“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers
 
What great words to begin this article. Simply put, if you are not adapting to the huge “Echo Boomers” of people born between in the early 1980s and the early ’00s, you are at risk of being run over. Or possibly scarier is that you may be setting up your kids for disaster, which as a dad is something none of us wishes to contemplate.
 
There are about 83 million millennials according to the census, as compared to about 75 million boomers in total. And, their ranks are much more diverse in many, many ways. Ignore this at your own risk!
 
A few details about the so-called millennials:
 
1. They are also known as Generation Y, “Generation ME!” the “Participation Trophy Generation” and a host of more negative titles.
 
2. By 2020 they will represent 50% or more of the workforce (yes, all of us who are boomers NEED them to be successful to cover our Social Security checks!).
 
3. Many have never been alive when there wasn’t an internet, PCs, cellphones, etc. I yanked out one of my old calculators the other day and my one son replied by suggesting I put it on the internet as an antique. You may remember them, small with rounded impossible orange buttons and a display so bad that you just prayed you weren’t in the sun. There were four activation buttons; plus, minus, divide and multiply, and the goofy thing was like $20.
 
4. For many, they got out of high school and went straight to a quickly contracting workforce. Then, for those in tech school and/or college, they graduated into a continuing shortage of jobs, lower wages for middle management where it existed and often a mountain of debt that lingers to this day.
 
5. Their war is in the Middle East as compared to those of us in the Vietnam era.
 
6. According to surveys, about half do not plan on children as a result of later marriages, debt and living arrangements.
 
7. About a third live with their parents.
 
8. This group loves to travel and experience new things.
 
9. They work best, it seems, collaboratively and not in a “silo” business arrangement on their own.
 
This list could go on, but I suspect you get the idea. We are dealing with a generation of people who will be buying and repairing most of the vehicles (and lots of those are SUVs) in very short order. As those of us in the boomer group get old, leave earth or simply drive less (people in retirement average about half the normal driving miles), we will play a smaller and smaller role while our kids take our place. Trouble is, this new group must be approached very differently than we were.
 
For the next few minutes we’ll look at some basic strategies for shops to begin employing or improving to position themselves for a prosperous and profitable future.
 
“The road to success is always under construction.” – Lily Tomlin
 
In my typical style, we’ll attack this subject in summary format. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at ideas others have used and implemented with success in attracting the millennial customer:
 
• Work/life balance is critical to this group. Where boomers tended to do whatever it took to get ahead, millennials, at least for now, place a high value on time away to travel or engage in other pursuits. Show this group how you are able to help them achieve this goal and you’ll come out the winner. Near an industrial park or office park? Offer to pick up and drop vehicles at their workplace for service. Provide shuttles as needed to the office. Be creative given your circumstances and target population and look for opportunities to service vehicles while they would typically be parked anyway. Save the customer time for more enjoyable pursuits and simplify their lives and it will go a long way toward attracting this customer.
 
• If your goal is to attract the millennial initially, you MUST HAVE A SOCIAL MEDIA AND WEB PRESENCE. Remember, this group has never lived without computers and the internet buzzing around them 24/7. They live on their laptops, tablets and phones. Being connected is critical. It is how they communicate, work, buy travel tickets, groceries, you name it. As a result, they rely on and use social media as a source of identification, referral and information about you. The basement rate website won’t cut it here. Take a few minutes and look at Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest and see what other businesses offer. The pros call it a fully interactive experience. A confession here. We had what I thought was an awesome website. Spent a ton. Then I found out that a website must be “scalable.” In other words, our nifty website looked great on a full screen, but did not fit smaller formats like tablets, the cellphones and all the rest. Bummer, $8,000 down the drain as far as attracting millennials. We will be writing more on this subject later in the year, but suffice it to say that you need to get a pro in on this one. Your nephew or niece in high school doesn’t count.
 
• While we are on the subject of technology, given the propensity of this group toward self-identification and desire to share everything with the world (this is reality, not sarcasm), one shop professional actually has customers pose with their vehicles after a major service and takes their digital photos. Then he prints up the photo adding a little Photoshop to include a name, etc., and plasters a bulletin board with the photos. He updates the board as need be, but no less than every couple of weeks. People love it! And he offers to take a “selfie” with the customer’s camera if they wish. He tells me about 75% of the customers will ask for the selfie.
 
• Like skeptical boomers on steroids, there is no hard or fast sell to millennials in general. They want and need to understand things, feel as though they have adequate information to make a wise decision. As a result, it is mission critical to provide learning materials along the way. As one shop owner shared, it isn’t enough to hit the waiting room and announce to someone that they need calipers, for example, and walk out with the job. Instead, he keeps a series of three-ring binders handy with illustrations, and takes the time to introduce the issues and result of not performing the work in words and pictures. At the end he’ll ask whether the shop should move ahead. His acceptance rate nears 100%, but it takes time and a consultative rather than sales approach. As a benefit, the owner reports a reduction in comebacks and a higher margin as the result of a better, more complete job the first time.
 
Talk to your part suppliers and hunt the internet and you’ll find the materials you need. Incidentally, the binders this person uses were assembled by a couple of students in a local high school auto program with the blessing of their teacher. As always, creativity saves money and work.
 
• Unlike boomers who tended to prize loyalty to brand and service suppliers, the millennials are a skeptical bunch. They hold no allegiances to brands, and often not to their service providers. As a result from discussions with many shops, you must ALWAYS be working hard to win and keep your customers. Word of mouth is king with this group. Keep one person happy, others will follow. Get someone mad, and you will be surprised how many people they text, tell, Facebook and network with who will never come to your shop based on a stranger’s opinion.
 
• Finally, if you really work to impress, you’ll find it to your advantage to heavily personalize the experience millennials have with your shop. Things like remembering names (even if you must use a shop management system and license plate numbers), offering the one-cup specialty coffees in a very clean and modern waiting area that includes free WiFi and many electrical outlets to plug in the now infamous wall wart charger cords. Hang a quality television with a wide selection of viewing. Offer fresh fruits, muffins, bagels and the like with a selection of toppings. As I have shared before, lose the calendars if not made for G audiences. This is a subject we’ll cover in greater depth soon. In the meantime start engaging the creativity of your team (many I suspect are millennials) and, as they like to say, begin “spit balling” your ideas!
 
Summarizing all of this means understanding that this new generation is looking for an experience, not a sale. Facts, not hyperbole. Learning, not blind faith. Attention not simply ignoring them. And, you MUST have a social media/mobile presence that is kept fresh and monitored constantly.
 
You ignore this group at your own peril. They will be quickly taking over as a much larger economic force than the boomers, who are inching towards retirement, with some already there. And this change will be swift, according to the numbers. It is likely to happen by the end of the decade. If you plan to retire in the next 10 years and have no desire to sell your shop, sell it to a key employee or pass along to a family member, maybe you do nothing. It is my suggestion you move with this tide and begin positioning yourself and your business right now.