Years ago, almost all the stores were “mom and pops” and assuming your store looked a little better than the one down the street or your employees smiled a little more than your competitor, customers tended to come to you.

Today, the world that you do business in has drastically changed. Your customers are exposed to the best of the best with both the outside appearance and retail merchandising displays. Any new customer that drives by your dealership compares you to every mass merchandiser, new car dealership and grocery store they go into today. The days of being just “OK” are gone and the need to meet and exceed what a customer expects is the new norm.

The Importance of ‘Curb Appeal’

How your dealership looks on the outside, the “curb appeal,” is often one of the most overlooked parts of creating a great customer experience. Potential new customers immediately make a decision regarding whether they will do business with you based upon the exterior of your dealership.

It is important to make the customer experience as painless as possible right from the start. This includes making sure customers are able to see your store hours displayed on your window without having to get out of their cars and making sure that your parking lot is adequately lit.

A little over half of all consumers say they have avoided a business altogether because it looked dirty from the outside, based on surveys I have seen. These customers formed an opinion of a business based on physical presence, which heavily influences their decision to shop there. And, 95% of shoppers say that exterior appearance is important in their selection of a place to shop.

Almost a third of the people surveyed say they have chosen not to enter a business because it "didn't look like a place I would normally shop." These individuals may not have been able to say specifically why they didn't want to shop there, but there was something about the appearance that gave them pause.

And, finally, more than 80% of customers admitted they have shopped only once at a store and never returned because it did not meet their expectations. While customer service is important to the customer's experience, "being able to find what I'm looking for" is nearly as important and one-third have not returned to a place because it was perceived as dirty.

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Taking Care of Customers

Your dealership has a lot riding on not only taking care of the existing customers you have, but also attracting new customers into your store. Without a constant flow of new customers to replace the existing customers that move away, a dealership starts the process of going backward instead of forward.

The owner has to make a decision to invest in the exterior of the dealership, but it’s the job of every employee to make sure things are kept up. Everyone in your store has a vested interest in doing the small things to make your store look inviting to existing customers and to those who are driving by for the first time. It means that every time you walk into and back out of your dealership, you are looking for anything that looks out of place or that you can improve on, whether it’s a shop towel lying on the ground or an empty foam cup or soda can that needs to be thrown away. This can be accomplished through simple tasks as well. For instance, techs can test string trimmers by trimming around the building.

Presenting Professional Appearance

One thing that I talk about over and over again is the personal presentation and the attitude of your employees. If you want your customers to have a good first impression of your dealership, it is vital that your employees are dressed in a clean uniform with a great attitude. Every employee that interacts with your customers can create an immediate impression for anyone who is visiting your dealership.

For instance, think about the employees who are helping load equipment into a trailer or in the back of a truck. At that moment, they represent you and your store and the impression they create will be the last impression a customer has of your store. Many times, these jobs are down by a new employee with minimum customer service skills. Make sure that they are in a uniform and they understand the importance of their work and the positive impact they can have on every customer.

Watch Details

It is important for every employee to look at the exterior of your dealership with a fresh set of eyes every day. The challenge we all have when we walk into the dealership day in and day out is that we begin to overlook the little things that are going wrong. And unfortunately, those are the things that a new customer will instantly notice.

For instance, the paint peeling on the trim at the top of the building didn’t just peel off in one big chunk overnight. It was a slow process. The same thing can happen with employee uniforms and even the appearance of employees.

I encourage you to challenge your employees to find one thing that can be improved on the dealership’s exterior every day as they walk into work. You will be surprised to begin seeing things that need to be corrected. If every employee can find one thing to improve every day, the exterior of your dealership will be in great shape in no time and it will stay that way!

I was at a dealership a few years ago working to improve the service and parts departments and was talking to the staff about the importance of keeping the outside of the building looking clean and sharp. During my conversations, an employee informed me that he wasn’t there to be the janitor. I asked why he felt it was someone else’s job to pick up the clutter or trash and he informed me it wasn’t in his job description.

I laughed and informed him that his job description wasn’t the maximum he had to do to keep his position with the dealership. In fact, it was just the opposite —it was the minimum required to keep his job. I said, “Besides, it’s about having pride in your store and what you represent.” I’m not sure that I changed his mind but I was sure that long term, he wasn’t someone that should be a part of the dealership.

It is everyone’s job at the dealership to do whatever it takes to make the dealership strong and profitable. Think about the insanity of having an employee who walks out of the restroom that has a sink with water running onto the floor and they choose to either not fix it or neglect to let someone know it needs to be fixed. While they may not be a plumber and can’t fix the issue, they have a responsibility to make someone aware of the problem.

When I am consulting at a dealership, I am not above picking up something on the floor or ground that shouldn’t be there and that would take away from the customer’s experience.

Next Installment of Building and Maintaining Your Dealership Brand
In Part 2, Clements explains other ways to improve the dealership’s brand through developing a “sell line” or maintaining the dealership’s exterior.