Merchant: Meineke Car Care Centers, Inc.
Size: 900+ Service Centers
Platform: Full Slate
Bottom Line: Consumer demand is a major driver behind the push for national brands to adopt new hyperlocal platforms.
As consumers get more comfortable going online to book appointments and services, companies nationwide are rushing to keep up with demand. For larger businesses with multiple locations, however, instituting an online scheduling system isn’t always a cut and dry process. Minor hiccups can create major headaches when they’re effecting hundreds of franchise locations, and point-of-sale systems have to be integrated to make online scheduling work across the board.
Rather than jumping in head first, Meineke Car Care Centers has taken a measured approach to online appointment scheduling. The company partnered with Full Slate and launched a pilot program at 30 Meineke locations in October 2011. “We had many discussions with our franchisees. They had been wanting this for a while. We made the decision to start the Full Slate program as a test, initially,” said Melissa Whiteside, marketing communications manager at Meineke.
Five franchisees representing 30 Meineke centers tested out Full Slate’s program for six months in late 2011 and early 2012. During that time, Meineke invested nothing in advertising the pilot, beyond adding an icon to its website. “If a customer went on to Meineke.com and went to our center locator page, they would type in their city and ZIP code, [and] it would populate with a list of centers that were closest to them. They [would see] an online appointment scheduling icon there. That was really the only form of advertising we did,” said Whiteside.
Despite the lack of promotion, Meineke saw immediate results. During the six-month pilot, more than 50% of customers who booked online were new to Meineke, and those customers were spending more per appointment than customers who booked by phone. “In our industry we call it ‘average repair order,’” said Whiteside. “Their average repair order was increasingly higher than the chain average.”
The results prompted Meineke to offer Full Slate’s online scheduling platform as an opt-in program for franchisees nationwide in April 2012. More than 150 centers (out of Meineke’s 900+) opted-in to the program during this phase, although the roll out was not without its hiccups. “There was a learning curve when we first integrated the system, just in training the dealers on how to properly use it,” said Whiteside. “One of the reasons why we didn’t have as much participation in the opt-in program was because the franchisees really wanted the Full Slate calendar to be integrated with their POS system. That way they would have the capability of accessing the Full Slate calendar through that system.”
Now that those kinks have been worked out, Meineke is switching from an opt-in program to an opt-out. “We’ve seen great results since March,” said Whiteside. “It’s all about convenience. We’re seeing great numbers in our sales, we’re seeing a growth in that and we still haven’t even started nationally advertising it yet.”
Whiteside and her team are still in the process of training individual franchisees on how to use the scheduling system, trying to make sure everyone is prepared before Meineke starts advertising the platform nationally later this year. “We’re letting them know, we’re going to give you a couple months to get used to the system. You’re going to be averaging about five appointments a week, and within a couple of months we’re going to start nationally advertising that Meineke takes online appointments … therefore, your average online appointments will probably go up.”
Meineke is encouraging dealers to participate by updating their voicemail systems to include information about online scheduling when people call after hours, and having the online scheduling URL printed on their business cards. “The fact that the follow-up messaging to online appointment customers is already done for dealers on the consumer end, and appointment alert notifications are sent to the dealer, provides the dealers with more opportune time to focus on other areas of their businesses,” said Whiteside. “We’ve seen great results. The sales from online appointment customers are increasing, and we’re seeing new consumers coming in. Providing convenience to both the dealers and the consumer is an important factor to the success of our online scheduling program with Full Slate.”
Online scheduling platforms can actually become a tool for customer acquisition when they’re utilized by service-industry businesses. Since Meineke first began rolling out online scheduling in late 2011, the company has noticed an uptick in business at participating dealers. The company has also found that customers who book their appointments online tend to spend more, on average, then those who book by phone. By partnering on the project with Full Slate, rather than attempting to develop their own scheduling software from scratch, Meineke was able to decrease the burden on their own technical team, as well as individual franchisees.
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.