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Repair Shop Advice

6 Critical Questions: Understanding Your Customers and Differentiating Your Auto Parts Store

April 16, 2020

How long does it take you to identify the product that these phrases represent?


It Gives You Wings…

My guess is that it didn’t take you very long. (If you aren’t sure, just Google them.) Both of these products/brands have had those slogans in place for decades. They haven’t kept the same slogan because nobody thought of a better one. They keep it because they’ve spent years placing it into the minds of customers, and they don’t want to lose all of that work.

They know the slogan reinforces what the product does – and the product reinforces the slogan. The slogan tells customers what to expect, and when they buy the product, they get exactly what they’re expecting.

In its simplest form, that is the essence of marketing. A concept that seems simple but is much harder to execute well, and it’s this:

  • Find out what your product or service does better than anyone else’s.
  • Find the simplest way to reinforce that fact in your customers’ minds.
  • Reinforce it every single chance you get.

And at the moment of truth, when customers show up, never fail to deliver what you’ve told them to expect.

Customer Focus

But if you don’t know what you do better than anyone else in the world, or at least in your market, what’s the best way to figure it out?

This leads to the six questions that every business has to answer in order to know what value they’re providing to their customers. If you can answer these six questions you’ve laid the groundwork for growing your business profitably.

Who is your market?

Remember, unless you’re the only parts store in town, you’re not going to appeal to everyone. What type of customers prefer your store? Is it based on location? Price sensitivity? A particular brand or specialization of parts you carry? A service they can’t get anywhere else? Some combination of the four, or something else entirely?

Try to define your customers in a narrow enough way that most of the people in that group are – or should become – customers of your store. Making this definition too broad doesn’t do you any favors, it makes it harder.

How large is that market?

If it’s too small you won’t be able to earn enough business with that market. You’ll need to find a way to expand the audience by appealing to additional potential customers with new or different parts or services. On the other hand, if it’s too big competitors may step all over your message, and you might find yourself marketing a benefit that every other auto parts store in town has.

What problem is your customer facing?

This one is a bit more complicated than it seems.

You might say that your customers need brake pads or a battery or an A/C compressor. But for the vast majority of repair shops and consumers in the United States that’s not really a problem. There are hundreds of thousands of auto parts stores and online sources.

If they are a repair shop, their problem is more likely to be that they don’t know who to trust to consistently get them the parts they need that meet their quality standards as quickly as they say they will get them to the shop, at a fair price.

If they are a consumer, their problem may be that they know they need a new battery to make sure they can get to work tomorrow but they have no idea what type, or how much it should cost. They’re worried they’re going to be taken advantage of, and they could use some help installing the battery as well.

The odds are that you can handle some customer problems better than others. If you have a delivery service with an employee who is always on point and communicates well with customers, then you are going to be the parts store that shops trust.

If you or one of your parts experts excels at talking to stressed out customers and helping them make the best decision for their vehicle, you can probably build a strong reputation for helping people that are worried about being taken advantage of.

The problems you’re best at solving do a great job of helping you define your market.

Your problem also has to be an actual problem. That’s why the fourth question is here…

What pain does the problem cause?

The examples above provide clear pain points. For the repair shop that can’t find a parts store they can depend on, they suffer the pain of not being able to accurately communicate expectations to their customers, and not being able to complete repair orders fast enough to hit their daily car count or revenue numbers. For the consumer that needs a battery – without a battery they are not getting to work tomorrow so their pain is loss of income and potentially loss of their job.

This question encourages you to think beyond initial requests and to empathize more with your customers in a way that will not only help you with marketing, but also in customer communications. It can sometimes help to use the “One More Question” framework to dig in and identify the pain.

The customer needs a battery. Why?

Because her battery is dead. How does that affect her?

Her car won’t start and she has no other transportation. Where does she need to go?

She needs to go to work tomorrow. Why?

She needs to make money to be able to feed her children.

What is your solution to this problem?

Does the customer believe it solves their problem? This is important. You thinking it solves the customer’s problem isn’t enough. They need to tell you that it solved their problem.

If you’re trying to be the best parts store in town at helping the customer feel like they’re not being ripped off, they need to tell you that they feel like they can trust you.

If you want to be the best at speedy parts delivery to repair shops, the customer needs to believe that you helped them quickly.

Whatever their deeper level problem is, you need to solve it. If they don’t believe you did, they will be moving right on to the next auto parts store next time.

If you’ve made it this far – you’ve accomplished a lot – but you still don’t have a way to profit. That’s because there might be a dozen other auto parts stores near you that are marketing to the same customers, with the same problem, and they might be offering the same solution.

That leads directly to question number six…

What is different – and better – about your solution compared to other parts stores?

Whatever you’re offering has to be different in some way that’s actually important to your target market. It also should be able to be quantified.

In today’s world – the easiest way to quantify quality is with online review scores. Most customers that look online for a parts store will take a look at their reviews on at least one website, most likely Google. And they aren’t going to go somewhere that’s consistently getting trashed by former customers.

Another major way to differentiate your shop is to offer the lowest price. In fact, price is a customer’s ultimate tie-breaker. If nobody has given a customer a compelling reason to select one parts store over another, they’ll just pick the one with the lowest price or the best deals.

Consider gas stations – it’s all the same gas, so without a special reason you are likely to consistently go to the station that has the cheapest prices…and not spend money on anything else there. But, you might always go to Sheetz if you (or your kids) love the food options there. You might always go to a specific gas station because they give you a thorough window washing while you wait.

Price is not usually a good differentiator to have. For an independent auto parts store price is one of the worst differentiators you can have. That’s because you can’t make much money and still offer the lowest price unless you’re such a large company that you can do everything more cheaply than anyone else.

The good news is that there are a number of potential differentiators. But whatever differentiator you pick – make sure that it matters to customers, make sure it really matters to them.

It needs to matter so much that they’d pick your store over other parts stores even if yours is a bit more expensive. If that’s not the case – then price is the differentiator. And whether you win over price-shoppers or lose them – your bottom line is going to lose either way.

These six questions will help you do more than just market your shop. They’ll help you build a strategy for profitability. They’ll help guide you through tough decisions on specialized parts to offer, services to add and what traits matter most in new hires. Here they are one more time:

  • Who is your market?
  • How many people are in that market?
  • What is their problem?
  • What pain do customers feel as a result of that problem?
  • What solution does your store offer to the problem?
  • What is different (and better) about your solution compared to other stores?

If you don’t have these questions already answered for your store, now is the time to identify the answers.