Dealer uses service clinics to build loyalty
Published in Automotive News Feb. 6, 2012
Dealer Bob Rountree says that about 70 percent of his new- and used-vehicle buyers at his two Ford Motor Co. stores are repeat customers.
Rountree credits much of his success to an epiphany he had 10 years ago: He would offer a service clinic once each quarter to his buyers of new and used vehicles.
Rountree owns a Ford dealership in Brattleboro, Vt., and a Ford-Lincoln store in Keene, N.H. -- both small markets.
"The clinics open a line of communication with our customers," says Rountree, owner of Rountree Ford of Brattleboro and Rountree Ford-Lincoln in Keene. "We've found that people who came to a service clinic in the past come back again."
It also gives Rountree a second chance to sell customers products such as extended warranties. He often sells at least half a dozen at a clinic with a profit margin of about $250 each.
Brattleboro is an old mill town on the Connecticut River about 30 miles north of Massachusetts and about 18 miles west of Keene. Its tall mountains and scenic views beckon tourists. But its main industries are forestry and agriculture. It's a blue-collar town. That means about two-thirds of Rountree Ford's 900 total vehicles sold annually are used.
Keene, a college town with a population of 35,000, is a more white-collar area. Rountree sells about 600 used cars and 300 new a year at his Keene location.
"We're in an area where buying a new car is a challenge," Rountree says. Still, he insists, "we want to treat used-car customers like new-car customers."
That's why Rountree's service clinics cater to both.
Customers receive an invitation to the 6 p.m. service clinic. Rountree estimates about 30 or 40 customers typically attend.
Rountree's service manager opens the clinics with a brief introduction, and he pitches the extended-service warranty again for those who didn't buy it at the time of delivery. Rountree's F&I managers attend. Rountree typically sells five to eight extended warranties that night at a profit margin of about $250, he says. But he says he's not doing it solely for the additional money.
"If you have a warranty to lean on, it's much easier to keep a happy customer," Rountree says.
At the clinics, the customers break into groups. In those groups, service technicians discuss the service needs for specific vehicles.
Customers also can go into the service area, where a car is on a lift and a technician answers questions.
"That's the star of the show. That's what makes this go," Rountree says. "One woman asked, 'What the hell is a catalytic converter?' So we put the car up in the air and explained it to her. She raved about that because no one ever took the time to explain it to her."
Each customer who attends a clinic receives a copy of Ford's factory warranty, is enrolled for free in the Ford Owner Advantage Rewards program to earn points for future purchases, a copy of the store's service hours, a price list, the dealership's contact information and a certificate for "the works."
The works include a free 27-point safety inspection, lube, oil and filter changes as well as a tire rotation. The customer can redeem the certificate at his or her leisure. The point is that the customer redeems it and returns.
"We wouldn't be here without loyalty," Rountree says.
"The clinics absolutely contribute to that. It's a lot of work to do it and to do it right, but we plan to continue it forever." c
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