by Jeff Hardy
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart said it best: “There is only one person who can fire the company president, the entire board of directors and all the employees. That is the customer: simply by spending his or her money elsewhere.”
People talk. And when they have had a bad retail experience, they talk a lot. Moreover, they vote with their feet. One unethical action, or even a perceived unethical action on your part sets those feet in motion, and they will usually end up planted in front of your competitor’s parts counter instead of yours. We are not talking about one mistake-people are more forgiving than that. And, while location, inventory, parking, and advertising all impact your sales, your business practices underlie it all, and are soon obvious to the customer. And your customer’s impression of your store’s culture is quick to set, and slow to change.
We all forget to place special orders. We all forget to schedule appointments. We all have employees who make costly mistakes. Making mistakes is one thing. It’s how you handle the next step that counts.
Much truth is spoken in jest. The phrase “What goes around, comes around” has been with us forever because it states a simple truth. You decide what is going to “come around” to you, by what you set in motion in the workplace.
To sleep well at night, start with a standard code of ethics for your business and set yourself as the standard bearer. Employees look to their supervisors, managers, owners and each other for leadership. They will quickly adapt to the ethical environment in your store, be it good, or bad.
To be on the good side of this equation, here are some suggestions:
Be trustworthy. Customers want to do business with a company that they can believe in. When they hear that their ATV is fixed, they want to believe that it is repaired and safe for them to enjoy. Our shops have a professional responsibility, just like any engineer, architect or doctor, to guard the customer’s health and safety through the quality and reliability of our work. Their life depends on it. We must show that we are worthy of that trust in all we do.
Meet obligations. We gain respect from our customers, employees and other associates when we do what we say we will do. And, when you can’t meet a commitment, be the first to notify the other party that there may be a change. Few will be offended if they know what to expect.
Have clear documentation. Memories fail. Write it down. Customers rarely complain about a final bill they fully expected and agreed to before the work started. Have your customers sign a work authorization with the terms and conditions clearly set out. Write up job descriptions and have employees sign them. Write up warnings. Keep files.
Take control of accounting activities. Get involved and maintain good accounting practices. Create a separation of responsibilities and add transparency in record keeping. Meet regularly with your employees and present the good news and the bad. Audit your records. Question your accountants and expect verification.
Provide a safe environment for disagreements. Allow employees to question and disagree with policies. Remember, they too have a vital interest in the success of the dealership. A decision and policy making process that is open to new ideas invites and fosters commitment from all parties involved.
In a study conducted here at Lightspeed some months ago, we found that fully one third of parts customers in a typical Powersports dealership are repeat customers, some as many as several times each week! So maybe Sam Walton had it right. But if your repeat business is less than this benchmark number, think about it. You may have been fired by your customers, and you need to find out why. psb
Jeff Hardy is a 1993 graduate of the University of Utah where he majored in accounting and business management. He has worked in the tax industry both as an instructor at the college level, and in the preparation of personal and corporate returns. Jeff has been associated with Lightspeed and the motorcycle industry for more than three years as an accounting trainer and on-site business consultant.