Dealers Should Always be 'Unveiling' New Products

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When I was a kid, I had a newspaper stand in front of the state liquor store near 45th and Roosevelt Way in Seattle. I lived on 63rd and would walk down to my stand each Saturday and Sunday. In those days, this was where all the new and used car dealers were located in north Seattle.

I remember the excitement every year generated by the unveiling of the coming year’s new cars. They’d sit in the showrooms for a week or so, artfully draped with a car cover emblazoned with the company’s logo and the model year. The dealerships would tout a date for the unveiling, synchronized with the national introduction. On the appointed day, they would host a little party and unveil the car, to oohs and aahs of the viewing public. It was a big deal, a major event, something that lots of people looked forward to each year.

Now, the excitement is gone. We hear about new cars and motorcycles well before they’re off the drawing board. They appear online in some fashion months before they actually appear in dealerships. As B.B. King sings it, “The thrill is gone.” Too bad, because it piqued an audience who got genuinely excited about the prospects of unveilings and probably stirred a lot of folks to at least come in and look, if not buy.

New Stuff Draws Them in

Even though those days are gone, (although Steve Jobs and the Apple folks still seem able to do it), the anticipation of something new is still a strong incentive for a consumer to come and check out a product.

Many, if not all, of you try to make your store look new by rearranging products on the showroom floor on a weekly or monthly basis. What about the rest of the store? When Joe Customer comes by and pokes his head in, does he say to himself, “Oh, they rearranged the bikes.” Or does he look at a store in which only accessory displays have been shifted, updated and changed to feature new products? In other words, have you really given the customer a reason to tour your store?

I was talking to a well-established, big-league Harley-Davidson dealer not too long ago about a new product he’d taken on. While he wasn’t selling many of them, he’d positioned them in his store as a focal point with signs indicating that this was a brand-new take on a bread-and-butter product that offered new technology and easier maintenance, and was better in every way to what currently existed. Even if they didn’t need the product at the moment, people were curious. He was able to engage them in a conversation about the product, and about other items he had in his store that they might not have noticed before.

He told me he likes new items. They give people a reason to come in. New items give him, and his sales team, an opportunity to deepen their relationships with customers. If he sells the product, that’s great, and he knows he will at some point. But it also allows him to engage the customer on a different level, not necessarily as a salesperson, but as an advisor, or expert, and customers appreciate the information.

Experiment with New Services, Like Layaway

While new products are always great to have, new approaches to how you’re selling those products can also attract attention. Layaway is something that attracted a lot of attention last fall, but has kind of fallen off the chart lately. Maybe it’s time to think about it in conjunction with your store. Look at tires, for instance. Normally a guy comes in and drops $400 to $600 on a set of tires and whips out his credit card to pay for them.

As we know, consumers are keeping a tighter hold on credit cards than ever before. Fred Customer knows he’s going to need tires or maintenance of some kind later in the season. Why not offer him the opportunity to buy them on layaway? He pays you a fixed amount a month, say $75. In August, he needs new tires. He’s paid $75 a month since April. So in August he’s paid $475, and has bought the tires. Best of all, he doesn’t have a big credit-card bill coming, and no interest payments. You’ve had the use of his money, with no interest, and, theoretically at least, have made a nice profit.

If for some reason your customer wanted to pull out of the deal, you’d be fair in charging some nominal handling fee, like $25.

Adding Value

Years ago when I worked at Kawasaki, we had a glut of Kawasaki Z1s and their derivatives on the showroom floors of many of our dealers. Nothing seemed to work to get them off dealer floors. Then I heard of a dealer in the Midwest ordering more. I called to find out what was going on. Not only had this dealer solved his inventory problem, he’d turned it into a continuing profit center. For about $100 each (this was the ‘70s) he was having the bikes “custom-painted.” While not exactly flying off the floor, they were moving nicely, and he had interest in additional bikes with unique paint jobs.

The idea here is to give your customers new reasons to visit with you, new reasons to refresh their relationship and new reasons to buy. If credit’s the problem, then maybe a layaway plan’s the answer. You’ll never know what will work if you just cling to what used to work.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2010 issue.