First Impressions


Many dealers are feeling the pinch. See the box on this page for just a sampling of the bad things that were happening at press time.These are facts that we can't control.

What we can control is our own businesses. Training your staff, for example, is a must. But our new owner had bought a store that had no ongoing training. The dealer, his entire staff and I implemented a twofold plan:

1) We asked the entire staff to list all aspects of their position they felt content with, and to list what they felt was an uncomfortable part of their position due to lack of training.

2) We solicited customers in all departments of the store for their concerns.

Here is a summary of the survey results and our reactions. Read these items with an open mind and see if they have arisen in your store.

Outside — and Out of Mind

Surprisingly, the store's exterior was a common item listed by both staff and customers. Why wasn't anyone trained to keep it clean, orderly, signed, painted, weeded?

The owner, who put the lot porter under the service manager, had the manager put together a checklist of how to maintain the facility. The service manager then trained the porter, reviewing with him his daily duties.

The key is repetition. If you do something 21 times, it becomes a habit.

Sorry Salutations

The survey pointed out two other major areas in need of improvement: in-store greetings and the answering of telephones.

Customers and staff felt management had never taught the proper procedures. The common remark was that in most cases, a phone call or in-store greeting is the first impression customers get of the store. Unfortunately, management truly hadn't ever trained employees in these areas.

Our dealer put together a procedure on how to greet customers and answer the phone. He also created a way to spot check the calls and check on floor activity randomly and daily.

When the Sales Department Fails ...

We were taken aback to discover that it was mostly customers in the sales department who were reporting the poor greetings and phone etiquette.

Customers said that when they visited the showroom, most of the time they felt they were in an automobile dealership. Sales representatives exerted a lot of pressure to test ride, and asked few questions about what brought the customers into the store. Too often reps pushed specific units — previous-year models, older demos and overaccessorized units.

The staff on the floor did not seem professional, and the showroom was cluttered and hard to shop in, customers said.

After observing for an afternoon, we discovered that the complaints were well-founded. We hadn't noticed the incompetency due to tunnel vision. Just to be sure, we had the sales manager assess all aspects of his department with our assistance. Unfortunately, we still found the criticisms to be true. Because he sales department is where the whole sales process starts, these issues will be addressed fully in the next column.

Assess your own sales department regularly, and keep in mind that your customers' perspective is all that matters.

Steven Zarwell is a renowned retail consultant for powersports dealers and is a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Reach him at