AutoNation Inc. is trying to build its service business by offering to pump up tires, top off fluids and perform quick safety checks for anyone for free, even those who bought their cars elsewhere.
The nation's largest dealership group plans to roll out its Pit Stop program to all 229 dealerships by midyear, from 70 stores now. The aim is to keep AutoNation's vehicle buyers loyal to the company's service shops and win over new customers by taking care of minor maintenance items with a 10-minute stop.
"Speed is the whole key here," said Alan McLaren, senior vice president of customer care, AutoNation's name for its parts and service unit. "But the process is detailed because we want to make sure we build enough value into the experience for our customer."
No appointment is necessary. McLaren envisions drivers would pull into a nearby AutoNation store after their tire pressure monitors chime instead of a gas station to do the work themselves.
The company began piloting Pit Stop just over a year ago in its south Florida Mercedes-Benz stores.
"We first thought about it as a premium luxury experience, and then we were thinking the AutoNation experience should be a premium luxury experience for everyone," McLaren said. "That's when we thought, 'Here's a great way to differentiate ourselves.'"
While Pit Stop was well-received by Mercedes customers, AutoNation found that customers at another pilot store, this time Chevrolet, were "blown away" by a service that was completely unexpected, McLaren said.
McLaren wouldn't share Pit Stop's cost but said AutoNation is making a substantial investment. The company is hiring 200 people as junior-level technicians and installing special carts at each dealership to hold all Pit Stop equipment and supplies.
If a problem is found that requires repair, the technician will tell the customer and ask whether he or she wants an estimate, but AutoNation is training technicians to apply no pressure.
"We don't want the customer to feel like we brought them in under pretense," McLaren said.
The technician will open and close a repair order to keep track of the visit, but not until after the customer leaves in order to stay within the time frame.
It's too early to say what kind of upsell opportunities may follow, McLaren said. The pilots have focused on getting the customer experience right. But he eventually expects to be able to measure what Pit Stop does for upselling, retention and even the likelihood of vehicle repurchase from an AutoNation store.
"It's a value that we want the brand of AutoNation to be known for," McLaren said. "We strongly believe in the long term it will create a different relationship with our customer and recurring business that may or may not have been coming our way."