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Dealing with Automotive Dealerships

Four methods for partnering with dealers.

Should you sell to car dealerships? The short answer is, yes, you should sell to almost anyone who wants to buy your services. Car dealerships have company cars for sales staff, fleet trucks, parts trucks and even the occasional sponsorship vehicle used to promote an event. The opportunity is there and, given the competitive nature of their industry, car dealerships must be masters of marketing. They use balloons, hot dogs, and even inflatable gorillas to try to drive business to their lots; it would only make sense that they have their own vehicles wrapped as well. So with the correct sales materials, pricing structure, and portfolio in hand, it shouldn’t be too difficult for your shop to get the sale.

But you may also be able to grab some of the larger action at dealerships: providing wraps to their commercial customers. Someone is wrapping all of those blank white Chevy and Ford vans, Sprinters, and Isuzu trucks they're selling-why can't it be you?

Four methods to success
Bluemedia has been down this road and has some trial-and-error results to share when it comes to dealing with dealers. We've tended to rely upon four methods that seem to work with the dealer population.

Method number one: Hire a dealership specialist. In order for this scenario to work, you must service a city that has a market large enough to support a number of dealerships to keep your sales person busy. This person will need to learn the language of car dealerships, find out what they care about (and what they don’t), and craft a strategy that works for your shop and the dealership. This person will need to stay in front of the dealership with some level of consistency because there seems to be a relatively high turnover in their staffing. This method also relies heavily on the personal relationship. In order for a dealership to have the trust and peace of mind to send work and referrals to a single graphics specialist, your dealership specialist must communicate very well and always deliver on commitments made.

Method number two: Strike a deal with the dealership. Dealerships exist to make money, and the sales staff is almost exclusively paid commission. So get a meeting with the decision maker; at our shop, we've found that the fleet sales manager or general manager is a good place to start. Tell them who you are and what you do, and then ask what their "buttons" are. Maybe they want to offer this as a value-added service to their customers. Maybe they like the idea of the sales staff being able to earn a commission from you whenever they refer the purchaser of a new truck needing graphics. This is an interesting program that a dealership can put in place that will help their sales staff earn more money, but not at the cost of the dealership. We've found that a car salesperson could make $200 for selling a car and another $200 for referring a full wrap (as you can imagine, the sales staff typically are all for it).

The key to using this method is to make sure you're pitching the right program to the right person. You need to first win over the dealership, put the program in place that makes the most sense for them, and (only if invited) present to the sales staff directly. In an ideal world, you could also provide specifically designed sales materials and leave behind a point-of -purchase display that markets wraps to their customers. Beware: Even with all of these things in place, you still must service this program monthly or bi-weekly or they might forget who you are, lose interest, and throw away your display.

Method number three: Sell your products through the dealership at wholesale. This is a more complicated model, but it has its merits. Dealerships are already in the business of buying aftermarket parts such as wheels, audio systems, GPS systems, and/or body kits and then marking them up for resale. Targeted correctly, the graphics products you sell can follow the same path.

A dealership could offer to deliver not only a brand new truck to a client, but this truck could come from the dealership completely wrapped in that customer’s brand. This is a service that should come with a warranty and is a big enough ticket item that the dealerships could stand to make a great margin. This, in turn, means that the sales staff at that dealership could make a higher commission as well.

An obvious challenge here is working through the design phase with the dealership playing middle man. They typically are not educated in using graphics to communicate a message and anytime you cannot speak directly to the end client there's the possibility of communication errors. With some well-thought-out practices and expectations put in place, however, this challenge can be met.

Method number four: Roll your invoice into the financing of the vehicle. Most vehicles today are configured per the client’s request. Whether it be paint color, window tint, or interior options, there is usually some configuration before the client takes delivery. If pitched correctly, graphics can be one of those available options. Keep in mind that dealerships make money on the financing as well. So here's yet another opportunity for the dealership to make an extra margin.

You quote the graphics to the dealership or the end client (depending on how the dealership would like it to go) and, once accepted, that amount is added to the purchase price. Upon completion of the graphics, you are paid by the finance company in full and the end client simply makes his or her auto loan payments as usual. Again, this is a slightly involved process to get set-up, but since we're living in a convenience world that loves to buy on credit, offering this type of a solution is just one more service that can not only separate you from the rest but specifically help ensure that you are the shop getting the business.

Becoming the default option
The successes or failures earned in dealing with the dealerships hinges upon your ability to listen to their needs, supply a solution that meets those needs, and stay in front of them with enough regularity to become the default option when graphics are needed. Plus, the complexity of some of these solutions can actually work to your benefit: If it's difficult to get these programs in place, get them streamlined, and get them implemented, then it will be even more difficult for a competitor to "uproot" your program-especially if you are delivering on your promises.

Put yourself in the dealership’s shoes and do everything you can to help them with their objectives. If you can do that while meeting your own objectives, then dealing with dealerships will be a good deal for everyone.

Jared Smith is president of bluemedia (www.bluemedia.com), a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and environmental applications, in Tempe, Arizona.

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