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Give Away Some Schwag

Dealers are in business to sell things, of course. But giving away stuff can be an important part of a marketing plan for every dealer, and may prove even more important if we dive into a recession-generated sales slowdown.

Giving away things can be a solid route to building customer loyalty. At first blush, this method may be denounced as unnecessary by some. But the majority of retail businesses have learned that giving now can pay back in a big way later.

I’m obviously not talking about giving away the store but, rather, some very targeted and reasonable ways of going gratis with meaning.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Surprise a customer. Every dealer has some great customers, and a random act of thoughtfulness will go a long way in confirming how you value their relationship with them. And it doesn’t have to be major; a little creativity can go a long way. A simple note that says we genuinely appreciate your business, so we’d like to change your oil for free, or give you a restaurant gift card to thank you for your business and support.

2. Always make amends for any mistakes in the dealership. No business is perfect. Stuff happens, no matter how good the team. When something goes wrong, immediately do whatever is necessary to correct it, and then make mitigating the customer’s disappointment a top priority. A positive gesture can make a big difference in customer loyalty. For example: “Yes, we messed up and are genuinely sorry. We’re fixing the problem right away and will be sending you (a gift, a discount coupon, a free service, etc.) in our sincerest effort to make up for any trouble we’ve caused.”

3. Never stop saying thank you — and not just a routine expression, but with genuine gratitude. I’ve shared this story before, but it’s applicable in this context. With each boat my dad bought from Higgs Marine, Mrs. Higgs placed in the cabin a thank-you gift and a handwritten note. I recall a lamp the first time, a glass sculpture the second and hand towels with the boat’s name for the third. That personal demonstration of thanks surely garnered my dad’s loyalty, three times over. Saying thanks in a tangible way is powerful.

4. Make keeping connected a fun effort by using contests, prizes, and so on. Giving away dealership merchandise, a service, tickets to a show or concert, a complementary dinner, etc., are sure bets to keep you engaged with customers. After all, everyone likes to win things. Using your customer (and perhaps even top prospects) email list, or your Facebook or other social medium, hold a quarterly contest with prizes that will keep the dealership in front of customers, particularly in the off-season, and make it fun to be a customer, too.

Bottom line: A plan to give things away can produce the loyal customers every dealership needs.

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