They’re women, hear them roar, gripe and complain as they drive off, never to return again – unless you learn how to market to them, make a good first impression and treat them right.
Women. You can’t live with ’em, and you’ll lose business without ’em. Recent surveys indicate that women influence 70 percent of all consumer spending, including the purchase of cars and related repairs. That amounts to $6 trillion annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, it makes good sense to include them in your marketing strategy.
How? There are many ways, including newspaper ads and television commercials. Even something as small as your phone book listing can be tailored to appeal to women. For example, why not include your picture in your phone book ad? A woman will always feel more at ease dealing with someone she recognizes. She doesn’t have to know you, just recognize you. Have you ever noticed phone book ads for lawyers and real estate agents? They almost always have their picture included. I’ve done this in the past and it really does work.
But not all promotion is as easy as placing an ad. Because most women don’t like to feel pressured, you’ll need to use different methods to attract the female side of the population to your shop.
Marketing to Women
Here are a few things you can do to market your shop to the female half of the population:
- Get involved/sponsor something – With all the fund raising activities I’ve been involved with – be it the Boy Scouts, my church or high school sports – it seems the driving force behind it all has been a select group of women.
Get your shop name in the public eye by sponsoring a team or buying advertising at your local ice arena. I find that more women than men attend their child’s functions. I also find that women will remember that they saw your name. Women tend to be more loyal to someone, or to a business, if that someone helped them out when they needed it.
For example, a shop I managed years ago bought ice cream for any winning little league team in our town. The most it ever cost was $30 in one night. I lost count of how many little league moms came to us for repairs, and they almost always mentioned the baseball connection.
- Speak at events – Is there a women’s group that meets in your town on a monthly basis? Or a church group?
More than likely there is, and they’re usually looking for guest speakers. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s worth a lot of dollars to have a captured audience for 30 minutes while you basically promote your business.
You should start by doing a generic presentation for the first 10 to 15 minutes on how the industry works and what consumers should look for in a repair shop. The second half of your presentation can be about your shop and how it addresses the concerns someone may have about the industry.
You’d be amazed how many people have never had to get a collision-damaged car fixed, so they have no idea what to expect. But after your presentation, you can be sure these people will remember you when they do need your services.
- Volunteer at school functions – Do you have children in school? If you do, I’m sure you’ve received those notes from the school staff asking for adult volunteers.
Get involved with your child’s school. Are they putting on a play? Maybe you can help with sets or just setting up props.
Music presentations? If you’re musically inclined, contact your school’s music teacher and volunteer to help.
Anything you do will put your business in their minds. Your occupation will eventually come up in conversation, and the fact that you’re familiar to the school staff will help your business.
I was once asked to help with the sound effects for a school play. Because the director of the play knew that I’m a part-time musician, he also knew that I had sound equipment. I went to rehearsals for about a week. Granted, I had to leave work early to make it there, so I always made a point to wear my work shirt.
Some time later, when the principal of the school had an accident, she remembered me and I fixed her car. I’ve since repaired many vehicles for various members of the school staff. But if they hadn’t been familiar with me, they probably would’ve never brought it to me to fix.
It always makes me wonder why some shop owners and managers won’t take the time to do something like this. The two most common excuses are, “I don’t have the time,” and “I don’t like public speaking.”
The first excuse isn’t valid unless your shop is so busy, you don’t need to do any marketing. The second makes no sense at all. We do public speaking every time a customer walks through our door. Maybe it’s a smaller audience, but the technique’s the same.
The All-Important First Impression
OK, you’ve put your shop in the mind of your potential female customers. Now it’s very important to make sure your repair facility is “female friendly.”
I always ask myself if I’d be comfortable having my mother in my shop. Granted, some mothers don’t find lewd pictures and suggestive slogans on the wall insulting, but why risk the chance of losing a possible customer over something you can control? Why wear that “I work for sex” T-shirt?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression so make sure you show the best side of your business. Always.
The following are some things you should consider when asking yourself if your shop is attractive to female customers:
- The parking lot – Is your customer parking area easy to get to? Is it just for customer foot traffic, or do you keep wrecked vehicles there?
Do you keep it shoveled from snow and de-iced? Try convincing a woman, who just slipped and fell on the ice in a skirt, that you should fix her car.
Before I moved into the facility I’m in now, my customers could only get to me by going through our service department. Needless to say, they didn’t keep the parking area clean, and I lost a job because a woman slipped on the ice. Since then, I always make sure my shop is as clean on the outside as it is on the inside.
- The office – When a customer walks through your door, what’s the first thing she sees? That old pile of parts you found rusted up in a salvage yard, or a nice clean area that she can feel comfortable in?
Not to be stereotypical, but I’ve found that women tend to like a clean office area. If it’s a mess, you can bet she’s thinking that if you don’t care enough to clean your office, how are you going to treat her car?
I’ll never forget how embarrassed I was the time I had to deal with a female customer who’d come in for an estimate in a little shop I was managing. She was not amused when she proceeded to get dust all over her dark suit from the chair she was sitting in. Autobody repair is a dusty business, but you should try to keep the office area as clean and neat as possible.
You also want it to be comfortable. Do you have chairs for the customers to sit in while they wait for their estimates or for work to be done?
Even a small office area should have a place sit and be comfortable. A small table with magazines is always a great thing to have. If you have room, a television and VCR are handy, especially if the customer has small children with her. I always keep a few children’s videos and a box of small toys in the office to keep kids amused. It makes for a less-stressed customer. I’ve even had adults grab the Etch-a-Sketch and play with it. Chances are, you’ll end up with kids in your office if your customer base consists of a lot of females.
Lastly, do you have industry awards or certifications? Having these in view helps a female customer feel more at ease and gives her the feeling you know what you’re doing. What I’ve found, however, is that most men don’t seem to care about how many awards you’ve received. Men try to act like (or pretend like) they know all about your business. They don’t want to feel as if you’re smarter than they are. (I think it’s a macho thing.)
Women, on the other hand, want to be reassured that you’re qualified. And there’s no better way to show them than to display accolades from an independent third party.
Letters from customers also are a good way to impress them – especially if it’s a letter from a woman about your shop. Put a small cork board on the wall, and put up the letters you receive. It really does have an impact.
- The ladies room – How many shops out there are comfortable with allowing a customer to use their restroom? Men don’t care if it’s dirty. To a man, the whole world is the urinal. Women, however, are more particular.
How long does it take to clean a restroom if you do it on a regular basis? A clean restroom is just another way a female customer will see your attention to detail. She may not tell you if it’s clean, but I guarantee you will hear about it if it’s dirty.
And you can bet that if a woman comes into your shop with little children, they’ll have to use the bathroom. Offer customer restrooms. And make sure they’re clean and well supplied.
- The shop – Can you see into your shop from the office? Maybe through a window or a door?
If you have a female customer in for an estimate, it helps her to feel at ease if she can look into your shop and see the facility. I have two windows in my office so customers can look into the shop. It allows them to see how clean and organized the shop is, as well as the attitude of the technicians.
If a potential customer sees how you’re treating other people’s vehicles, she’ll feel better about having you work on her car. Just make sure there are no offensive things, such as pictures, etc., in customer view. I have a rule in my shop that nothing of that nature is allowed in the building.
- Your attitude – Do you find yourself talking down to women about car repair? Most women don’t appreciate being patronized. (Can you blame them?) If you answer a woman’s question in a polite manner, without making it sound like you think she’s stupid, she’ll be more comfortable with you. It’s common sense, but it’s important to establish a dialogue with her that makes her feel on equal ground.
Have you ever had a disagreement with your wife or girlfriend? Or both? Usually, once she thinks you’re not giving her opinion any respect, you can forget trying to work it out. The same goes for customers. If you don’t show her respect when answering her questions, you won’t get the job.
Change Your Mindset
As you can see, there are many ways to increase your female clientele. And there’s more to winning those female customers than traditional advertising.
If you stop and think about how females look at things and stop looking at things just from a male point of view, you’ll see an increase in your female customer base. You also need to quit assuming that just because she’s a female customer, you can simply go through the motions. She’s much smarter and more perceptive than you think.
Writer Mike Muir manages a dealership shop in North Conway, N.H., and has been with the dealership since 1985. Back then, he had one bay in the back of the service department. Today, his shop is in a separate building from the rest of the dealership and specializes in collision repair – though Muir’s been known to restore classic cars for certain customers. In his spare time, Muir plays electric and acoustic guitar and writes music.
6 Things Men Should NEVER Say to Women – EVER
6. “Wow, you look just like your mom.” There are just too many ways she could take this – most of which will land you in hot water (as in trouble, not a Jacuzzi; unless she’s drowning you in it).
5. “Is that what you’re wearing?” You may only want to know if she’s ready to go, but she’ll assume you mean you don’t like what she’s wearing and that you think she’s fat and ugly. This is certain to cause an argument you cannot win, and it’ll most definitely send her back to the closet for at least another hour.
4. “Did that dress shrink, or did you put on a couple pounds?” We think this one’s pretty self-explanatory.
3. “Now what did I do?” You should always know why she’s upset. Even if you have no clue as to what has her going off the deep end, never, we repeat, never let on that you’re clueless.
2. “So that’s your sister, huh? Is she single?” Um, it’s just not smart.
1. “So, when’s the baby due?” Humor writer Dave Barry once said, and we agree, “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”