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Do Your Customers Qualify?


If you’ve been following along the past couple years, you know that when I say qualify, I’m referring to the act of “qualifying” your potential customer.

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First and foremost, can they afford to pay for the work and the parts you will provide. The best test for this is to require a deposit. A down stroke. The front money. No matter what you call it, it is a necessity.

If your client can’t afford approximately 50 percent of the job up front, what makes you think they will be able to pay twice as much a day, a week or even a month latter? In this down economy, it can take very little to happen for the average person to find they don’t have the money available that they might have thought they had. Or worse, they may not even have the job they had yesterday.


Don’t put yourself in any position to have to carry a customer’s burden. It was their lack of maintenance, their desire to go racing or their desire to restore their high school ride that brought them to you in the first place. Not yours.

Two other great things happen when you get a good deal of money up front. First, the customer is a lot more likely to get down to your place of business to pickup their job if they are vested in it financially. Second, once you’ve negotiated a price on parts and labor, and money has exchanged hands, the deal is sealed.


Your customer has turned it over to you and released themselves of the burden. Now, it becomes anticipation for the job to be completed. If the deal is still open, the customer is a lot more likely to become a shopper. They are now in the “power” position. You’ve done the work, but they have the money. No transaction is complete until you’ve turned this around.

But we also need to qualify more than just the customer. Let’s take a close look at the job. Hopefully, you are not being asked to do something you know is wrong. Or, as is so common today, only a portion of the job that you know needs to be done to fix the problem correctly.


Yes money is tight. But no one wants to do the job a second time. It is your job to remind the customer of this. This is for your own protection as well. Somehow, it seems, when that corner is cut it is not the person who chose for the work to be excluded who takes fault. Oh no my friends, it somehow becomes a comeback for the shop.

You know what I mean. You find yourself in that position known as customer satisfaction. If the customer is a regular bill paying client, you’re going to bend. You’re going to put other good paying jobs aside to fit this comeback in and get the past job, the one where you allowed the customer to talk you into cutting corners, out of your life. As much as possible, you should try not to go down this path.


Now you say, “Great advice, Dave, but these are the customers and the jobs that seem to come my way. What can I do about that?” This is a little trickier. A little more work. But it will pay dividends in your future. If you qualify your jobs and now you find you have no jobs, maybe we should upgrade.

Upgrade our customer base that is. I am lucky enough to get to meet all kinds of shop owners, employees and business people. All different, but all seeking the same common goal. That is, to produce a profit at the end of the day. Let’s face it, that is the bottom line – profit.


If our customers are unable to afford us, than we need to trade them in for customers who can. There are all levels to the food chain. Why fish for the bottom feeders?

Now I said this may not be easy. But if your business specializes in the so called “Claimer” engine, you have drastically limited your potential. The nature of the beast is “cheap.” Who would put any money into an engine that might be claimed.

Every part, every machine operation is looked at through eyes that measure the job by one single but all telling word, “Claimed.” Many shops have joined the performance band wagon over the years. But they have not all been successful at it. If you don’t have a reputation for building winners or engines that live and finish, you may only attract the entry level crowd.


Your cylinder head business can be limited by much the same thing. If you cater to fast service, quick turn around repair shops, you might never grind a valve or seat. Your day could be filled with pressure checking and surfacing. This may or may not be what you want.

But either way, there is more money to be made providing these services to high end import repair shops catering to lawyers driving Beemers and Mercs, than the turn’em and burn’em shops fixing mini vans for soccer moms. The truth is, the amount of work provided may be the exact same. But a BMW head can command a higher price tag, and a higher repair bill than a seven year old GM V6. Simple economics.


I hear the same stories from shops who have the equipment to handle the large heavy duty and agriculture engines. They are able to make a much higher hourly rate on those heads, cranks and blocks, than they do on late model domestics or even race motors. Again, I didn’t say it would be easy. I recognize that we need the right equipment to attract these customers.

You know what they say about the rewards of a higher education. Here is your chance to apply the desire of someone else for affluence to your advantage. Move up the customer food chain. Ever notice that many popular name brand products are sold at both the discount department store and the major name retailers?


And you know they are not selling for the same price. So how are these retailers able to charge more? They target a different customer. A customer who’s main priority is not price. They are seeking expertise, diversity and a certain atmosphere for their shopping experience.

Again, not always easy, but maybe it’s time to upgrade your establishment. Does the place still look like it did in 1974? Have you been tripping and dodging the same cores and unpicked-up jobs for the past 15 years? Clean house. Here is my test. Would you feel comfortable sending your wife, daughter or for some of you, mother, to this establishment to do business? How comfortable would the reader of The Robb Report be in your place while he waited to speak with you?


And what would he see in the proprietor and employees? Crisp clean uniforms or torn jeans and a strip club T-shirt? A clean shaven entrepreneur? Or the leader of the local chapter of the Angels? Try very hard to see things from the customer’s eyes.

Does this place radiate confidence and expertise? Or dirty, low-quality “cheap” work? The choice is yours. Work in a grease pit, or present a nice comfortable price for customers of a higher caliber will gladly come and pay for the entire experience.

Yes, the entire experience. Because a professional attitude and a nicer environment is not all we’re providing. That would be smoke and mirrors. People pay for experience and reputation. Are all your education and training plaques clearly visible to those who enter your place? And what about reputation? How is your standing in the community? If your competitor could not perform a particular job, are you the shop he’d most likely refer that customer to?


People pay more to the recognized authority. A friend recently told me he would rather be thought of as an authority, not the expert. The authority never stops learning. What are you doing so well that you might be recognized as “the authority?”

Engine Builder Magazine