[pullquote]“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” – SUN TZU, The Art of War[/pullquote]
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ittle is known about Sun Tzu, a mysterious person who lived in China 2,000 years ago, but the book he wrote, “The Art of War,” is still being studied by military strategists and business people. The strategies discussed in Sun Tzu’s book can be applied to any sort of conflict: including your personal fight, as a retail seller, against the Internet. Yes, you can fight the Internet, and the strategy suggestions of Sun Tzu may help you win.
Sun Tzu first instructs you to carefully and sincerely measure your own strengths and the enemy’s strengths. The strengths of the Internet are well known: low prices, excellent selection for many items, ease of access, no need for a customer to leave the comfort of their own home. What are your strengths?
1. If you are a franchised dealer for a motorcycle brand, you offer sales and service that is simply not available over the Internet. Customers can buy a used Honda on eBay, but if they want parts for it, they have to go to a Honda dealer.
2. Amazon does not work on motorcycles – you do. If customers want their busted transmission or wonky electrics fixed, they have to come to you.
3. Experts agree that a large part of the shopping experience is the ability to see and touch the item to be purchased – which is why those people are in your store petting the merchandise and covertly entering information about it on their smartphones.
However, the idea that merchandise is cheaper on the Internet is often an illusion. “Many times the customer thinks the price on the Internet is better, but in most cases it is the same,” says Scott Dunlavey, the owner of Berkeley Honda Yamaha. You and your staff should be educating your customers. One Midwestern dealer has a large sign in his retail department: “We Will Match Any Real Internet Price.” He does not carry merchandise that can be purchased at discounted prices online. His employees politely engage customers and point out that for the same price as they would pay online, they can take their item home immediately.
4. You have the potential to offer excellent customer service. “Offering personalized service while you have the customer in front of you or over the phone is the best way to reach out for the sale,” says Tom Perkins of Dudley Perkins Harley-Davidson, third generation Harley dealer.
5. You also have the potential to make your dealership a community hub and a place where interesting things are happening.
6. You have a website that will allow you to take the fight to the enemy (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em).
[pullquote]“Avoid your enemy’s strengths and attack his weaknesses” – SUN TZU, The Art of War[/pullquote]
Now, given your strengths, are you taking advantage of them to the fullest? Sun Tzu says, “Avoid your enemy’s strengths and attack his weakness.” He also suggests that implementing an intelligent and knowledgeable strategy will be much cheaper in the long run than blundering along without a definitive plan in mind.
One of the most important of your strengths is the ability of your dealership to offer superior, intelligent and courteous customer service. “Customer service is going to win,” says Michael Aron, owner of Mojotown multimedia agency and creator and founder of RaceFuelZ, a healthy energy drink. “Education is your biggest battle. The salesperson has to
do more than parrot a script. They have to be able to explain why a product is both different and better than the competition,” he says.
“We believe that while web-based commerce has its place in the industry, and commerce as a whole, the brick and mortar dealership and repair shop can offer the personal, face-to-face with a handshake relationship that you can’t get from the web-based retailer, “explains Dave Kimmey, president of Engine Ice’s parent company, CycleLogic Products. “That personal relationship can prove beneficial with a knowledgeable and caring staff who remembers the customer, what they ride, and past issues and potential future equipment needs or issues that they can help divert the customer from.”
Dave continues: “The so-called ‘parts guy’ is hopefully reading all the magazines and industry publications, including MPN, to stay on top of both the industry as well as consumer trends and magazine testing recommendations. It’s this self education and knowledge that brings true benefit to the consumer from the brick and mortar, because the consumer becomes confident in the relationship and the knowledge of the person behind the counter as they look them in the eye while seeking advice.”
Excellent customer service not only ensures repeat customers, it gets people in the door. “People use the Net to make buying decisions,” states Bill Gallagher, account executive with Powersport Marketing. “A motorcycle is a high dollar decision, and most of your customers are using the Net to do research. You fight the discounters with your online reputation. Word of mouth is now ‘word of mouse.’”
Potential motorcycle buyers will usually check your online reviews before they come to you. Have you checked your reviews lately? “You need to take action to make sure your positive reviews overwhelm your negative reviews,” Bill continues. “Research has shown that customers are 11 times more likely to post negative reviews than positive reviews. We can deliver a system that encourages customers to post positive reviews. It’s important that these reviews come from actual customers. Us motorcyclists have really good B.S. detectors.”
Another of your strengths is your ability to build community around your dealership. Your brick and mortar dealership is expensive, but it also provides a physical venue for events, which the Net cannot provide. “Most riders are in a tribe,” Gallagher points out. “Often, their tribe is centered around a local dealership. You can encourage the tribe by holding events, but they have to be the right sort of events. Remember, only 3-6 percent of the public rides motorcycles. You want to go after riders, not people who want a free hot dog.”
Michael Aron points out that the location of your dealership and your customer base will dictate what sorts of events will work for you. If your dealership is located near scenic roads, organized rides from your parking lot will be popular with many folks. In contrast, not many people will want to battle traffic to get to an inner city dealership.
An important chapter of the Art of War deals with the necessary material to wage war. Are you set up to take the fight to the enemy with a website that allows on line shopping? “Your website is a way to bring in more customers. You should look at it as a profit center, not as a brochure for the rest of your business,” Gallaher says. People may like you, but if they are stuck at home with a sick toddler or an overtime work project, they may have to buy from the Internet regardless. You can make it as easy for your customers to buy from you as from the Internet marketers. “Your website should communicate to your customers, develop leads for you and drive sales,” says Bill.
The final chapter of Sun Tzu talks about obtaining information. Experts in making your store pay off suggest that you conduct consumer research to find out what your customers want. Sun Tzu had to recruit spies, but you can (and should) be completely above board. Bill Gallagher also notes that Powersports Marketing has a Sharp Shooter marketing program that can “tell you how many customers responded to your marketing, who responded, and what they are interested in buying. Using this system, we encourage your salespeople to call these hand raisers and set up a friendly low key appointment so that during your event you aren’t talking about the weather, you are talking about rolling metal.”
[pullquote]“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill” – SUN TZU, The Art of War[/pullquote]
“The biggest problem I see is the lack of knowledge and “follow-up” by retail employees, says Scott Dunlavy. “I’m always looking at other stores as I do my personal business (Home Depot, Safeway, etc.) and what I notice is a general lack of both knowledge and “giving a crap” by the employees at various retailers. I firmly believe that ‘people want to buy from people.’ Now when a retailer doesn’t seem to care the customer will turn to the Internet and once they do and get comfortable with that, they’re gone! Our job is to do a good job at the retail level and not have customers stray! Events and activities help, but if you can’t service the customer it’s not as effective. I think the best way to fight the Internet is to have people “in the game” both mentally and physically.”
If people flock to your dealership and business is excellent, you have won your fight against the Internet without firing a shot.