With social distancing, and “shelter-in-place” orders issued in many states, automotive service and aftermarket shops continue to operate, but under a different set of rules and expectations.
A survey conducted April 1-7 by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) of its member companies indicates that the majority of businesses in the specialty automotive industry continues to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. Even with “shelter-in-place” rules in effect in many states, more than two-thirds of industry businesses have not closed any of their facilities during this time.
Many auto dealer service centers continue to operate as well under the “essential business” designation. It is not business as usual, but it is still business. So what can dealer service departments do to stay busy and keep the doors open during this time?
At Sonic Automotive, one of the country’s largest dealer networks, most stores are open, with the exception of certain locations in California, which has a shelter-in-place order.
“People don’t have to worry about coming into contact with our staff,” said David Smith, president of Sonic Automotive. “We’re disinfecting the cars before and after the test drives, we’re disinfecting all the areas in service and sales.”
And, “if somebody wants us to come to their home and deliver a car to them, we’ll do that. We can also come to their house and pick up their car for service.”
Smith said it’s vital for service departments to remain open to help customers who still need to get to their jobs. “Can you imagine the panic that would be caused if the public could not get to the grocery store, if they couldn’t get to the hospital, if they couldn’t get to vital places?” Smith said.
Sonic is also practicing what Smith called “no-contact sales and service” and is encouraging customers to fill out most of their paperwork online. “They can do about 90% of the transaction online on our website.”
Ziegler Tire operates 18 commercial outlets, six retail stores and two distribution centers. “We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” says John Ziegler. “Obviously, the key is the well-being and safety of everybody, including our employees, customers and anyone we come in contact with.”
That includes the company’s fleet customers. “We’re dropping off products in customers’ yards and emailing invoices to them just to maintain space between people,” he says. “we’re trying to reduce the amount of contact as much as possible. We’re doing whatever is necessary to keep trucks moving so people can get what they need.”
Eagle Tire Pros
Three days after officials confirmed a case of COVID-19 in Campbell County, Tenn., Brandon Johnson, general manager of Eagle Tire Pros, says the family-owned dealership is “trying to be proactive and is operating out of an overabundance of caution.”
Johnson says the store is continuing the availability of its small fleet of courtesy vehicles for customers, and the vehicles are being sanitized between each use. Eagle Tire Pros also offers a courtesy pick-up and drop-off service. “We don’t have Uber in our town, so we’re used to providing all the services for our customers.”
Online, the store even offered a roll of toilet paper with the purchase of every set of tires. It was meant to add some lighthearted fun to the frenzy, but Johnson said if someone really needed toilet paper, he’d help them out. “We bought some extra.”
We’ve heard it before, but we really are “all in this together.” Staying busy during this time means thinking outside the box for ways to serve others. That means providing things that customers need in this time of crisis (even if it isn’t vehicle service), looking for unique and meaningful ways to connect with customers (while keeping social distance), and remembering that the word “service” is at the heart of any “service” department.
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This has been a JBF Business Media production.