Though summer ends…business must go on!
by Peter Sosinsky
Appeared December 2005 in Cool
I am not sure if there are any other businesses in the world quite like radiator repair, cooling system service and air conditioning service. No matter where you are geographically, your life always seems to be a feast or famine; the summer brings in the riches while the winter months can leave you wondering how you're going to keep the lights on.
Well, while you can rest assured knowing your heating/cooling shop is not alone, would you like to finally do something about limiting the downside? Hopefully, by the time this article reaches you, you've at least started thinking about ways to help increase business and keep the shop busy this coming “off season.” Although I hate to break the news to you, you're starting late. But then again, better late than never, right? Why do I say you're starting late? Because the promotion of your service shop is not something that should be “turned on and off.” It's an ongoing process and takes time develop (like anything worthwhile).
Did you realize that there are a bunch of things you can do right now to help improve your “off season” business that cost virtually nothing? Do you know that there are a pile of other possibilities that will cost you so little it will make you laugh? Are you interested? Great. Then let's get started with a list of “Things you must do.”
Step 1: About buying advertising—there is no magic to promotion, marketing or advertising. There are lots of people (but not me) who will tell you that they have all the answers. But if they did, why are they still working at trying to sell you advertising? They should be retired on a beach in the Caribbean, right? Right. My point is that promoting your business and getting new business is always a trial and error thing. What's really important is that you have to stay on top of it to monitor it, and then adjust it as required. More important yet, you have to be committed to the project. You are far better off with “small and consistent” promotions rather than going for the “big one-time splash.”
Promotion should be an every day occurrence. If you started a telephone follow up with all of your customers, and only did 5 calls per day (less than a half hour of your time), you would have 25 calls by the end of the week. That's about 100 at the end of the month. Now, do a little math here and start with 10 calls per day. The numbers can explode. The important thing is that you do it on a regular (daily) basis.
Step 2: Organize yourself. I am not talking about a “life altering” reorganization, I am simply talking about taking a good look at your position, attempt to outline a plan of attack figuring what methods should work best for you, and then you have to be (must be) committed to seeing it through. At least long enough to see what results you get and what changes you have to make. So how do you do this? Well, start by taking stock of your position in the marketplace. Be honest with yourself and compare your business to all of those “other” service businesses that you consider to be successful. Is your shop clean? (A little bit of paint can go a long way towards appearance.) Is your shop organized and neat? Do your employees look and act like they want to be there? In short, first you have to get your own house in order. After all, the first impression a customer gets is going to be the one they remember the longest. (And this isn't the first time you've heard that one.)
Step 3: Put your plans into motion. Start by taking a look at these 12 actions you can take right now that will cost you very little (if anything)
These are 12 great ways you can “Jump Start” your sales.
Action 1: Follow up with your existing customers. The best chance you have at creating a new sale is by getting somebody who has already purchased from you back into your shop. It could be for a simple “free” inspection; a free winter coolant inspection; there are a lot of ways to get the customer back in. Since you already have the list of contacts in your invoice records, your only problem is to just use them!
Work out a telephone call follow up. It's not like a cold call, because your customer has already met you. They know who you are. Make sure they are happy with you and let them know you have other services, and maybe even a special promotion. There are countless reasons to follow up, but you have to do it.
Action 2: Use your business card to sell, sell, sell! In the service business, simple business cards are almost a waste of your money. Try adding a “free” promotion or special discount to your card. If you have existing cards, get a rubber stamp made and add the promotion to the back of your existing card. Be sure your employees have a supply as well and that they hand them out.
Action 3: Add 100's of sales people without any cost! Yes, that's right. Every time you hand out a business card, be sure to give the person 2 or 3 (or more) extras to pass on to their friends. The best customer you will ever have is one that has been referred to you. When you hand out extra cards, your customers can become your best-unpaid sales people and they will bring in your best customers—the ones that have already been referred!
Action 4: Cross-promote your business. Find other businesses in your local market where you can “trade” advertising space at the front counter. By that, I mean you will advertise the other business (using cards or small flyers left on your service counter) while they do the same for you. Imagine how many people use the local car wash on any given day. You could easily (and without much cost to you if any) advertise to each and every one of those car wash customers…every day!
Action 5: Create “packages” or service bundles. Using your existing services and/or products, create “bundled” offers that help to save the customer money while increasing your sales. This depends on what other services you offer, but just be sure that the services you bundle have a “value” to your customer. As an example, you could offer a discount on “selected products” when purchasing “this” service. That adds revenues to your business and provides your customer a true saving. Most importantly, it increases your sales.
Action 6: Up sell your customers. No, don't make it pushy. But if it's done right, it will work more times than not. Your customer may not know all the options that you offer. They may not be aware of other services you provide or what other services they should have done. So no matter what service you're performing, offer your customer a chance to “upgrade” that service to include additional products or services that you offer.
Action 7: Sell Extended Warranty. Offer an extended warranty for your products. The fact is, that no matter what businesses you're in, extended (read as “customer paid”) warranties add profits. Yes, you must be careful how you originally set up your warranty program, and how it's worded, but there are tons of examples in the market to follow. Adding any extended warranty ties your customer to you…possibly for life!
Action 8: Coupon your customers. Every other store does it, so why not you? Offer coupons to “cross sell” your services to each and every customer. Therefore, for every customer who has purchased a radiator or cooling system service, they should be given a coupon offering a discount or free inspection or some other simple service for their A/C system. In fact, you can list all the services you perform on the coupon. Simply present the coupon to each customer as an added bonus. If they return to your shop for another service, they will get “some” better price (note I said “some” better price, but you don't have to give it away!) or a better service because they are an existing customer.
Action 9: Become the expert! Provide informative, helpful information that you can distribute for free to customers and potential customers. Becoming a source of good free information builds confidence in your customer and (more importantly) your potential customer.
You could write a simple single page form that describes the 5 most common cooling system failures. As an example, one could be “Did you know that your radiator hoses could be a problem waiting to happen?” Then simply go on to explain that heat and high underhood temperatures cause all the rubber hoses under the hood to deteriorate over time. Of course, the hose may not be leaking right now, but manufacturer's tests have proven that if a hose is 4 years old it should be replaced. If you take that idea and expand on it (without getting too technical), you have an excellent and informative piece that should be handed out to everybody!
How about digging up information on emergency failures? If memory serves me right, I think the last statistic that I saw was that after flat tires, cooling system failure was the second most common breakdown. Then, explaining what a complete cooling system inspection means (in your own words without getting too technical) will help your customer understand that you are the expert and that your shop should be servicing his vehicle.
Action 10: Offer gift certificates. Think about it. How many “fathers” and “mothers” do you meet at your service shop? They most likely have sons and daughters who have cars too. Why not offer a gift certificate? It could be just the gift that “Dad's” looking for, and remember, “Dad” has already chosen your shop so it would only be a natural for him to advise his son or daughter to see you first for service.
Keep in mind that gift certificates do not have to be fancy or specially printed. You can have them typed on your company letterhead and stamped, marked or numbered so that they cannot be duplicated. You can make them for any amount you want, and even make them “transferable”! Who cares, you've got the money; so let anyone use the certificate to purchase your services.
Action 11: Don't forget about the web. Are you on the web? Do you have a web site? Whatever you do, do NOT underestimate the power of the web. Here's why. First of all, yes, the web can be a big place, but don't worry about that. The most important thing is that it's relatively cheap and it's there 24/7. Your name and company details are there all the time.
Using the Internet, you get your customer “familiar” with your shop before they get there. Adding pictures and even “job specific” details showing your expert services help a potential customer make up his or her mind. The possibilities are truly endless.
Having said that, there is one other issue that I cannot stress enough. You may be sitting in your office reading this article thinking about how you may (or may not) like the web. You may not be comfortable with it and may not even want it to be. That's fine. I am not here to change your opinion. However, think about this.
WHERE ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS GETTING THEIR INFORMATION? The fact is, the Internet is growing by an estimated 5 million (yes...MILLION) users a year. Your customer probably reads his email messages several times a day. So why is that important? Well, think about it. If you're advertising in a newspaper or magazine and your customer is READING EMAIL, do you think you will reach your customer? I doubt it.
Although you may not be comfortable with the web, start getting comfortable. It is truly the future means of very cost effective advertising and promotion.
Action 12: Auctions. Everybody has something that they don't need anymore. Why not convert your old parts (new or used) into cash by offering them for sale on the web. After all, eBay transactions total about 15 billion dollars annually, (that was a “B”...yes, Billion!) so don't tell me people don't purchase on the web. There are also alternatives to eBay, but there isn't enough room in this article to get into details.
So there you go. There is a list of 12 things you can do right now to start promoting and growing your business in an effort to help create new sales and revenues in the off-season. Yes, some if the points rely on you having a computer, or at least access to one. But if you're going to be serious about promotion, you cannot ignore the fact that computers are a part of every day life. Most of us, including your potential customers, would be lost without them. After all, this article was emailed to Cool Profits and the magazine you're reading was compiled on a computer. Even if you have to get into an evening class for beginners, I can assure you that when the frustration passes, you will be glad you did.
Also, keep in mind that this article is only to get you thinking, and, the list includes only some of the things you can do. You may not need or want to pursue all of them, or at least, not all at once. However, don't underestimate the effectiveness of small promotional programs that cost nothing. There is no instant success, but I assure you that the harder you work at it, the more you will have! (Yes…that's been said before too!)
Peter Sosinsky's background in auto A/C spans over 25 years. Feel free to contact Peter
direct for additional information and help with ways to market and promote your business.
Email Peter at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call at