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NADA offers best and brightest from dealer forums

Each year the National Automobile Dealers Association assembles the top ideas from "20 groups" - groups of 20 noncompeting dealers who meet regularly to discuss ways to improve their business. Here are some of this year's best and brightest notions.

Postal freebie

Your local post office will update the names and addresses in your customer database free of charge. Postal workers will make changes to spelling and ZIP codes, and will replace old addresses with correct forwarding addresses. Download your customer database onto a disk and bring it to your local post office.

Fax appointments

Use the fax machine to schedule service appointments. Provide a copy of an appointment form when customers receive their first bill so the next appointment can be scheduled by fax.

Traveling ads

Promote your off-site sale with mobile advertising. Place large bright signs promoting the sale on new pickups. Hire people to drive the trucks around town, circling competitors' lots at least once each hour during the sale.

Facility bonus

Pay managers a bonus tied to strict facilities-maintenance standards. The violations should include everything from a crooked picture on the wall to a disorganized closet. Have independent inspectors - such as a mystery shopper service - perform random inspections and grade the facilities.

Toll-free numbers

Track advertising costs by using multiple toll-free numbers. One dealership gets 10 toll-free numbers for $10 a month. The dealership uses different numbers when advertising in different media to track the effectiveness of the various media.

Business card ads

Issue business cards for every staff member - even the lot boys. Have the staff enclose a card with every personal bill they pay. This gives your dealership increased exposure.

A warm welcome

Welcome families new to the neighborhood. Send a small package of goodies to their house with a welcome card listing key contacts and the dealership's phone numbers.

'Oops' basket

There is a creative way to make good on customer service mishaps. Once you have accepted responsibility for the problem, send what one dealership calls an "Oops basket." It is a kit that includes such items as lip balm, antacid tablets, pain reliever and cold packs. Send the kit to bruised customers, or have it ready when they pick up their cars. Include a note apologizing for the inconvenience. The note should ask them to accept the remedies to relieve the side effects of the blunder and to grant an opportunity to restore their faith in your dealership.

Roadside assistance

When possible, have the technician who performs roadside assistance to install special-order parts so customers do not have to bring their cars back to the dealership.

Frequent flyer miles

Airlines often let businesses purchase frequent flyer miles for promotional use for about 2 cents a mile. Customers - especially for high-line cars - often belong to at least one frequent flyer program. Use the miles to offer promotions such as 20,000 miles with the purchase of a new car or 1,000 miles to prospects who come in for a test drive.

Lot hot spot

There is an area of your lot where vehicles will sell better; you just have to find it. Track sales in different areas to find the "hot spot." Use that location to display vehicles with high gross profits or move older inventory.

A free lunch

Target leading corporations and professional firms in your area for a free lunch. Make an appointment to serve executives a lunch, hiring a hostess and caterer. During the lunch, have a salesperson give a brief presentation of the dealership and your product.

Radio want ads

Try advertising for salespeople over the radio. The ads will catch the ears of people who are employed and productive. The best times to advertise are during the morning work drive and the evening rush hour. One dealership that ran an ad for salespeople for four consecutive days got more responses from the radio pitch than it did for all print ads during a six-month period.

Parts exchange

What may be slow-moving parts for one dealer could move fairly quickly at another. Swap lists of slow-moving parts with other dealers. List the parts that have not sold for at least a year. Parts personnel review the lists for parts that they would stock and be able to sell. Tally up the parts you want and schedule a time to exchange the parts. You unload the parts you don't need and buy those that are needed.

Security test

Get police to do an undercover test of dealership security. One dealer found the police were able to steal 11 trucks - most of them with the keys in them. The dealer noted other problems, such as cashiers who were not trained to handle a robbery and were not protected with a shatterproof window. The test will highlight areas that need improvement.

'Dear spouse' letter

When an employee has done an outstanding job, send a letter to his or her spouse. Tell the spouse you just wanted to say what a great job the husband or wife is doing. Let spouses know that all the support he or she gives the employee is appreciated.

Bank your backup

Negotiate with your bank for use of a large safety deposit box to store the nightly backup of data from your computer system. Each day, when the controller takes the day's cash receipts to the bank for deposit, exchange that day's tape backup for that of the previous night. A large safety deposit box gives room for system backups, general ledger tapes and other valuable documents.
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