The Green Sheet Online Edition
April 13, 2009 • Issue 09:04:01
Downshifting to rev up sales
As you know, the U.S. automotive industry continues to struggle. We are seeing the signs across the country as auto dealerships, as well as recreational vehicle (RV) and boat dealers, close their doors. Cars and RVs are disappearing from once-filled display rooms and adjacent parking lots.
For ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) specializing in this sphere, the struggles of merchants in this vertical market pose real challenges and are contributing to reductions in processing volume and merchant boarding. Only time will tell where things will end up. Hopefully, we will be buying cars from Detroit's Big Three for years to come.
However, there is more than a glimpse of hope for sales professionals who cater to this market. Less revenue is coming from auto dealerships, but U.S. consumers are doing many things to save money that present other opportunities in this space.
Fewer new cars are being sold, but more people are fixing up existing vehicles, as consumers take their cars in droves to shops for repairs and preventive maintenance.
Consumer behavior is making used car dealers, service and repair shops, and automotive parts stores a substantial niche market for ISOs and MLSs to pursue. Opportunities exist among smaller, locally based automotive parts and supply businesses; some larger automotive retailers can be targeted as well. Following are a few noteworthy trends within the auto industry:
- Auto parts chain AutoZone Inc. reported earnings of $115.9 million for the second quarter of 2009, up 9 percent from $106.7 million for the same period in 2008.
- The Automotive Service Association reported its members' 2009 sales were up 16 percent from the same time the preceding year.
- According to Forbes, auto parts retailers have shown a 50 percent increase in share prices since bottoming out in November 2008.
This shift in the financial outlook for segments of the auto industry gives hope to many whose livelihoods rest in this arena. As one vertical slows, another gains momentum.
Not all automotive businesses are categorized the same way, however. Service and repair shops are distinct from new or used car dealerships. Having a handle on the needs of these merchants can translate into a lucrative book of business.
Given the many changes within these verticals, it's important to identify products and services that will be in demand.
Check conversion and guarantee are good options. Accepting checks can be risky for merchants in this recessionary climate, but offering check guarantee eliminates the risk. Check conversion and verification for merchants who don't want guarantees is also good to offer. Consumers are using more checks than ever both because of the "float" time and limits on credit.
Be cautioned, however. The "hold check," or multiple check option, with which consumers write multiple checks for deposit in installments, can be an attractive service, but may result in chargebacks - even with separate agreements.
Consumers may not have the funds 30, 60 or 90 days after initial sales. Processors offering this service may also cancel merchants who have a high rate of check returns.
Gift and loyalty may not be the right term to use in the automotive space. Use the phrase card programs instead. But offer the same features as gift and loyalty programs, and customize your services to particular businesses. This approach helps pique interest. Some examples are:
- A customer discount card, which provides consumers with rebates, a percentage amount off each sale, cash back and frequency rewards
- A prepaid oil change card, which provides discounts on oil changes or general services
- New customer cards, which offer $5 to $10 off a customer's first service
Another potentially lucrative service is setting up payroll programs that help reduce payroll expenses by providing prepaid Visa Inc.- or Mastercard Worldwide-branded cards to employees. Rather than having to utilize payroll services, merchants can easily pay employees via cards tied to employee bank account. Cards can be used like credit cards or for withdrawing cash from ATMs.
Cash advance is a viable way for businesses to keep up with demand when they are expanding or making large purchases. It's important, however, to check with cash advance providers to find out whether they approve of the kinds of businesses you work with. Funding has tightened up for some businesses, depending on factors like credit history, business lifespan and overall credit card volume.
Text messaging services
Text messaging notification and coupon solutions can notify customers when serviced cars are ready to be picked up, for instance. They can also be used for marketing, for example, to notify members of discounts and rewards opportunities.
Merchants can also send out periodic special offers to attract repeat customers and help boost business on slower days of the week. They can also relay electronic coupons and reward balances to remind customers to visit soon.
These are just a sampling of the many solutions available. Services that provide useful consumer data, such as purchasing habits, are desirable for merchants in this vertical as well.
For ISOs and MLSs who specialize in selling to new or used car dealers, many opportunities still exist. But current trends indicate the standard processing solutions are just a small piece of an overall strategy to attract new business.
Dealers who use internal promotions and car-manufacturer incentives are on the right track, but offering auxiliary programs will assist you in closing business and separating you from others trying to gain accounts.
Dedicated payment professionals continually adapt to changing conditions and welcome innovations that fill voids in products and services. By staying educated and keeping an open mind, you can do just about anything - even in a volatile market.
Now is the time to capitalize on the trends in the auto industry. Acceptance of the economic realities is a crucial first step. Then tailor your product offerings to help merchants stay in business and increase revenues. This is the way to take your foot off the brake and step on the gas.
Christian Murray is the Director of Business Development for Global eTelecom Inc. He has more than 12 years experience within the payments industry. GETI provides check processing and gift and loyalty solutions. For more information, visit www.checktraining.com or www.giftcardtraining.com (the sites are compatible with Internet Explorer only). You may also contact Christian directly at 877-454-3835 or email@example.com.
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