THE SHOP

Performance & Hotrod Business February '14

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PERFORMANCE The shop offers everything from "arrive and drive" racing to full car builds and standard speed shop services for club racers and street car drivers. It was developed six years ago from Blackdog Racing, an 11-year-old professional team that races two Camaros in the Pirelli World Challenge. Winning driver and team championships, and crew chief of the year in the GTS series in 2013, helps draw customers to the speed shop. Once they are there, though, the relationship-building begins. "We really use a consultative sales approach," Kaluzna points out. "We get calls like, 'How much to put a cam in my 2006 Corvette?' That's an easy question to answer and we're happy to do the job. But we want to make sure that's really what they want. They might be planning to put a supercharger on the car at a later date and we point out that the big cam will have to come out at that time." Sometimes, Kaluzna explains, you have to look beyond the car and into the customer's lifestyle. "Everybody wants more power, but we want to achieve it safely and reliably. And, in the case of the giant cam, they may need to know that their wife probably won't want to drive that car to the grocery store. She may not even want to ride in it. We want you to know that in advance before you find out just how comfortable your sofa is for sleeping. "Our attitude is 'build it the right way,'" Kaluzna continues. "When we have customers who want us to do something differently, we tell them why there's a better way. If they insist, the customer is always right, of course, but we want them to make an informed decision." Spread the News Happy customers don't just come back to the shop. Hopefully they tell their friends, which is golden. "The best way we know to build our business is by producing satisfied customers who win races or have a blast at their local club events," Kaluzna says. "We've had several new customers go out and spread the word. The guy they tell comes in with $400 and the guys that guy tells 48 n Performance & Hotrod Business PHBFEB.indd 48 n Identifying the factors that make your shop unique is the first step to more focused marketing, higher customer satisfaction and greater longterm success. come in for $600. We want them all to be happy not just today, but two years from now." Long-term customer relationships probably depend more on the consistently high level of service the customer receives than the fleeting gratification of a one-time triumph at the track. "At a lot of shops, once the car is done, you're on your own," observes Damien Martinez, manager at Stage 6 Motorsports in Jacksonville, Fla. "It's kind of like, 'Here's the car, here's your bill, see ya.'" Stage 6, which is known for turbo fabrication for Jeep Cherokees, doesn't operate under that philosophy. "We're not that way," Martinez says. "We do as much as we can to keep the customer happy after the sale." The shop builds and ships cars (not just Cherokees) all over the world, according to Martinez, and does whatever needs to be done to keep the customer coming back. "We back our products with on-site or telephone tech support," Martinez says. The shop has customers as far afield as Australia and it's logical to assume that after-the-sale customer service becomes difficult, if not impossible, when it's delivered 12 time zones away. Martinez says that if the customer needs some help, it doesn't matter where they are—and modern technology certainly factors into the solution. "We built and shipped a car to a customer in Colombia," he says, "who communicates with us by email. That's the easiest way for him because he's in Central America." When it comes to attracting new customers, one of the factors that often arises is price. Everyone we talked to agreed that how much you charge for a product can't be the overriding consideration, especially when intangibles like experience, attitude, and customer knowledge come into play to shape customer service. "Sometimes price is a factor," Martinez admits, "but we try to stay within the same range as the industry standards. We can't compete with eBay, but we try to keep our pricing fair in terms of other shops." A fair price is usually what matters to customers, as long as the rest of their experience with the shop is positive. A customer relationship built on exemplary service is generally a long-term one, which has some distinct advantages. For one thing, you don't need to spend marketing money to attract a customer you already have, so the long-term relationship is more profitable. Secondly, the longer you've known the customer, the better you understand their needs, which means multiple transactions are more likely to occur. Finally, the customer gets to know you better, too, and that usually means they trust you more as time goes on. When problems arise—and in the speed business, they're bound to—they're easier to solve on a platform of time-strengthened trust. We may think we're in the speed business, but ultimately the most successful shops are in the business of providing exemplary customer service. Just like you can't win every race, you can't please everybody all the time. But you should try. Dave Donelson is a management consultant in West Harrison, New York. He's the author of the Dynamic Manager Guides and Handbooks. February 2014 1/3/14 12:14 PM

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