Knowing Your Stuff
SHOP STATS: East Ridge Fast Lube Location: Chattanooga, Tenn. Operator: Jimmy Grant Average Car Count: 100 Staff Size: 34 across three locations Average Ticket: $100
For most customers that walk into your shop, your employees are their go-to resource for information on their car and the products they should put in it.
Jimmy Grant, owner of East Ridge Fast Lube in Chattanooga, Tenn., says though it can be tedious and at times a hassle to fill that role for your customers, doing so and being the best resource you can be for them will help build trust and improve the overall experience.
So, in Grant’s experience, how much should your employees know about the products they’re selling to your customers, and from where should they be getting that information?
There’s a fine line, Grant says, between giving a customer what they need and trying to add on other services or products that they don’t. Having techs with even just a basic understanding of what a specific brand of oil or filter provides and how it compares to other products can help make a customer feel more comfortable in your shop and trust that they’re getting exactly what they need for their car with no strings attached.
By the Book
Grant says his shops stick fairly closely to OEM recommendations on when to change oil, filters and most other products. Because of that, the information that his techs need on those products is readily available in a number of different places, the most helpful of which is his shop management software.
“It’s all on the computer. Most management software out there will have the same information, what oil filter number it is, what cabin air filter number it is, and it also gives you a lot of information on how to reset lights and other helpful bits.”
Following OEM standards also means the recommendations that can be found on different parts of the vehicle, such as the oil cap, are still applicable.
Another perk of sticking with distributor guidelines is training from those distributors.
“We depend on the oil companies for updates on their products, and a lot of the oil companies will come in and give your guys a training session,” he says. “Maybe buy their dinner one night, have them all come in for one three-hour session and just go over stuff such as the viscosity of the oils, the air filters and so on.”
Grant says using those recommendations helps simplify the process for his techs and removes the pressure of having to upsell something that a customer may not actually need. It also reassures the customer that their vehicle is being taken care of as the OEM intended.
“We train our people to go with what the OEM recommends,” he says. “It’s OK if your shop doesn’t follow that, but they need to be uniform and do that with everybody.”
If your shop does break away from standard manufacturer recommendations, Grant suggests keeping your system uniform and as simple as possible.
Your techs don’t necessarily need to know every single spec and detail about every product you sell, but having a basic understanding of some of the key differences between products can help them help your customers more effectively.
“A lot of times on something like an air filter, a lot of the information is on the box, whether that be how to install the part or what exactly the part does,” Grant says. “There’s just some common-sense car knowledge as to what those parts do.”
Part of that simplicity comes from the products that are stocked on your shelves. Anytime it makes sense, Grant says his shops try to reduce the number of types of a specific product, such as power steering fluid, and embrace more of a one-size-fits-all approach.
“When it comes to the liquid products such as power steering fluid, we try to get the ‘goof-proof’ products, an all-purpose fluid that can go in all vehicles,” he says.
Even though customers may not know the full extent of what makes a product more effective than the other, Grant says they’re pretty adept at catching on when a tech or front desk worker doesn’t know either. Because of that, if your shop does stray away from OEM recommendations on duration between oil changes or filter changes, having techs that can articulately explain the reasoning for those decisions is crucial.
“It’s important to me not to try to upsell a full synthetic oil change if a customer doesn’t need it,” Grant says. “People know when you’re pulling their leg, and they won’t come back.”
Grant says he’s followed the OEM recommendations fairly closely during his time in the industry, and that has created a rapport with his customers.
“It builds trust,” he says. “It’s okay to go up and tell them that they don’t need an air filter, and when you do that they know that you’re not trying to upsell them.”
Because of that trust, Grant says his customers feel more comfortable in the store, and when he or his staff make a suggestion for a particular product or service, they feel like it really is in the best interest of their car.
It’s important for techs to know at least the basics about the products they’re selling, whether that be oil, filters or something else. Being able to explain why a customer needs one oil over another or why it’s a good time to replace a filter -- or in some cases why it isn’t necessary -- generates a trust and personal relationship between your shop and your customer.
Grant says sticking with the OEM recommendations for frequency of changes has proven to be the simplest and most effective policy in his shops -- it provides a solid reason for a customer as to why his staff recommend a certain service and helps his staff find information about products more easily.
Having an informed staff interacting with customers establishes a trust in your shop, and not upselling today could mean a return customer tomorrow.
“I could have a $100 to $200 ticket average per day, but in six months I won’t have any cars,” Grant says. “Or I can have a $60 average ticket today, and in six months I’ll have cars lined out the door.”