Don't Let Your First Impression Be Your Last Impression

Written By: STEVE HALL
POSTED ON June 24, 2021

Think back to the first time that you met someone new. How did you initially judge them? I will bet the very first judgment would have been on appearance. Most of us can’t help it, it's just human nature. Once you take the time to get to know somebody, we often change from judging them from their appearance to judging them by their personality. This is a much better way to build a relationship. Unfortunately, too often we don't make it past the initial appearance judgement and never give ourselves the chance to get to know the individual and their true personality.

Customers judge businesses the same way. Before they get to know you as the business that you truly are, they judge you by the appearance of your lot, facility, and product. This judgement could be from driving by at highway speeds from several hundred yards away, it could be from driving by in front of the dealership at city speeds, or it could be where they've pulled into your lot and are making their initial walk through your inventory. So, if physical appearance plays such an important role on how people initially perceive anything that is new to them, what thought have you put into your appearance?

Summertime is here, warm weather and sunshine abound in most places. COVID restrictions have been lifted, or at the very least eased, and people are out shopping in person again. They are excited to get offline and interact with people and products. With this shift in consumer behavior comes an opportunity for us to capitalize on. So, it’s time to take a critical look at our appearance and see if we can make their first judgement a positive one.

I fully understand that low inventory levels are making lot display very difficult, but it’s not only about new vehicles. We must think about what else can we control:

  • Minimize the bare shelf effect. Don’t limit yourself to where you have traditionally positioned new vehicles, certified pre-owned, used vehicles. Current demos need to be on the display lot during the day to help supplement numbers, rather than parked in the traditional manager’s parking spot. Change up and intermix inventory as necessary to show you have something for sale. Even consider placing service loaners and completed service vehicles towards the front of the service department rather than out back, just to give an increased perception of activity.
  • Utilize signage on the lot to help customers know there is incoming inventory. Direct them to inquire on how to reserve their desired incoming vehicle. I was at a dealership recently, and they were having a great sales month but there was no inventory setting on the lot. They were just selling units prior to arrival. Customers driving through may not realize you have inventory coming, since they are used to seeing everything parked on the lot. You must inform them that they can purchase prior to arrival. Business is different right now.
  • Display your inventory at its best. Are the vehicles that are on display “standing tall”? Have they been freshly washed, do they shine like a new dime, are they “dressed for a date”? Just as great pictures drive online customers, once they arrive, we must have the vehicles looking as good in real life as they did online.
  • What does your landscaping look like? Are the bushes trimmed? Is there grass growing in the hardscape? Are there old balloon strings hanging from your fencing and gates? Is there trash blowing around the lot? Is the fence damaged from a snowplow and has never been fixed? Though many of these are subtle things, they still give the perception that we are not as precise as we want to convey.
  • Resurface your lot. Have you been putting off resurfacing your lot “because it’s such a hassle moving all the inventory”? If that’s been the thought for the past few years, you are in luck and now is a great time to fix up and freshen up the surface!

Last year, I was talking to a dealer about lot appearance. He said “you know how some lots just look better than others? It’s kind of imperceptible, but when you drive up it just feels different and you don’t really know why.” He went on to explain that it is the little things that go unnoticed until you pay close attention. We just get blind to them in our daily routine. We all know the feeling, and so do our customers.

Since our lot is unfamiliar to our customers, they pay close attention when they arrive. They judge everything around them, including many things that we may have overlooked or have grown blind to. Competition is fierce and even a slight advantage in a customer’s initial judgement can be the difference in gaining a customer or losing one. We must take a hard look through the eyes of a customer and upgrade the initial impression we make with them. Whether you have lots of inventory, the ideal amount of inventory, or virtually no inventory, we should have a plan to still make the best first impression possible. Take the time and effort to make that great first impression!