A large sign above the cluster of service advisers in Acton Ford's Boston area shop welcomes owners of all vehicle makes.
"The sign says we're experts, no matter what product it is," said dealer David Abatsis. "It's been up for six months."
Abatsis also intends to open a Ford Quick Lane repair shop around the corner from his dealership to get more maintenance and light-repair business. He already promotes brake jobs, fast lubes and tire and battery sales.
Dealers and auto manufacturers are promoting nonwarranty retail service and parts sales to offset the sharp decline in new-vehicle sales over the past two years. A drop in the new-vehicle owner base requires dealers to win sales from independent repair shops just to maintain their service and parts business.
The sales crash that began in September 2008 means that fewer 1- and 2-year-old vehicles are in operation -- the prime target for warranty work and customer-paid routine maintenance such as oil changes.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Co., says the pressure is on dealers to improve their game: "Fixed ops is where people are making their money these days. The strong are getting stronger, and the weak either adapt or they don't survive."
John Isaacson, CEO of Lee Auto Malls, a dealership group based in Auburn, Maine, says his dealerships have intensified marketing to attract service business.
"Because we've sold fewer new cars the last two years, we have fewer cars in that zero-to-3-years-old sweet spot," says Isaacson.
So Lee Auto Malls has set up business development centers in the service departments of each of its seven new-car dealerships in Maine. Nine employees work the phones trying to get people to keep coming back to the Lee Auto Malls' service departments even as their vehicles get older.
"That has kept our customer-paid repair orders roughly even with what they were before the slowdown," Isaacson says.