It's Spring: Get Customers Back in Your Store

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If you’re reading this, I guess you survived this piss-poor winter and are still in business. Here in Dallas we’ve had record snowfall and one of the coldest winters in history. It absolutely sucked!

Our business is like a golf course (you Yankees know what I’m talking about). When the weather is bad, we’re dead, and when the weather is good, we’re busting ass. I mean, throw this crappy winter on top of the worst economy in our lifetime, and we are lucky to still be open for business. Luckily in Dallas, we have more good weather than bad.

So, now that spring is here, what are you doing to attract business? Are you doing the same thing you did last year and the year before that? Did it work then? If it worked then, maybe it will work now — or maybe it won’t. People are dying for a reason to get out and ride their motorcycles, but are they gonna ride to your place? Unless you give them a reason to visit your joint, they probably won’t.

Even though we’re all in the same industry, all of our businesses are different. Some of us are dealerships that depend on the sales of new motorcycles to survive. Some of us only sell used motorcycles that we get from auctions. Some are strictly service centers or businesses that sell only parts. And then there are accessory-only shops. But most of us are a combination of all those things. We sell motorcycles, parts, accessories and service work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, it’s all about servicing the customer and making enough money to feed your family, pay your bills and hopefully still have a little running money left over.

There are a few things we can all do to get ready for spring and the upcoming riding season. The easiest is to rearrange your sales floor. Make the bikes look refreshed after sitting on the floor all winter. Clean them up with a good detailing. Move them around the sales floor so they attract some new attention. Be aware of your lighting and maybe add some extra lights that will spotlight the bikes. Roll some bikes outside to get attention. We like to get one of my good-looking bikini gals to do a noisy, smoky burnout in the parking lot during rush hour traffic! Nah, just kidding about that part, but the more I think about it, maybe …

It’s also a good idea to change your signs each season. We get new banners to hang around the place every few months announcing whatever new is going on. (Come on, cheapskate, banners don’t cost that much.) On the inside of the store we like to change our displays often, especially after a long, hard winter. We put the new arrivals front and center so you can’t miss them when you walk through my front door. It makes it look like we always have something new and different, so people want to check it out when they come in. People always want to know what’s new and what’s on sale.

Speaking of sales, we always have something on sale — always. We rotate sale items on a monthly basis. Maybe one month it’s helmets, leather jackets or exhaust pipes, or maybe all three. People always want a deal, and you can give them one without giving away your Aunt Edna! I’m not a believer in all that half-off nonsense. I try to never go below 20 percent, and I don’t go that low very often. Most of the time when I run a sale it will be for 10 to 15 percent off. Having a 50 percent off sale tells me that somebody is trying to unload a pig that they can’t get rid of, and I don’t like pigs!

You always see shops giving away free hot dogs and Cokes on Saturdays. Ever wonder why they do it? Because it works. Sounds kinda silly, but it brings people in the door. Even though I have a bar and grill, I still give away hundreds of dollars of free pizza every week. I have a deal with a local pizza joint to make it work for both of us. It benefits me because it brings customers in the door and they spend money while they are here, and it benefits them because I’m advertising and promoting the pizza biz. Ya gotta try something — anything is better than staying stagnant.

Employees: the Key

I truly believe that the best way to succeed in this business is with our employees. We need to make sure that they are so stinkin’ nice and helpful that the customers tell all their pals and wouldn’t think of spending their money anywhere else.

Think about it: The employees represent you and your company to every customer who walks into your business. If you have an employee who’s knowledgeable on the products but is an asshole to the customer, then you lose. If you have an employee who’s great with customers but not so knowledgeable, it’s OK. They’ll learn. Employees are the key to our success. I try to talk to all of my employees so that they understand that they have to have the same philosophy I do: The customer is the first, last and only reason we are here. At Strokers, it’s Make the customer happy, and you make the boss happy. Anger the customer, and you go to the back of the unemployment line.

I have 50 employees with 50 families who depend on Strokers to put food on their tables. That is not something that I take lightly, so here’s the deal I make with my employees: You take good care of my customers and help me make Strokers successful, and I’ll take good care of you. But if you ever forget that the customer is king, then you won’t work for Strokers anymore. Hey, it’s tough out here in the big bad motorcycle industry. We have survived the winter, and now spring is here and we all have to do things bigger and better than we ever have in the past. Because if you’re not, your competition is!

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2010 issue.