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Beating the Summer Doldrums

What to do to drum up some business

Here’s a scenario that I have seen play out more times than I care to remember:

“How’s business this summer?”
“It’s okay, but we could use some more. Hard goods sales are a little soft.”
“Is there anything you are going to do about it?”
“I thought I might put an ad or two in the newspaper. Maybe I will run some radio spots. It depends on if I have time to get to it.”
“Anything else you are planning to do?”
“Don’t have time for anything else. I’m too busy.”

Having been a dealer for many years, I do understand this situation—and I do not understand this situation. I understand the situation because, as the season progresses, we get very busy with the day-to-day operation of the business. It seems that as we get busier, we take off our owner hat and put it away until business slows in the fall.

We put on our salesperson hat, our mechanic hat, and definitely our put-out-the-daily-fires hat. We put away the owner hat and put on these hats because they come to us disguised as situations that need our immediate attention.

There is a difference between advertising and promoting. When you advertise in the media—television, radio, newspaper, direct mail—you are talking to the public. The majority of the public has no interest in doing business with you. This is because they live in an apartment, condominium, retirement center or have other living arrangements where they do not need what you are selling. They may be satisfied with where they are currently doing business, or they may have recently purchased some new equipment and have no interest in anything new. Perhaps they just live or work closer to another dealer.

This is what makes advertising so expensive for the return it delivers. Another option is to look to your current customers for more business. In our community, the city ordinances allow crews to start their equipment motors at 8:00 a.m. One of our local dealers begins to open his business at 8:30 a.m. It looks like it is 9:00 a.m. by the time the dealer is fully functional. I have always wondered how many landscape crews are sitting at home until 9:00 a.m. How much business is this dealer missing?

From our experience, the best landscapers were those who were out the earliest. In anticipation that a landscaper is law abiding and wants to start work at 8:00 a.m., I wonder how much more business this dealer could get by opening at 7:00 a.m. and providing donuts and coffee to crews as they shopped for their daily supplies.

A second way of looking to our customers for more business is to examine all the daily receipts that have accumulated from the start of the season. One of the neat things about this business is that we are able to easily gather contact information from our customers—name, address, phone, and e-mail.

Yet, for most businesses, this gold mine of information remains only a stack of sales receipts and completed repair forms. Did you know that 65% of all customers who stop doing business with one dealer to do business with another dealer do so because they perceive a lack of interest on the part of the initial dealer?

What if our dealer, who was in need of both time and customers, were to take home a stack of these receipts and repair forms and call each of these customers? The dealer could ask if the repair was done correctly or if the new piece of equipment was performing as the customer expected.

The dealer might notice that a customer purchased a piece of equipment at the start of the season and has not been back in the shop since. How can a good landscape crew possibly stay away from their favorite dealer for more than a few days?

It is understandable that the dealer might be hesitant to call the landscaper in anticipation of hearing a complaint—but it is much better for the dealer to hear the complaint than to have that landscaper telling all of his fellow landscapers about it.

While the dealer would like to have all of the business from a landscaper, he likely knows the landscaper is doing some of his business with other dealers. It is perhaps because the landscaper ran out of something while he was in another part of town. It could be because another dealer carries a trimmer line or a brand of oil that is preferred by the landscaper.

How can the dealer solve it? With those phone calls and asking one question:   “What one thing could I do to make it easier for you to do business with us?”

This question has the potential to solve problems as well as ask for more business from any landscaper that has ever been in the dealer’s business. On a proactive basis, let’s look for business from these customers in another avenue.

Imagine that the dealer has added a new product line. It could be a major product line or a line of accessories or consumables. How will this dealer share this information with his customers? The likely answer is by placing an ad in the newspaper, on the television or radio.

Again we go back to the original challenge. There is a low response because the majority of readers, viewers or listeners have disqualified themselves as potential customers. Instead, we want to talk to real customers—those who are qualified—and we know who they are because they have done business with us before.

To tell these real customers about our new line, we could send them a note. We could use a simple postcard that can be purchased at the post office and mailed for 24 cents. If you have a large customer list, you can visit the web site of the post office (usps.com) and use their services where they will create a postcard for you. There are various other companies (such as acidflyers.com) that offer full-color postcards at a very economical rate.

You may want to ask the representative of the new product line what resources they make available for your business so that you can announce the new addition.

Of course to make any of this happen, at some point during the day you will have to put your owner’s hat back on for a short while—or you will have to take your owner’s hat home with you.

If you find that these two options do not work for you, there is another option. You could look for someone to work part time in the shop; perhaps you have a retiree who is looking for something to occupy his time and to earn some spending money. Where do you get the money for this person?

Remember those ads that you were thinking about placing, and instead you are going to use the phone and some postcards? That is where the money comes from.

And one last point. This is not going to get you away from all of your advertising. If you stop advertising, you will find that you will eventually go back to advertising—when you start your going-out-of-business sale.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179