There is an old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Your potential customer’s first impression of your BHPH dealership is based on how you merchandise your lot. What do they think when they drive by the lot? Is it appealing? Does a perspective customer want to stop and shop? Whenever a customer looks at your lot, he forms an impression. Impressions cannot be stopped, but they can be created. The impressions that are created become the perceptions of the customer. Another old saying is, “perception is reality”. If the lot looks better than the competitor’s then customers think the dealership is better than the competitor.
You can influence a potential customer’s perception of your dealership by paying attention what would make a person want to drive onto your lot. What is being visually presented to the customers that will motivate them to shop there? How can the manager make the dealership look appealing? No one wants to buy a dirty vehicle. No one wants to stumble through a gravel lot or a paved lot full of potholes, jumping over puddles of water from yesterday’s rain. People want to do business in a clean, bright, fresh environment.
The outside area of the lot should be the benchmark for every other business in your neighborhood. The landscaping should be the best and the vehicles should be clean and well spaced. The lot should be paved and well lit. Customers should have unobstructed access to all of the vehicles for sale. Limit the inventory to the number of vehicles that can be displayed properly. Try to keep everything looking as new as possible and clean.
Potential customers will shop during the hours that the dealership is closed. You should consider posting some form of window sticker on every vehicle available for sale. Window stickers can just display the price or may be more elaborate and disclose the suggested down payment, monthly or weekly payment amount and interest rate. If you choose to disclose any of the “triggering terms” outlined in Regulation Z, make sure you disclose the other figures then required, as well. Window stickers can add creditability to your operation by making it obvious you are not trying to hide anything.
If a vehicle is not for sale then your goal must be to get it off the lot as quickly as possible. Wholesale vehicles should not be allowed to accumulate on the lot. You need to have an area to store these vehicles, along with repossessed vehicles, separate from the inventory that is available for financing.
Signage is important for a positive image. If finances permit, have signs professionally made for all outdoor lettering by a professional sign painter or sign company. Signs inside the dealership should be made by a sign shop or created on the computer. Handwritten signs should be avoided whenever possible. Instead of just taping or tacking signs to the wall, use frames or other ways to make them look more professional. Use of a professionally designed logo can add consistency to your marketing and advertising messages.
All promotional materials should be maintained properly and removed after the promotion. Do not leave special price markings on the windows of the vehicles; old writing dates the inventory and confuses the selling system. Flags and pennants should be on all retail vehicles and kept in good condition.
Security does not have a negative appearance if it is consistent with the neighborhood; it needs to equal others in the area. If it is not necessary to have security bars at the pay window, do not put them there. While all care should be taken to keep the employees, daily receipts, and inventory safe, it is not necessary to draw attention to them.
The offices should be clean, uncluttered, and provide privacy for sales. Desks should be clean and free of miscellaneous papers and books. Bathrooms must be spotless and cleaned daily. Garbage should be taken out every night and the floors vacuumed or mopped every morning. Buildings are usually small so it does not take much money to paint regularly to keep them looking fresh. Put reference papers in inexpensive picture frames instead of taping them to the walls. Be picky; the small things are significant.
The employees are also an important part of the merchandising of the lot. They must be clean and polished just like everything else. They do not have to have expensive wardrobes. They should, however, dress conservatively. Using a uniform service is a great way to enhance a consistent company image. Ties and suit coats are not mandatory in the DCF business. If desired, get shirts, pants and skirts in the company colors for a nominal weekly cost. Uniforms help customers identify the employees when the lot is busy and they project a disciplined business image. Many dealerships purchase shirts with their logos to wear while at work. The goal is to look professional and to set your dealership and your employees apart from your competitors.
Everyone that drives by the lot gets an impression of the business. It is the manager’s job to ensure that it is a positive one.