On Task for the Off-Season

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FOR MANY SERVICE DEPARTMENTS around the country, a shift is about to take place. In a period of days, they'll go from being overwhelmed and understaffed to being overstaffed and underutilized. After the first cold blast of the season, customer traffic will reduce to a trickle of what it was during the warm-weather season. How to respond? One shop I worked at years ago simply laid off 10 of its 12 technicians. OK, but then they had to beg them to come back in March. A better strategy is to create a winter plan that refocuses, promotes, captures and grows.

REFOCUS ON THE BIGGER PICTURE

During the summer months it makes sense to push accessories that can be installed in a half-hour or less so you don't overwhelm your daily schedule with unplanned work. In the slow season, with service capacity wide open, you have the time to take on bigger projects like engine enhancement, chassis upgrades and drivetrain rebuilds. To get the ball rolling, meet with your techs and get their recommendations for accessories and services that take longer to install. By including techs in the planning process, you'll get their buy-in and support when you refocus your efforts on the bigger picture.

PROMOTE WITH A PLAN AND A PRESENTATION

It's not as simple as throwing money into local advertising and expecting hoards of riders to storm your service desk. Before spending dollar one, you need to decide what type of work you want to attract and then coordinate with the parts department to make sure you have the necessary parts and accessories in stock.

Limit service promotions to months, not seasons, and mix them up; for example, promote suspension upgrades one month, engine enhancement the next month and cosmetic installs the next. By keeping specials to a limited number of days, you'll create a sense of urgency that's essential to motivate customers to buy now.

To attract business and build your reputation, provide customer presentations on owner maintenance, accessorization, suspension setup and detailing. Use in-store signage, your store's Web site and newsletter, and your e-mail list to invite customers to these free educational opportunities. Make seminars an hour long, have the accessories on-hand for impulse buyers, and make staff available to answer questions and make appointments.

CAPTURE THE VEHICLE AND CREATE SALES

If you don't offer winter storage, you're missing out on one of the best opportunities to keep your techs busy, capture the business that might otherwise go to your competition and earn a profit during the down season. The cool thing about storing your customers' bikes is the ease in which you can sell additional products and service. Start by offering riders a choice of storage services and price points. For example, along with storing the bike,

  • a basic package could include a lubricant change, vehicle inspection and adjustment, stabilization of the fuel and battery maintenance,
  • a preferred package could be a 10,000-mile service, vehicle inspection, stabilization of the fuel and battery maintenance,
  • a customized package would make the basic package free if the customer purchased a minimum amount of products and service. Set the minimum amount to recover the gross profit of the storage package and then add a percentage to bump profits upward.

Inspect all vehicles being stored and make a list of additional accessories that compliment those already on the bike. Call each customer and do a little suggestive selling. The conversation could go something like, "I'm looking at your bike and admiring the billet covers on the engine — very cool. You know, we also carry billet controls that would be a great complement and really make your bike stand out from the crowd. Is that something you'd be interested in learning more about?"

TO GROW GET MORE 'KNOW'

There's a reason why my training business picks up in the fall and winter months: your business slows down and you guys can more easily send staff out to classes. Outsourced training is a must for any business and I encourage everyone to attend at least one external class per year to "grow their know." But, that isn't the only way to grow staff skills and dealership profits. You can also implement internal programs such as:

  • Cross-training staff into new disciplines, such as motor-building, dyno-tuning or service writing. This improves both individual and departmental performance, bolsters morale and reduces the boredom of redundant tasks, one of the biggest killers of good technicians.
  • Holding staff meetings where techs share their best practices or teach each other how to operate new equipment.
  • Implementing new policies and procedures or learning new software and business tools.
  • Creating a mentorship program where the 'green' tech is assigned to a master tech. The master is responsible for greenie's work and teaches them the ropes of good service.

In my early years, my mentor was paid 25 percent of the billable labor I turned in, and it paid off. In just six short months, I went from garage rat to line tech. His coaching was as important to my career as the many weeks of factory school I had attended.

Dave Koshollek teaches sales and service classes for dealers. Contact him at dakoenterprises@cs.com, or via editors@dealernews.com.