I’ve read dozens of articles about advertising and how to target and attract customers. Most of the ideas make sense. Things like sponsoring a little league team, a bowling team or a racecar at the local track are great ideas, as is running an ad in the church newsletter, a local “super-saver” paper or other specialty publication. Billboards, buses and other marketing techniques that target traffic can also be effective if used long enough and/or in conjunction with other media.
On the other hand, buying ad space in a major newspaper is often quite costly, and for many, even radio spots have the same cost restrictions. I’m not saying these forms of advertising don’t work. I’m simply saying they can be expensive and, in my opinion, don’t work as well as other forms. I’ve never been much of a fan of newspaper advertising. Why? Well, unless the consumer is in need of repairs right then and there – as he’s reading the paper – your shop name could easily be forgotten by the time he needs you (unless he happens to be reading your ad while driving into a tree).
Print media, especially newspapers, are something consumers likely throw away by the time the next issue arrives, so it’s sort of a one-shot deal in most instances, unless you place an ad in each edition. Offering a coupon may be somewhat better; at least they might cut it out and save it, but the chances of that happening aren’t too favorable.
I’ve spoken with sales representatives from several newspapers and they all agree on one thing: News print advertising is only effective if you do it repeatedly. Running a one-eighth page ad for 10 weeks is nearly twice as effective as running a larger, quarter page ad for five weeks. Why? Because running an ad for a longer period of time keeps your shop’s name and image fresher in the consumer’s mind. The rule of thumb for print advertising is repetition.
Recently I won some ad space in the local paper. A one-eighth page ad for four consecutive weeks. We tracked the results of this advertising for two months – two weeks before the ad ran through two weeks after it ended. The results? Two new customers as a result of this particular ad. We got more than our money’s worth from it (it was, after all, free). But after pricing the exact same ad for the same time period, we decided it simply wouldn’t be worth it if we had to pay for it.
I like the idea of sponsoring a team of some sort. Combine that with phrasing like, “giving back to our town,” and you show the public that you’re truly a part of the community and are doing your part to help out.
I know a glass installer in the Buffalo area who sponsors little league baseball and hockey teams. Is it cost effective? He cut a deal with a screen printer for the logos on the jerseys (the barter system works real well for this type of project). Not only was it tax deductible, but every parent, aunt, uncle, cousin and grandparent knows where to go when they need a windshield replaced.
And when they took the local division championship, he got free billboard space at the ballpark: “Don’s AutoGlass American’s” Div. Champs 1999. That certainly didn’t hurt business any.
Not only did he get a good return on his investment, but his sons were proud to be on a championship team named after their father (priceless, as the commercial says).
Another idea that’s been successful for many shops is distributing items like refrigerator magnets, pens, pads and other little – and relatively inexpensive – items that consumers will use and keep around for a while. Mailing refrigerator magnets with a letter of introduction and a description of your business doesn’t cost much. You can include a coupon or offer a discount, free detailing or tire rotation with the magnet.
Direct mailings like this don’t cost a lot dollar-wise, but they can be quite time consuming if you put them together yourself. Marketing firms can do this for a fee. I’ve also seen various types of advertising placed on car windshields at malls and other shopping centers. Paying local kids to put a flier on windshields costs next to nothing, but be sure this activity is permitted before sending someone out to do it.
I found out the hard way once that there’s another downside to this type of advertising. I had a friend’s kids and a few of their buddies go to the mall to put fliers on car windshields. They loved it – a nickel a flier, 200 fliers each, five kids. It cost me $50 for distribution and something near that for printing at a local print shop. I thought I was an absolute marketing genius! Imagine how I felt when some little old lady called and told me that my fliers were blowing all around the mall parking lot. I found out that many people consider this a step below junk mail. Even worse, they had utter disregard for litter laws and were taking the fliers out from under the wipers and throwing them on the ground. Not exactly good advertising to have a couple hundred fliers littering the mall parking lot.
Most of us would agree that the most cost-effective means of advertising is “word of mouth.” You really can’t put a price on satisfied, talkative customers, especially when they tell their friends, neighbors and relatives about your shop.
What gets customers talking? We used to ask customers if they preferred free door edge guards or free pinstriping. The cost of door edge guard is minimal, and the guard can be installed in less than 10 minutes. This is much the same for tape pinstriping. You’d be amazed at how happy customers are when you dress up their cars even a little bit – and how they want to show their new, improved vehicle to everyone they know.
I’ve also noticed that when a shop posts letters from clients in the waiting area or near the estimating station, potential customers almost always read them. This gives them a sense of trust that you’ll be fair to them and do good work. It may also encourage them to write and add to your collection of letters, compounding your future potential customers’ faith that they’ll get a good quality job with personal attention.
Yes, advertising can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. If done properly, a carefully conceived marketing plan can be simple, effective and inexpensive.
Writer Patrick Yurek has 22 years of industry experience and has held every conceivable position in a collision repair facility from sweeper to management. Among his credits are several PPG certifications and General Motors technical certificates. He was the president of the General Motors Service and Parts Managers Organization of Western New York until he relocated to the Charlotte, N.C. area, where he’s now the manager of the Griffin Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Toyota, Pontiac, Buick, GMC collision center in Rockingham, N.C.
There’s a huge difference between marketing and advertising. When you want new customers, you need to advertise. But customer retention is something entirely different.
Let’s assume you’ve completely satisfied the customer’s expectations. But how do you ensure the customer will remember you? Small, giveaway items can help keep your shop fresh in a customer’s mind – and advertise for you at the same time. Items such as pens, pads and calendars are the typical fare. Personally, I don’t like pens because they usually run out of ink or are lost long before your services are needed again. The same goes for pads. Calendars, too, have a limited lifespan, and they really lose their effectiveness if they’re given away in August to November.
While thinking about these drawbacks, I came up with a great idea: customized coffee cups. Think about it. How many people do you know who don’t drink coffee or tea on a daily basis? (I think I know three, and they’re never very alert.) And coffee cups last a few years with normal use. I know I’ve got a few that are at least six years old.
Custom printing on the mugs isn’t all that expensive either. You can probably find a deal where you can get a nice mug with your logo or slogan for less than $3 each. “Patrick’s Professional Paint and Autobody” on one side and “Thank you” on the other. Not only will the customer subconsciously read your ad once a week or so, but so will his friends when they drop by.
Be sure to choose a classy design so the customer isn’t embarrassed to use it. In fact, give out two cups per customer. It’ll still cost you less than $10. How can you beat that?