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Stop Regarding Fourth Quarter Automotive As Hibernation Time

Dealers who start planning now for aggressive promotion actually can grab big business late in the year. BY JEFF COWAN

It seems as though you only just hauled out the lawn chairs and fired up the grill. Your pool no longer needs the header on. You grab a cold beer. Then, just as you start to relax and enjoy the summer, it hits you: In just three months, your dealership’s fourth quarter will arrive. Inevitably, your business will slowly dwindle as the temperatures fall and the holidays quickly approach.

Year after year, I see the same scenario unfold for dealers. A very few dealers I know show the foresight to plan ahead for the winter and manage to experience a great fourth quarter. A few others scramble at the last minute to make something out of nothing. The vast majority of dealers just lie down and use the “The holidays are approaching” excuse to explain why their fourth quarter business drops off by as much as 50 percent by the time December rolls around.

I could write a book on how to become one of the successful dealership professionals in the first group, the select few who plan ahead and end up reap big business and even bigger profits during the last three months of the year. The key is to NOT buy into the old school thinking that holds, “It’s always been slow in the fourth quarter and that’s just the way it is.”

Below I have listed some highly effective strategies I have seen work well to make the fourth quarter a productive period. Start putting these strategies into practice at your dealership, and you will start down the path to having something truly worth celebrating on New Year’s Eve.

Free Winter Inspection Campaign

Starting the week after Labor Day, start passing out a flyer to every visiting customer that offers, “Get your vehicle ready for winter with a free 32-point inspection!” Also, mount a massive full-database e-mail campaign and, budget permitting, advertise everywhere possible that you are offering the aforementioned deal. Make sure that your event applies to every vehicle that your customer owns, regardless of manufacturer. Notice that I am using the term “event.” That word conveys exactly the look and feel you want this promotion to exude.

Schedule this promotion as a one-day event. The first Saturday of October is a great day to use. The entire day should be set up for nothing other than inspections. You may also choose to offer the free winter check-up over a two-week period or even throughout the month of October. Offer it for the one day and then extend it for the following few weeks, citing its “big success.” It’s just like when a Saturday vehicle sales event is held over for one more week because of “excessive demand.”

This promotion works well if set up and executed properly. I have worked dozens of these, and the mindset of most customers is that they either already know their vehicle needs a winter inspection or they are not completely sure that it doesn’t.

Fourth Quarter AutomotiveHoliday Specials

Create these holiday specials and announce them by no later than the first of November. Think outside the box here.  For example, I know many people who have asked for or have given sets of tires as gifts. Maintenance services, chrome wheels, details and gift certificates are other popular dealership items I have seen given as gifts.

Layaways are great benefits to offer customers as well. How successful your dealership is with holiday specials will be determined by how aggressively you promote them.

Shuttle Services

During the months of November and December, offer your customers “Christmas shopping shuttle rides” to the local mall and various other shopping centers. Two of the greatest challenges we all face during the holiday shopping crush are finding a parking space and negotiating traffic. Offering courtesy shuttle service to anyone who is willing to have his or her vehicle serviced can prove very attractive, especially on the weekends.

Make it easy on your shuttle drivers by contacting the mall and shopping centers ahead of time, to let them know you will be bringing customers to their front doors but that you need a special drop-off/pick-up area. Contact various retailers and see if they wish to be part of a special holiday coupon package for your customers who will be taking advantage of your shuttle.

You will need to get the ball rolling on this by mid-August. I know many dealerships already offer Christmastime shuttle rides to the malls, but a little repackaging can go a long way.

Put Service Depts. To Work

Get your service advisors involved. Starting in October, have each of them make five more phone calls, send five more texts, compose five more e-mails and write five more thank you notes each day. These messages should be sent to past customers whom they have not seen in more than a year, customers who are about to be due for scheduled service, those who have declined your dealership’s service offers, and anyone else who the service advisors believe could benefit from one of the promotions I mentioned

Reward each sales advisor with a bonus for each person they get to participate. They are likely to be surprised by the favorable response. You will be, too. I have often seen service advisors continue with this customer outreach after the holidays, due to its great success.

Reject Assumptions About 4Q

There are a variety of additional steps your dealership can and should take to help build up a greater fourth-quarter book of business. The recommendations I have discussed here are only a few that can have an immediate and very measurable impact.

You are entering the time of the year in which people in the automotive business historically have assumed (wrongly) that customers are reluctant to spend money on their vehicles. This is simply not true. Your customers still drive their vehicles in the late fall and early winter. They still need services and repairs.

Dealers need to cast aside orthodoxy here and think about their customers’ true, everyday needs. After all, the fourth quarter is the one time of year when people actually plan to shop. They typically have more to spend – or at least are willing to spend more and more often – and they will spend with your dealership, provided that you give them a little direction and motivation.

Customers really do understand the harsh wear that a cold winter can inflict upon their vehicles. The fourth quarter is unique. It is actually a season of opportunity. While you are enjoying your brats, baseball and beer this summer, be sure to plan to seize that opportunity.

Jeff Cowan
Jeff Cowan
In his 28th year of training, Jeff is recognized as the creator of the modern-day walk-around and selling processes for service departments. Currently partnered with NADA, EasyCare, NCM, MPi and other vendors and manufacturers, he¬ is the nation’s authority when it comes to training service advisors and service support staff. Visit his website at and sign up for free, weekly training.

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