Some 30 years ago, one of my best friends in the car business gave me the greatest advertising lesson of my life. “Appeal to those who don’t think they can afford a vehicle, and watch your grosses grow.” Another of his favorite sayings was “Just remember, God must love poor people because he made a heck of a lot more of them than he did rich folks.” My friend focused his advertising efforts on reaching out to the ‘gotta have’ buyers who bought a vehicle predicated on affordable payments, the amount of down payment required and the ability of the dealership to get them ‘bought.’ Everyone would like to have a friend in the car business. These buyers ‘really needed’ a friend to help them put a deal together. And my good friend happily obliged.
Despite the focus on the ‘lower end’ of the marketplace, my friend sold plenty of higher priced ‘luxury’ vehicles to bargain hunting cash buyers. In some of the post-analysis research we conducted, many of the higher end buyers had the perception that my friend would be more ‘willing to cut a deal’ than the competing luxury dealer who always ran ‘upscale’ advertising, insisting that quality and service were worth a little extra in the long run.
Around that same time, I remember reading a business magazine about one of the most amazing marketing success stories in New York retail advertising. It was about Fred Schwartz, also known as ‘Fred the Furrier.’ Before Fred, furriers advertised only in upscale magazines with hoity-toity copy that suggested if you had to ask the price, then you probably couldn’t afford a fur. Fred changed all that. Fred did more than just advertise to the working lady, he came up with a brilliant marketing plan that made the lower-priced shopper feel appreciated. Fred’s copy was simple. Paraphrased: “We make buying a fur affordable for anyone, with prices starting at just $___. Come see us at our fourth floor location. No fancy windows. No crystal chandeliers. No fancy prices. Just beautiful furs for any budget.”
Now some furriers had tried this before without success. They would advertise a cheap fur that looked cheap at a cheap price and hide it in the rack at the back of the store. When the customer would show up, the salesperson would do their best to embarrass them, shame them into buying a ‘real fur,’ not the flea-bitten mange in the back of the shop. (Sounds like some car dealers’ lost leader ad specials doesn’t it!) The problem was, some of the customers simply could not afford much more than the ‘cheap special.’ The end result frustrated customers, disgusted sales clerks who looked upon them as ‘mooches, tire kickers, and dreamers’. It also and a wasted opportunity to build the bottom line of the enterprise.
Fred did it differently. When folks came up the elevator to his ‘warehouse style’ fur shop, his salespeople were instructed to meet and greet everyone with dignity and appreciation, taking them first to the lower-end, ample rack of bargain priced furs. Actually, some of Fred’s cheap furs looked better than moderate priced skins at pricey competitors. Fred’s philosophy: Start the customer at the lower end and move them slowly up the inventory line. Two things will happen. First, you’ll never embarrass any customer if you show them something advertised that they can actually buy. Second, the customer will move you up to the level they are most comfortable with. Fred’s philosophy and fur business became one of the most copied marketing concepts in the clothing business.
Despite the challenging times we are living in right now, the simple fact is that most Americans still need a car, truck, suv or minivan to get through life. Most people live miles from stores, schools, work, entertainment and there is no public transportation. Many of those in greatest need are looking for a ‘friend in the car business’ to help them buy a vehicle for the first time or trade-up to a ‘newer’ vehicle.
What kind of advertising message will appeal to this customer?
- A sincere message of understanding: “I know what you’re going through! I can remember driving a car with bald tires never knowing if I would make it home from work.”
- A common sense message: “Let’s face it, with 85,000 miles, it’s just a matter of time before something goes. Why wait? Trade now and get a vehicle you can rely on, plus better gas mileage to boot!”
- A value message: “You’ve probably heard that used cars have gone up in value. We need good used cars and we’re prepared to give you top dollar in trade. In fact, we’ll even buy your vehicle for cash, even if you don’t buy from us!”
- A ‘can-do’ message: “Don’t worry about your credit, what’s in the past is in the past. We’ve been able to get approval on loans when other dealers have said no. Don’t let fear of credit stop you.”
- A message of convenience: “Why not fill out a credit application at our website right now! Even if it’s 3:00 am, we can start the process in complete confidence and let you know you’re approved within hours. You could be driving a vehicle tomorrow!”
Working the credit-challenged, lower income market requires training and conditioning of your entire team. Everyone gets greeted properly. No one gets ‘pre-judged,’ everyone gets an opportunity to take a test drive, fill out paperwork and go through the formal financing process. I once had a dealer tell me that he didn’t want to advertise to the lower-income market. “My people get discouraged when we see too many ‘dreamers’ who waste our time.” That is probably the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard from a dealer in all my years in this business. It’s no wonder this fellow folded his tent in despair some years ago. The sales game is a game of a lot of failures with a certain percentage of successes. But just like you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket, you can’t have sales success without a number of failures in the process.
I like this quote from Thomas Watson a whole lot: “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember thats where you will find success.” ~Thomas J. Watson
You may know that Mr. Watson was the president of IBM, one of the richest men of his time and considered the world’s greatest salesman at the time of his death in 1956. Keep in mind that although you might be able to find a way to help even the neediest of buyers get behind the wheel, you’re not a miracle worker. Don’t waste valuable time trying to move someone beyond their financing capabilities. And vice versa, if you should discover that a customer’s financial situation is far better than the customer realizes, don’t hesitate to offer alternatives. The late Ralph Reedman, one of America’s most successful automotive entrepreneurs, advertised used vehicles and trained his staff to ask credit-worthy shoppers if they were aware that they had ‘new car credit?’ Many were not aware. Many of those used car shoppers ended up buying their first new vehicle from a Reedman dealership without a lot of competitive shopping in the process.
Make a sincere effort to reach out to the ‘gotta have buyers’ who are desperately searching for a ‘friend’ in the business who can help them with their transportation needs. You’ll not only make a lot of new ‘friends,’ but you’ll take a lot more money to the bank in the process.