It seems that everyone has their own package deal these days. Whether it’s a two-for-one offer on frozen dinners or cash back allowances on a new car, the multitude of price-based discounts has generated an environment that focuses on cost as the key purchasing factor. And while you can decide for yourself how that’s affected grocery markets and car dealerships, Bill Ferguson, president of Ferguson Automotive Equipment, offers what might be a contrasting viewpoint when it comes to his business.
“The pendulum is swinging backward,” he states. “The equipment market is wide-open because although pricing is being driven downward by lower-quality products, these products have no service commitment backing them up.
"We’ve found that people are willing to pay more for a higher-quality unit when it’s supported by great service. After all, it’s easier to pay for something you like and are satisfied with.” Although that sounds great, Ferguson’s results show that the company doesn’t just sing it, they bring it, too.
Located in Baltimore and founded in 1946 by George Ferguson, the company has been a full-line automotive equipment distributor for 60 years. The consummate salesperson, the founding Ferguson initially sold tires as well, but the company now focuses exclusively on equipment, handling everything from air compressors and battery chargers to lifts and fluid exchangers for shops within a 75-mile radius. “We offer everything from A to Z,” states Bill Ferguson. “This allows us to grow and expand with our customers.”
Back Up Plan
With Bill’s son Andrew handling duties as executive vice president, the family-owned company moves into its third generation of Fergusons with the same primary focus – service. In the equipment realm this doesn’t just mean taking care of the customer, but also investing time and resources into understanding how to maintain the equipment being sold.
“It’s important to us that we service everything we sell,” states Rich Schildtknecht, a former technician who’s been with Ferguson for 31 years. “So we have a dedicated service department that delivers, installs and demonstrates new equipment, as well as a Tech Truck that can repair equipment in the field or pick it up for further diagnosis back at our place.”
Bob Derr pilots the Tech Truck in selling, servicing, installing and even giving instruction on equipment for Ferguson customers. His presence alone aids in follow-up sales that result from him simply being in the shop.
“But in order to provide this kind of service, we have to spend time at the right service schools and stay up-to-date with the changes in equipment technology, which we do,” states Schildtknecht.
Derr adds, “At the end of the day, we know this equipment and how to use it, which allows us to provide a higher level of service. The advantage of working with us is the ability to tap into all that knowledge and expertise. Basically, when people buy from us, we come with it.”
Although having Derr on the street as a subject-matter expert plays a large role in retaining current customers and attracting new ones, Ferguson points to some additional practices that have helped throughout the years.
“We try to add a personal touch,” he explains. “When someone calls, they talk to a real person, which can be anybody in the office, including me. We also understand that different people require different approaches, and we try to accommodate any request. We’re really bad at saying no,” he adds with a smile.
Some Things Have Changed
“I would say that about 70 percent of a sale has to do with if a product is new, and whether or not a demonstration can be conducted,” states Schildtknecht. “That’s why product knowledge and serviceability is such a big deal to us, and a by-product of these things has been customers essentially buying what we recommend. They trust us because they know we’re only going to sell and service a product that we believe in.”
Although Ferguson will fill nearly any equipment request, they site lifts from Mohawk, Coats, Forward and Accu among their core offerings. They’ve also provided RTI Technologies and Hennessey Industries equipment right from the start, along with Corghi tire changers. “In addition to being able to service what we sell, we also look at things like durability, fit, finish, construction and other product quality dynamics in deciding what we’ll sell,” explains Schildtknecht.
Although most sales come from repeat business, the company also takes several pro-active measures in selling new products and services. They include:
- Suggesting the replacement of 20+-year-old lifts, due to vehicle designs that now place more weight up front.
- Selling preventative maintenance on lifts, which includes checking the cables and hydraulics. “We sell 300 – 400 lifts a year, so it’s big business for us,” states Ferguson. “But we only sell ALI and ETL-approved units.”
- Producing fliers and catalogs that are sent to area shops.
- Reminding shops of Maryland’s state inspection specifications, for which they sell the necessary equipment in performing these services.
- Helping shops determine their need and what they can afford in meeting that need.
- Working with warehouse distributor Integrated Supply Network (ISN of Baltimore) to fill any inventory gaps.
- Free trial periods before deciding whether or not to purchase. These units rarely come back to Ferguson.
- Partnering with mobile dealers to install or service equipment, even if it wasn’t bought from Ferguson, although they will sell to this group as well.
- Staying in touch with changes taking place in the market by working with a local tech school and other automotive organizations.
Notice that none of these approaches address discounting a price or making a deal. Countless distributors will tell you that service will almost always overcome price objections, regardless of what’s being sold.
The key is making sure that you stand behind what you’re selling, believe in its usefulness and won’t forget about it once the transaction is complete. Basically, just like Ferguson, the sale needs to include … you.