Incentives for These Trying Times


As I write this column over Memorial Day weekend, I am noticing that TV commercials are blasting this phrase repeatedly. I've even seen some newspaper ads where car dealerships are offering to buy a year's worth of gas with the purchase of a new vehicle.

It's about time. Why have we waited so long to extend an offer like this to our customers? Our customers have been bombarded by media in every form regarding the rising oil prices, not to mention rising prices in general. It seems we always react after the fact, and our reaction might come too late this time.

Let's fix that thought process now, and not wait for the reaction to the action. As a retailer, you are in competition with all retailers, whether they are in the powersports business or not.

You may think this is a harsh statement, but it's not. Since the announcement of the 2008 Economic Stimulus Act (and arguably, even before the act), you have been in competition with other retailers. People will choose where they spend their rebate, but you can at least make yourself a more visible option for them.

Try advertisements that let your customers know that their stimulus rebate can be applied toward a present or future purchase. You can even offer to cash their checks for them at no charge. I've noticed that some retailers are offering this, as well as an extra 10 to 30 percent more, if the check is spent in the store. It's a great way to know who's visiting your store and how much they're spending.

Today, the average consumer shopping with a gift card spends 15 to 20 percent more than the actual value of the gift card (I hope you offer gift cards in your store!). They help make the decision easy for your customers to spend their money.


Chrysler Corp. is offering a $2.99 gas and diesel fuel incentive for consumers who buy a new vehicle. The gas price is locked in for three years, based on 12,000 miles per year. This offer is as good as it sounds: There are minimal requirements to fulfill in order to qualify for it, which makes it look all the more appealing.

Ford is doing something similar, offering "A Grand of Gas" with a vehicle purchase. The offer, however, was only good for vehicles purchased during Memorial Day weekend. What about the weeks after? Not important to them, I guess. Ford's offer also excludes some Mustangs and all vans.

For the past several years General Motors, which for decades was No. 1, does not have any sort of customer incentive program in place. GM is constantly being approached by Toyota, a company that has cash on hand to purchase it outright. A local Toyota dealership is offering a three-month/3,000-mile limited warranty, 12 months of 24-hour roadside assistance and three oil changes on all pre-owned vehicles. No wonder Toyota is constantly in first place for vehicle sales, and GM has slipped down the rungs. Toyota just knows how to advertise and entice people to buy.

Powersports dealers need to take a cue from the automobile industry. Consumers need to see ads on what you're selling. Use an automobile ad as an example, and tailor it and its incentive offers to fit what's best for your customers. Ask your customers what they want. Web advertising is highly effective as well.


Recently (and surprisingly, given the state of the economy), Disney reported its theme parks on both coasts are having a record year in attendance, food sales, souvenir sales and hotel occupancy. Hotels that neighbor the theme parks are also doing very well. The reason? These parks are destination points that require airfare, gas and other related expenses. Why not learn from Disney and make your dealership into a destination? Contact local hotels and see whether they'll give your customers special discount rates. Plan themed events so that when customers from out of town come to visit, there's something for them to do besides look at motorcycles.

You should have the schedules for all your OEMs' new-model-year shows or telecasts. Using them as a guide, have a new-model-year show at your store for your customers. Also include all your other vendors' new products as well.

Send out invitations; use your Web site, e-mail, etc. Make this a must-attend event that customers will be talking about for months afterward. Get all your department managers and staff involved.

The future months will be extremely challenging for you and your customers. Be a destination point. Be the dealership that people say you must visit. Be the store that is better, friendlier, more exciting and honest for all customers.

Steve Zarwell is a dealer consultant and a member of the Dealernews editorial advisory board. Contact him via