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By OReilly Auto Parts
How To: Choose the Right Motor Oil For Your Vehicle
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Online ordering is a great way of marketing your products to both commercial and retail customers. It’s a convenient way for them to engage with your store and your merchandise on their own terms.
For the customer, there are many advantages to using your online portals over calling or visiting your location. They don’t need to leave their shop or home, they don’t have to wait on hold and they don’t need to rely on your personnel to guide them to the correct parts, pricing and availability information.
Convenience, Speed, Availability
Online ordering attracts the sort of consumer who is in search of convenience, speed and availability. These are the people who don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time in-store or on the telephone. This could be a commercial account that wants minimal interruptions to their workflow and needs parts found, quoted and delivered quickly. It also could be a retail DIY customer with very well-defined needs, shopping for a specific brand or price point, or simply researching a future purchase.
For the store itself, online ordering may reduce the number of incoming calls or “drop-in” visits, and it may expose your store to new clientele who might not have otherwise purchased from you. You may consider fewer calls and visits as a negative outcome, but in reality, both of these outcomes can actually improve profitability.
Existing customers who have embraced your online resources are still buying – they’re just buying differently. By placing their own orders remotely, they’re also giving your parts specialists an added opportunity to serve another customer (on the phone or in person), and to perform daily storekeeping tasks. A reduction in commercial phone traffic also allows your in-store personnel to spend additional time working on more complex parts requests, and helping close sales with those customers who require additional attention.
There are drawbacks to online sales. Online shoppers don’t get your closely managed “in-store” experience, and they may receive less exposure to your other products, services and marketing. This has more impact on the retail trade, as commercial customers are most likely contacting you to fulfill immediate and specific needs, and are less interested in impulse items or the attractiveness of your plan-o-grams.
For both types of customers, their “relationship” with your store might be put at risk if they don’t feel connected in a meaningful way. It’s important to use these online purchases as a gateway to building confidence and recognition for your store as a partner in vehicle repair and maintenance.
Offering your inventory online also represents an implied “commitment” to the customer. Online pricing and inventory availability must accurately reflect what’s actually on your shelves. Accurate inventory counts are crucial to any store operation, but some online sales also require an added element of scheduling. When an online platform allows for the customer to order non-stocked parts to be delivered from your DC or another store location, it creates an expectation of arriving at your store on schedule. The online portal has made the customer a promise that your store now must fulfill.
Acknowledging or accepting any incoming order must be done promptly, and final processing or delivery of that order must be completed as promised. Keeping the customer informed in the event of any delay is even more crucial to online success, because of the “remote” nature of the transaction.
It can be extremely frustrating to get a quote or place an order and then discover that the part is out of stock when you arrive to pick up the merchandise. This becomes even more of an inconvenience if the part has been ordered and pre-paid online. Many online-purchase platforms place a preauthorization hold on the purchaser’s credit/debit card. Depending on the card issuer’s policies, this “hold” may not drop from the account immediately. For some customers, this may prevent them from having enough money in their account to purchase the same part elsewhere until those funds are released. The repair can be delayed, and often, blame for the situation is assigned to you for “holding their money.”
The final consideration when choosing to steer customers toward your online offerings is the customers themselves. We all have that customer who never seems to give us the correct application information, or even worse, insists that you send “both options” when a choice exists between two parts. This sort of customer is not the ideal audience for online ordering or “self-checkout,” as you may find yourself processing a large number of returns for unwanted or incorrectly ordered parts. It also will increase the number of “second deliveries” required to complete the job, and overstock for parts that are returned to the store.
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For 2019 Counter Professional of the Year Pete Chapman, the key to his success at Car Parts Warehouse (CPW) boils down to one principle: If you want to grow your business, you have to “grow your relationships.”
Cultivating customer relationships is more of an art than a science. It starts with outstanding customer service, of course. But it’s also about the little things – like making sure customers know that you value their business. And Chapman could teach a course on customer appreciation.
Chapman, who has been the manager of CPW’s Warrensville Heights, Ohio, facility since it opened in 2012, goes out to dinner with customers, and invites them to his home when he and his wife, Laura, are hosting a get-together. During the holidays, he sends dozens of Christmas cards to his customers, and delivers personalized gifts to his top accounts. Over the years, he has hosted a Christmas Eve fish fry at CPW’s Warrensville Heights facility, where he and Laura cook 40 to 50 pounds of catfish for his commercial and DIY customers.
Saying “thank you” to customers is a familiar practice for Chapman. His father, Elvin, owned a repair shop in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Growing up, Chapman remembers how parts suppliers would send gifts to his dad – ranging from confections to Indy 500 tickets.
“And I just saw the way that the different parts stores and vendors took care of him,” Chapman says. “They weren’t buying him. They were telling him ‘thanks.’”
For Tony Wiederhoeft, an outside salesperson for the Auto Value stores in Mankato and Waseca, Minnesota, customer appreciation comes naturally. Like Chapman, Wiederhoeft attributes his success to the relationships he’s developed since joining Auto Value in 2019. In March 2021, Automotive Parts Headquarters (APH) recognized Wiederhoeft as the 2020 Auto Value Salesperson of the Year.
“Once you build a relationship with [your customers], everything just kind of clicks,” Wiederhoeft says.
Depending on the day, Wiederhoeft might visit a handful of shops or he might make it to 15 or more shops. No matter how many calls he makes, Wiederhoeft has embedded customer appreciation into his routine.
“Sometimes, if they need a car pushed in, I’ll end up helping push a car in,” Wiederhoeft says. “Or if it’s a one-man shop and they need somebody to bleed the brakes, I might sit in the car and bleed the brakes.
“The way I look at it, I work for them and I work for Auto Value. … They’re more than customers – they’re friends, they’re family. I’m not there just to sell them something. I’m there for them.”
Wiederhoeft credits his employer, APH, for fostering the family atmosphere. On any given day in a normal summer, you’ll find one of APH’s events trailers setting up shop in one of its markets, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for the local technicians. In the smaller communities where APH does business, “word gets around and we pretty much feed the community,” adds Jim Pascale, APH’s vice president of store operations.
On especially hot summer days, APH delivery drivers bring ice-cold bottled water and even ice-cream treats to its professional customers.
link hidden, please login to view Saint Cloud, Minnesota-based APH celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020. To commemorate its centennial, APH had planned a number of customer-appreciation events throughout the year. The centerpiece of the yearlong celebration was going to be its 1952 International Metro delivery truck, which was completely restored and ready to deliver 100,000 ice cream treats to customers across APH’s six-state market. While the pandemic forced APH to scale back its in-person events in 2020, the Metro delivery truck hit the road the following summer.
In September 2021, Wiederhoeft got behind the wheel of the vintage delivery truck to delight some of his customers. Of course, he made a point to visit his top accounts. But he also swung by a few shops “that I don’t do a lot of business with.”
“I drove that ice-cream truck all day,” Wiederhoeft recalls. “We put some serious miles on it. I was in five towns in one day, and they loved it.
“ … We opened up the side panel and everybody from the shop would come out. Some of them are looking at the vehicle, some are enjoying the ice cream, some are signing up for prizes. But I didn’t have anybody say, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ Every single one of them came out to check it out.”
How do you build strong relationships with your customers? It’s not complicated. You have to spend time with them and get to know them, Wiederhoeft explains.
“They tend to open up more to you when you open up to them,” Wiederhoeft says. “So I’ll buy them pizza or donuts or whatever, and sit down and just hang out with them.”
By spending time with his customers, Wiederhoeft gets a good feel for their hobbies and interests. He takes some of his shops hunting and fishing. In August, he took some of his customers to the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals drag races at Brainerd International Raceway, after receiving tickets for being the 2020 Auto Value Salesperson of the Year.
“Instead of just taking my family, I also took a couple of my customers,” Wiederhoeft says. “They had the best time of their life, and we’re going to go back no matter what this year.”
For one of his top customers, the event was his first drag race. “He was like, ‘Dude, we have to go back.’ He wants to bring a couple other people and make a whole weekend out of it this year. It’s the little things like that, I think, that make a world of difference.”
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