Fleet Accounts: Landing the Big Fish
For many oil and lube shops, fleet accounts offer a steady, consistent flow of business that helps to smooth over the ebbs and flows of individual customer traffic. Fleet accounts can add both stability and growth to a business’s bottom line. Across the board, fleet accounts make up, on average, about 10 percent of oil and lube shop sales. However, many shop owners don’t know where to begin when it comes to finding these elusive accounts. Often, the biggest potential accounts in town already have contracts with big national auto service chains, leaving smaller chains and individual shops to look elsewhere for extra business. So where can owners looks for fleet accounts? What kind of offer does it take to get contracts signed? What strategies work best to maximize profit and efficiency?
Finding Fleets Most operators define fleet accounts as any company with five or more vehicles that consistently need service, though the average fleet size is around 10 vehicles. This definition likely applies to a surprising number of businesses in your area. The first place to look for a fleet account is your local government and municipalities. States, counties and cities maintain large fleets of vehicles that need to be serviced. Typically, these accounts are up for grabs to the lowest bidder, as is usual for government agencies. All a business owner needs to do is find the government website where bids can be submitted, fill out the form and, when the contracts are up for renewal, send in an offer they can’t refuse. Private businesses with multiple vehicles can take a bit more effort and creative thinking to seek out. One obvious place to start is any local rental car agency. The huge number of cars, and the high mileage they rack up, make these particularly attractive targets for oil and lube operators. Taxi services and used car lots are also good bets for the same reason. Another industry worth looking at for fleet contracts is construction. Construction companies often have a large fleet of pickup trucks, machinery and other vehicles they have to maintain. Offering them a one-stop-shop for their vehicle service will likely be very attractive to managers. Other potential fleet clients include local utilities, limousine services and even larger plumbing, HVAC and other home repair businesses. Again, any business with five or more company-owned cars is fair game.
What to Offer? Once you’ve selected a few local establishments you’d like to target as potential fleet accounts, it’s time to put together an offer. Oil and lube shop owners often think they need to offer big discounts that put their profit margins in serious jeopardy. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Instead of charging less, offer more. Most company managers and owners with the authority to sign a contract are very busy. In fact, yours is likely not the first offer they’ve received. Many would rather save time than a few extra dollars, so the more comprehensive a service plan you can offer, the more likely you are to get a meaningful handshake afterward. Consider putting together a package that, at minimum, includes three to four oil changes, air filter, fuel filter, transmission flush and brake check annually for each vehicle in a customer’s fleet. Depending on what kind of vehicles the client operates, you may also want to offer them a maintenance program that follows the OEM guidelines for the specific vehicle make and model. One way to add value for construction clients in particular is to offer to service some of their ancillary equipment, as well. If you have the facilities and manpower, changing the oil, spark plugs, filters, etc. in generators and other gasoline-powered equipment can make you a very attractive partner for a construction company. Something else you may want to offer construction companies is a system for their employees to bring in their work vehicles and receive maintenance receipts. This will allow supervisors to ensure their vehicles are being serviced when they should be. Most clients prefer to receive a monthly bill showing all vehicles serviced rather than paying for each one as they go in, but operators should do what they feel is in the best interest of their business. In addition to the extra cash flow, one of the most attractive aspects of fleet accounts is they can allow oil and lube businesses the ability to schedule these regular clients during slower times. This ensures service centers are operating at peak efficiency. To aid in scheduling fleet account service at the optimal times, some oil and lube operators offer fleet clients pick up and delivery service for their vehicles.
Keeping Costs Down Having a steady stream of business you know is coming in has benefits beyond the obvious. Once you have a rough idea how much fleet business you’re going to have during the course of the year, buy your oil, filters and anything else you’ll need in bulk at a lower price from your suppliers. Of course, it almost goes without saying that there’s no need to splurge on higher-end oil or other parts for fleet vehicles, the basic stuff will do just fine. Again, this is something you can work out ahead of time with your local supplier.
Landing the Contract Let’s be honest, most oil and lube shop owners and managers aren’t necessarily sales people. The idea of making cold calls, appointments and sales pitches can be daunting, or even down right frightening, to men and women who are used to working on cars for a living. Thankfully, you likely have a connection to a sales person who would be more than willing to help — that’s right, your supplier. It’s almost certain one or more of your suppliers has a professional sales person who would be up for giving you some tips or even come along for the call. After all, if you land a fleet contract, they’ll be getting more business. Once you’ve put together your list of potential customers, do a little background research on their businesses and try to anticipate what their needs might be. Put together a simple, clear and well-written proposal. As mentioned before, don’t decrease your price, but instead increase what you offer. The more you can provide, the more attractive your offer will be. Most business owners and managers don’t care as much about saving a few extra bucks as they do about simplifying and streamlining their workflow. To that end, make sure you make it clear in the sales pitch that your fleet clients will have priority and won’t just be pushed to the back of the line. Likewise, be sure to mention any other services, like vehicle pick up and delivery, you plan on brining to the table. It may be the little things that make your offer just a little bit sweeter than the last one they received. Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start making some calls and paying some visits. When the contracts are signed and the steady fleet business starts to buoy your bottom line, you just might find yourself asking why you didn’t go after the big fish sooner.