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A hard sell

To survive today, you have to understand today's customer.

July 29, 2013
KEYWORDS customers / service
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The key to survival is “quality service.”

The world of retailing today does have its own peculiarities.

It is a strange world in which the customer's human needs must be meticu­lously cared for while the business relies in­creasingly on automation and machinery. Competition is everywhere, yet there are fewer players. It is a world in which the customer buys less but spends more; where quality is king; and cheap, indiscriminate quantity is the stuff of 1950s sitcoms.

Remember this; customers will be the win­ners. They will get exactly what they want ― in selection, service, and price because there are fewer of them spend­ing money. The detail businesses that can satisfy their special demands will thrive, while the ones who do not will fail.

The primary market group is, of course, the Baby Boomers. They have grown up, settled down, had chil­dren ― fewer than their parents did ― and are ready to refine and maintain their established lifestyles.

While businesses in the 1970s and 1980s catered to the Boomers' needs for first-time home goods and other fresh-out-of-college merchan­dise, the retailers of the 21st century are providing for the next stage in life. They will do so in ways that will be quicker and easier for the time-obsessed Boomers.

How to prioritize

As a detail business owner trying to get customers to patronize your business, you have to have the convenience, quality service, and after that, the price. Surprisingly, it is the fifth or sixth in priority, at the least.

The consumer of 30 years ago was much more price-oriented than today. While price is still important, the customer of the 2000s is more savvy, wanting a good price on a quality service.

It is more of a value orientation. People are more interested today ― and will continue to be ― in only buying a detail maybe once a year.

The picture is a sharp contrast to the postwar years when the market thrived in an environment of buy, buy, buy. People bought cheap, and in quantity, in their rush to settle into a new era of American home life ― one that involved having lots of children and lots of “stuff”.

The birth of the Baby Boom, whose generation makes up a huge percentage of the people in the population and they are winding down. They have bought most of what they need, and they can afford to be discriminating.

Discriminating customers

The age of acquisition, as far as the consumer is concerned, may be nearing its end.

Instead of mass marketing, businesses in the 2000s must concentrate more on sophisticated specialty services to re­place what the Boomers purchased 10 years ago.

If someone bought a $199 stereo to put on a board and two cement blocks in their apartment, they are not replacing it these days with another $199 item.

Detail business owners of today must find a tighter niche than ever before, one that sends a consistent, clearly defined message of quality, distinction, and convenience to the motorist. You can do this by trying to perfect a concept of one-stop shopping by providing all the cosmetic car care services the motorist needs. This is especially true for auto dealers, they would like nothing more than to deal with one shop.

Do not be too tight that you become confining. Baby Boomer consumers, especially as they get older, rely less on trends, and more on their own individual tastes.

Lay a proper foundation for the Baby Boomer. Start with a well-established image of quality, services, and customer service. Do this and you will never have to change.

Plan to grow; remember the big guys get bigger.

Acute competition

Competition has always been a factor, and it will become acute in the future as more and more detail businesses start up. Most areas of the country al­ready have too many detail businesses. From 4000 in 1980 to over 17,000 today. Of course, many of those 17,000 will be eliminated because they could not keep up with speed, service, and quality.

The first ones to go are the small, under-capitalized mobile operators, and they can be some of the best detail technicians in their area. But are both under-capitalized and know very little about how to run a business.

One key ingredient in keeping up with the competition will be keeping up with technology. There are many detailers today that still do not own a pressure washer, an extractor, have never heard of a dual-action buffer, or a vapor steamer and who do not own an air compressor.

There is going to be a drastic, dramatic change in the way we detailers do business. This is already prevalent by the number of detail shops owned by college graduates who know how to run a business.

There will even be fallout in detail suppliers who cannot keep up with that technology in the next five years.

A severe labor shortage

At the same time detail operations need to keep up with technology, they will also be forced to deal with labor shortages, that is, good labor.

Detailers always complain that they have a tough time getting good employees. Part of it is the Baby Boomers who had fewer children. Fewer people traditionally are employed in entry-level jobs.

It is not hard to get good people to work in the higher-level jobs, but it is hard to find them at the entry level. You will have to raise entry-level pay to compete with other service industries.

Now detail business owners are forced with offering an employee benefits package, estab­lished incentive programs, and to establish drug and alcohol programs that create a positive working environment that attracts employees.

Remember, the consumer then makes the ultimate decision - a rule of business that will never change.

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