If you’ve read the last two articles (October ’98, page 70, and December ’98, page 79), you now have a feel for what I’m writing about. The automotive services industry has one of the most captive audiences in the world. All we have to do, in unison, is introduce the public to our new profit center: us.
If you haven’t read the last two articles, shame on you. Grab your October and December issues now or look for the articles on BodyShop Business’ Web site (www.bodyshopbusiness.com).
In the meantime, I’ll recap the main points of the series:
Those who are constantly interested in learning new ways to produce more profit without incurring new debt can now do so by getting paid for their automotive expertise. This is accomplished by doing what some automobile professionals are presently doing — charging a fee for providing information. This information service is generated through your past, existing and new clients who know — or will soon know — you’re in business to help them with your mind, as well as with your hands. In my last article, I truthfully stated that anyone with a driver’s license is a potential client — a statement that’s been proven accurate thousands of times by my own company’s experience.
The information you provide is answers about automobiles, trucks, motorcycles and custom vans — in short, just about anything with wheels. If you don’t believe the information you’ve accumulated through years of experience in this field is valuable, it won’t be. But believe me, your "smart" competitor will, and he’ll charge not only his clients but maybe some of yours. So get with it. You can still be a nice guy and provide helpful automotive tips. But when it takes some thought and documentation, get paid. Period.
Still Not Convinced?
It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people in the United States need — and will pay for — your automotive expertise on a daily basis. Did this happen overnight? No, but the need for your services are higher now than in all of history. The problem is that only a few hundred "professionals" in our industry are charging for their knowledge — something that’s about to change for forward-looking automotive professionals like you. My company and many industry volunteers have already incurred the time and money to inform the world of our intent to unite, get paid and track our collective success by offering you the Internet Web site (www.autoarchives.com).
With this Web site established, everyone can place the address on their business cards, envelopes, letterhead and Yellow Pages ads because the site is jointly owned by the professionals who want to get paid for their knowledge. This is one of the Internet’s most popular sites for the general automotive public, receiving hundreds of visits each day. It provides general information in an entertaining format but, most importantly, it’s the site for companies, accountants, lawyers, local and national car/truck clubs and many more who want — and will pay for — your knowledge services. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there for you to do so. And the more who do use it, the more the word spreads that your establishment offers its expertise to the general public. It’s like having a huge billboard seen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As I mentioned in the previous two articles, I’ve done much more than simply provide a Web site. I’ve been marketing this service — your service — to every car/truck club, company, profession and automotive interest I could find during the last decade. Even the news media helps carry the message each week in our syndicated automotive "Question & Answer" column. The time is now. Just imagine if only 10 percent of our industry joins together and offers this knowledge service. That 10 percent is thousands of professional automotive service shop owners who’ll spread the word to hundreds of thousands of clients who’ll then tell thousands more that our industry has done something for itself — that it’s evolved into a profession, one that seeks and will be paid for hard-earned expertise.
Become an Appraiser
So how do you go about charging for knowledge? In the previous article, I wrote about a press release and follow-ups, but the first place to start is in your mind. Try to think of all the people who know more about automobiles than yourself. Does your accountant or your lawyer? Your insurance agent or your stockbroker? Your customers or your neighbors? Did they learn the hard way, over years of eating, sleeping and working in the auto industry? No. Not only do they lack your experience but also your knowledge of how to find valuable information about automobiles. It’s been said, "A fool knows all, tells all, yet the master contemplates and often does study before providing advice." You are the master. Now earn the respect and income a master deserves.
As I mentioned in the last article, the words, "How much is it worth?" are your ticket to the highest net profit center you can ever imagine. Think of yourself as an automotive financial expert because it’s true: You are an expert. When your clients and referrals need advice on any one of the items seen on the spreadsheet, they’re about to or have already spent money. When you provide them with the information they need, they’re already in a spending train of thought. This isn’t a dirty or sneaky concept. If you don’t charge them, someone else will. Or, at the very worst, you won’t charge them and they may listen to their pal at the office who thinks he’s the auto expert. The result: Your client ends up with bad information. Do your client a favor. Charge him because you and your expertise are worth it.
Getting back to the spread sheet, you should notice a trend in events when tracking an automobile’s life. Almost every event leaves a paper trail; this is where your expertise can be capitalized on. Become a part of the paper trail. In fact, become the master of the paper trail. Become an automotive appraiser.
This concept and proven method is quite easy for the automotive professional. Now, more than ever, when someone is looking at buying, selling, insuring, trading, restoring, customizing, etc., a written appraisal is needed and, in many cases, required. You’re the one who should be the appraiser. It doesn’t take much other than your company letterhead and an inspection of the client’s vehicle. My company has used the same form on thousands of vehicles, but you can make your own. Just remember important data such as the client’s name and address; the date of inspection; the make, model and identification number of the vehicle; and the vehicle’s mileage and condition (dings, dents and other bad or good things). The form I use is time tested and keeps procedures consistent. If you’re interested, I can provide a copy for the cost of mailing.
Once you have the data together, it should be typed or put through a word processor to make it look professional (hand written just doesn’t get it anymore). The completed form should look like a professional proposal to enhance your image and should look worthy of what you’ll charge them. (Our average fee is $150.) My company uses a Microsoft Word program that we’ve tailored that looks professional, but you or a local sub-contractor can do the same for just a few dollars.
Next are photos. Written documentation without photos is like a car without fuel: It won’t get you anywhere, especially in the field of professionalism. Nothing fancy is needed here, just get a good photo of the front, both sides, rear and interior, if possible. Then date the photos by hand or use the automatic date feature on newer cameras. Be sure the date coincides with the date of the inspection. This is a legally accepted procedure and, once again, will show you know what you’re doing. For the final part of an appraisal to be complete, include a small summary on the vehicle’s overall condition, how it’s been maintained and any other documentation the owner may have provided.
At this point, a fair market value should be placed on the vehicle, which isn’t difficult to come up with. To get the equation, simply go back to the second article in this series. (Average market value [which can be found in numerous car price guides] + appreciable items [such as a new paint job or engine work] – depreciable items [such as dents, rust or excessive mileage] = fair market value.)
We also use and recommend to our trained appraisers that a disclosure statement be made part of the report. What this essentially does is state that the information used to prepare the appraisal document (given by the owner of the vehicle or his representative) is accurate and true to the best of their knowledge. This disclosure is very important and really helps keep things on the up and up.
Just Do It
For starters and for confidence, get 50 business cards printed with your company name, your existing services and your appraisal services — and don’t forget that Web address. Then go to a couple of local car shows and hand out the cards. Talk to the car owners about their paint jobs, engines, interiors and how much blood, sweat and tears they have in their "babies." They’ll love you for it and will become some of your strongest advocates not only for your appraisal service but for your existing services as well. Everyone we teach the appraisal profession to must do this as a part of their education. The confidence and business you get from these first steps goes well into building long-term relationships and referrals.
Once you hit the local car shows, visit the people working in parts stores and performance shops. They’re car, truck and custom folks and are very good sources of business. Hand a card to everyone — just like you did when you first went into the collision repair business.
It will work, and it will work well. As for the money, don’t expect to get rich overnight but do expect to make the same or better net profit enjoyed by the most successful businesses in the world. Why? Once again, think about it. You’re charging for "intellectual property," some paperwork and a few photos. If you, like us, charge an average fee of $150, expect to net about $100 after you get some experience behind you. Let’s put that in perspective with repairing a car. If a $2,000 repair job comes in, will you — after parts, labor, materials and miscellaneous — earn more than $1,300 in net profit? Maybe once in a blue moon, but with the appraisal service, we’re talking about a consistent home run with nowhere near the headaches.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job … Yet
Once you’ve established yourself in your market as an appraiser, you’ll find many automotive markets open to you. For example, the appraisers we’ve trained inspect antique cars, classic cars, custom cars, street rods, show cars, kit cars, prototypes, dragsters, racers, funny cars, rare models, low-mileage vehicles, estate vehicles, and vehicles in divorce settlements and bankruptcy cases. In the last few years, with fraud and theft reduction becoming more prevalent, many insurance companies are asking that vehicles five years and older be appraised for their pre-insured condition in an effort to reduce "past" damage claims. The insurance agents that insure these vehicles can’t ethically inspect them, which means thousands of agents who write hundreds of thousands of insurance policies are looking for your expertise. Add this to the popularity of leased vehicles; many of these cars are coming back off the term of their leases, and the leasees and leasors are in need of determining a fair market value. As an authority on cars, you’re in the best position to service those needs.
Keep in mind, this is an add-on or complementary profit center for your existing services. Yes, there are professional appraisers who do this and only this while making a very good living. And, yes, we’ve taught shop owners this who’ve sold their existing shops to do appraising full time — and they’re quite successful. But that’s not what we’re advocating. Sure, it’s an excellent option if you’re ready to sell out, but when you add becoming an appraiser to your facility, you’ll attract more volume to your existing services and see more money in the bank. This alone may help you decide to hang in there.
The final decision is yours. Becoming an automotive authority in your market brings more than just good money. There’s a great feeling of finally getting the respect deserved for your professional and intellectual opinion. And isn’t this what you’ve wanted all along — respect and its just rewards?
Writer John David Lake has 25 years of industry experience and travels the world teaching the art of appraising. He’s also the owner of a third-generation automotive facility in Maryland. Call him at (800) 956-LAKE or e-mail ([email protected]).