The Challenge of Retaining Orphan Owners


By Howard Leavitt

Orphan owners tend to fall off the radar for most dealerships and manufacturers. GM just started a program to try to recapture customers who own brands that are no longer produced. Dealers and manufacturers should seek to reap the rewards of not just the sale of the first car but of owner retention, the sale of the second car, the gaining of referrals. Retaining owners as loyal customers is a dealer’s best investment in their business, yet many dealers seem to think the investment in time and effort isn’t worth it. Those dealers are wrong in that assumption.

What is the problem that is standing in the way at the dealership, and what can be done to solve it?

One major issue facing today’s dealerships is sales person turnover rate. When you lose a sales person you effectively lose the connection to the owner. That is, unless you engage your staff and implement a process that can help you overcome this problem.

Do you have a process in place for reassigning orphan owners to a new sales person? Do you have management involved in the process to make sure that personal relationships between your service and sales personnel are established with the newly assign owners? If you don’t then your chance of retaining your client base will disappear over time.

Many dealerships send out email blasts, newsletters, or direct mail, assuming that is the most effective way of maintaining a relationship with orphaned owners that and will lead to retention. Do you measure the results of those efforts? If you do, you will find the return to be very low. These marketing efforts are only one part of the process of maintaining and building relationships with your existing customers. Some dealerships have events and invite their customer base to attend. Perhaps it is an off road event, service clinic or just a get together. Those events will likely enhance loyalty, but that strategy is only part of a systematic process to boost owner retention.

All ideas are welcome but in the end the most important aspect of maintaining your customer base through owner retention is enhancing the relationship between an individual on your sales staff and the customer. That is the hardest part, getting your staff to be engaged with your client base. How can we make it easier? Make it part of your culture.

You must create the atmosphere for your employees to be proactive. Ensure that your sales staff are on the same page in your commitment to taking care of all your clients so that if someone on your staff leaves, those relationships are not severed. Once you have the process in place and have effectively created a culture that nurtures customer relationships, it can be simple to follow. You will find that maintaining and enhancing your relationship with existing customers is an easy way to boost profits. It’s another way for dealers to get the most out of your dealership’s greatest asset—your customers.

Howard Leavitt is President of AutoRaptor CRM and can be reached at



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