-free day for customers 55 and older. A twice-weekly promotion, always on an odd day when there’s probably not a lot of customers anyway. Cost is minimal, it sounds great, and it brings into the store someone who probably wouldn’t be there otherwise. (I admit I have an obvious bias to this sort of promotion.)

Harley-Davidson’s Jump Start program. Brilliant! One of those not-so-complicated ideas that you wish you’d thought of. I’m surprised that not all H-D dealers are using it. It’s basically a motorcycle stand that fixes the bike upright, with the rear wheel on rollers. It gives the customer an opportunity to start, run, shift through the gears, return, and apply the brakes. Neophytes get an opportunity to sense what the mechanics of riding are like without actually doing so. If I were an other-brand dealer, I’d trot myself down to the local H-D store, check it out and then build one for myself.

Under the category of training, there are obvious similarities. Everyone tries to take advantage of training offered by their respective OEMs, as well as training provided by other groups of sales and service specialists.