What’s Your Competition Doing? – Part Two
Last time, we talked about how to use Competitive Intelligence (CI) to find out what your competition is doing, in order to improve your market position. Today, we are going to delve deeper into the items you should be looking at when you compare yourself with your competition, and break down the items listed on the Competitive Intelligence form for Customer Service. If you have not yet read that article, or if you are looking for that form, please click here.
This information will enable you to consider the need for possibly changing the hours and days you are open. If most of your competitors are open extended hours during the evening, or on Saturdays or Sundays, it’s certain that collectively, they’re taking not only new business from you, but also some of your existing customers as well. You may want to drive by their facilities during those extended hours and days, and note how busy they are. Like it or not, the industry is rapidly moving toward extended hours and days. For some shops, the extra time open has made the difference between success and failure.
Types of Payment
Make sure you have at least the same methods of payment available to your customers as your competitors do. If you can put more into place, do so.
Affiliations & Credentials
The motoring public takes note of trust credentials such as AAA, ASE, and the BBB. In addition, they also take note of brand identification, which is generally promoted through banner programs offered by parts and oil distributors.
Types of Customer Services Offered
These include the availability of shuttle service or rental/loaner cars, whether text or email updates are used, if there’s an after-hours or contactless drop-off/pickup system in place, and if they have a service reminder program. Not only do you want to identify all of the customer services your competitors offer, but it would also be extremely beneficial to know how well-utilized each service is.
Types of Vehicles Serviced
Many shops only work on certain makes of vehicles. Often, their business depends on successful sales of new and used vehicles of those makes by local dealers. While there are significant advantages in servicing and repairing specific makes and models, should the sales market shift dramatically, the repair business would have to shift with it. A specialty shop may have to take on other makes and models, which could cut into your business. You need to be prepared for this on an ongoing basis by monitoring the sales of vehicles in your market area.
Types of Service and Repairs Performed
Many shops specialize in specific types of service and repairs, such as brake or A/C work, which enables them to minimize their costs by making large-quantity purchases. And, with their technicians performing the same tasks repeatedly, they’re able to maintain a high level of efficiency. But those market segments are diminishing, and those who normally do specialty work are adding other types of services, allowing them to function more like a general repair shop.
Another note about types of service and repairs is that if only a few shops in your area perform a particular service, perhaps if you perform that service, it could give you a competitive advantage. In addition, if many competitors perform a particular service and do well with it, you may want to consider providing that service as well, as a means of acquiring a larger share of the market.
You can obtain a great deal of competitive intelligence by checking out other shops’ websites — here, you can find hours and days open, areas of repair expertise, products used, services provided, credentials and affiliations, and specials offered, at the very minimum. One quick warning about websites — many tend to reveal far too much information about the shop. For instance, some sites show photos of technicians and other staff, often with their names. This makes the shop vulnerable to losing technicians, as anyone wanting to recruit staff could call and ask to speak to any technician by name.
For other online marketing pointers, check out their Google and Yelp reviews (including where they rank on search results), and particularly see if there are any specific categories that come up in relation to their shop names (such as transmission or A/C repair). If you find there is a category where there are not a lot of shops in your area, you may want to perform these kinds of services.
For reviewing print ads, you may want to sign up to be on other shops’ mailing lists, so that you can receive all their marketing materials, and stay abreast of sales, coupons, or other advertising tactics. You can also determine patterns of when they advertise.
Physically observing your competitors’ facilities could help you learn who their suppliers and vendors are — towing companies, tool and parts suppliers, laundry companies, sublet vendors, custodial firms, oil suppliers, plus a number of others. Once you know who these companies are, you can come up with several information-gathering questions to casually ask your reps.
While looking over your competitors’ facilities, you can also make note of some of the fleet accounts they have (the vehicles will often bear the fleet name). You can then follow up with those companies directly to see if you can get their business. You’d be amazed at what you can learn about your competition simply by checking out their facilities!
Call the Shop
You can obtain a great deal of information about a competitor by simply having someone telephone the shop, posing as a customer. You’ll find out how their staff handles different customer situations, get a handle on pricing information and customer service items offered, learn which types of payment they accept, and much more. You can even find out information after they’re closed, if they have after-hours messaging that directs you to towing vendors or staff who may be on call.
Price-point Items & Pricing
Part of the information you’ll want to acquire will include common everyday traffic-building price-point services. Below, you will find an example of a “Competitive Intelligence – Pricing” form. Price-point services may include such items as lube, oil, & filter change; tire repair, rotation, and balancing; cooling system service; A/C service; vehicle inspections; etc. The main objective is to identify what price-point items and related prices may be prevalent in your area.
Once you’ve accumulated and analyzed the desired information, use it to compile an action plan to improve your market position. After you have implemented the plan, you’ll need to monitor the results and make changes when and where needed.
Click the image below to download the form
Who Should Gather Competitive Intelligence?
A key question in the CI-gathering effort is, “Who should obtain the information?” And it’s the most difficult question to answer. Some shop owners have time to personally devote to obtaining competitive intelligence. However, most are extremely busy with day-to-day operations, and therefore, don’t have the time to do this. Using existing staff who may be untrained in this area — and who may be extremely busy themselves — would, in many instances, create more problems than it would solve.
But there is another option: You may want to consider hiring a CI professional who knows exactly how to go about obtaining the information you need. These professionals can charge anywhere from $25-500 per hour. To locate a CI professional in your area, go to the website of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, at www.scip.org.
You’re doing business in an information-age economy, where the response time of any critical business decision has gone from months to hours. If you don’t keep abreast of your competition, you risk being blindsided at any time. Create and implement your own CI plan now. Remember, knowledge is power!