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Community Spirit

There’s plenty of opportunity for you to boost your shop’s image, gain customer loyalty and contribute to the welfare of the community.

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Advertising is the best known way to get potential
customers familiar with your name, but beyond running ads in the
local newspaper, on cable television and in the Yellow Pages,
what can you do? Lots.

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There are thousands and thousands of repair
shops focused on fixing cars. Little surprise there. But many
are so busy pulling fenders and painting panels – and doing a
good job at it – that they don’t have time to think about their
image in the communities in which they operate, the communities
that support them.

Chances are, your advertising is doing a pretty
good job and you’ve already got a solid customer base. In fact,
you’re probably pulling in work from several surrounding areas.
But what successful business owner ever turned away new customers?
Showing your community support can bring in new customers and
strengthen the loyalty of those you already have.

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That’s the Spirit

There’s plenty of opportunity for you to boost
your shop’s image, gain customer loyalty and contribute to the
welfare of the community. Most neighbors may know you as a local
business owner, but you’re also a member of the community. So
think like one. Come up with a list of activities or sponsorships
that would appeal to you as a local resident or consider the following:

  • Depending on your location, you may want to sponsor a sports
    exhibition in your parking lot. Is roller-blading a popular activity
    for local youth? Or would people rather try their arms in a pitching
    contest? If soccer is the preferred sport, how about a skills
    relay?

If your city is the home of any professional athletic teams, try
inviting them down to add a little stardom to the day’s activities.
If the pros are willing, they could lead clinics for the attendees,
act as referees or simply sign autographs.

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If you can’t decide on one sport to sponsor, consider combining
a few. Have you ever tried playing soccer with a golf ball, shooting
three-pointers with beach balls or hitting a home run with a badminton
racquet and birdie?

  • Your location may not be conducive to a parking lot or front
    lawn full of amateur athletes and sporting equipment – but don’t
    let that stop you. Instead of sponsoring an event on your shop’s
    premises, sponsor a little-league baseball team, a peewee football
    team or a junior softball team in your area.

If you’re more of a participant than a spectator, get some employees
together and form your own sports team. You could contact your
local parks and recreation department to find out what adult leagues
it sponsors, or you could create your own league and challenge
some other local businesses.

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  • While some people will be out picnicking on Memorial Day,
    the Fourth of July and Labor Day, others will use their days off
    do those things they never have time for – like getting a wheel
    alignment or an estimate for the fender bender they were in the
    week before. Offer hot dogs, drinks and potato chips to customers
    who would otherwise be lounging in their back yards. If you can
    get your hands on some picnic tables or lawn chairs, set them
    up in a corner of the parking lot and move your waiting room outside
    for a day.

If your location offers an unobstructed sky view, consider staying
open a little later and sending out red, white and blue invitations
to those looking for a spot to view holiday fireworks.

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  • As an automotive-service provider, what could be more appropriate
    than hosting a classic-car show in your shop’s parking lot? Almost
    every town has a local car club, and members are always interested
    in showing their dream machines. Get them talking about the beauty
    and precision of their vehicles and you’ll likely have customers
    lining up for your services.

Think about including community groups in the day’s events, too.
They could set up a few tables and hand out community literature
or balloons. Those attending will remember your shop as community
conscious.

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  • Does your community hold an annual festival or parade? If
    so, participate. Consider sponsoring a booth and distributing
    information about preventative auto care or what to do if you’re
    involved in an accident. To promote your shop, hand out balloons,
    magnets or key chains imprinted with your logo. Everyone loves
    freebies.

If there’s a parade weaving through the streets, why not join
in? You could drive a classic car or a tow truck. If you’ve got
a wrecked vehicle that’s still driveable, turn your "float"
into a safety message with a couple of your technicians dressed
up like crash-test dummies.

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  • Everyone likes driving around in a clean vehicle, and many
    high-school sports teams or other youth groups will organize car
    washes to raise money. What better place to wash cars than in
    your shop’s parking lot? Community members will appreciate the
    opportunity and patronize the car wash – supporting local youth
    activities.

If your shop usually washes customer vehicles upon completion
of the repair, take the cars outside and pay for the youth group
to wash them instead. Not only will you be supporting their activity,
but your customers’ cars will be spotless.

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If you don’t usually wash vehicles after jobs are completed, let
your customers know that if they’d like to have their cars washed
before they take them home, you’ll pay for the kids to do it.

  • Any kid would enjoy sitting in the back of a real police car
    or trying on a fire fighter’s helmet and boots, and all parents
    are concerned about their children’s safety. Why not organize
    a community safety day and invite area families, the local police
    and fire departments, as well as any other groups – like a neighborhood
    watch team – focused on keeping the community safe?

Make the day educational by asking police officers to talk to
the kids about what to do when a stranger approaches them and
when and how to use 911 or other child-safety issues. If the local
police department has a canine unit, ask an officer to give a
demonstration. Firefighters could share fire-safety tips with
the kids.

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  • If the middle school or high school in your area sponsors
    a career-education day, why not participate? You could set up
    a table and hand out literature about your shop and about opportunities
    in the collision repair industry, or you could offer to give a
    presentation in a few classes. If the education day includes having
    students shadow a local business owner, sign up. How better to
    get students interested in your occupation than by letting them
    see exactly what you do?

If there’s a vocational school in your area that offers an autobody
program, invite the students and staff to your shop to show them
the day-to-day operations at a real shop. If you’ve got the time,
consider becoming part of the school’s staff. Your real-world
experience and business-owner outlook would give students another
perspective from which to learn.

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Also, consider donating used equipment, such as spray guns, parts
and computers, to the schools.

Give What You Get

One of the keys to a successful business is letting the people
in your community, the people who support your business, know
just who you are. By making your shop a well-known community supporter
– and by making quality repairs – your neighbors are more likely
to respect you and to refer new customers to your shop.

Your community contribution could be as little as offering your
facility as a site for Girl Scout cookie sales or as large as
organizing a soap-box derby with a bandstand, trophies and the
whole works. Whatever the size of your contribution, giving back
to the community that gives so much to your shop can do only good
for your business.

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Writer Melissa McGee is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

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