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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

A professional football player laying a ferocious hit on another is one way to get people thinking about “collision."

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That’s what Angelo Papotto was banking on when he signed up for an advertising package with a local TV channel to “plant a seed in people’s heads” to get them thinking about his three Suburban Collision Centers.

Located in the Cleveland, Ohio area, his shops collectively bring in about $7.5 million in gross revenue. Business has been OK, but the weather in Cleveland hasn’t cooperated over the last two years. Also, the rapidly changing DRP landscape convinced Papotto he needed to rethink his marketing plan.

So he decided to kick things up a notch and call local station WOIO-19. He ultimately decided on running a 30-second commercial during each of the NFL Cleveland Browns telecasts, and a “Suburban Collision Hit of the Week” during a wrap-up show the day after the game that would highlight a bone-crunching collision or tackle.

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The commercial featured one of Papotto’s technicians acting as a customer sitting next to his wrecked car, shaking his head in misery and wondering what he was going to do next. Then, it showed him lounging by a pool sipping lemonade saying, “I was in an accident but I handed my keys to Suburban Collision Centers and now they’re taking care of everything.”

“I kind of wanted it to be lighthearted, not like everyone else’s commercials,” says Papotto. “And I wanted to reinforce the mantra we include in all of our marketing materials that says, ‘Give us the keys and we’ll take care of the rest.’ ”

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“Was someone going to choose us because of that commercial? No. All we were trying to do was to get people thinking about us.”

All told, the ad package cost a hefty $25,000. Based on that cost, Papotto is undecided as to whether he’ll run it again this year, not so much because the ads weren’t effective but because the Browns posted a dismal 4-12 record last season and TV viewership was down.

“The reality is, you better have a team that’s playing well that everyone is pumped up to watch,” he says.

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The second way Papotto has marketed to consumers is by partnering with three local dealerships that get his brochure into their customers’ hands at the point of sale.

But Papotto knows marketing to consumers is only going to go so far. He knows that insurers have far greater control over where a car goes to be repaired, which is why he now spends more time marketing to them. But it’s a whole different game today.

“Some DRPs have dropped off or stopped altogether, and some insurance companies like GEICO and Progressive who used to have a lower volume of customers have now moved up significantly,” says Papotto. “It makes for a difference in who’s going to be the big players and how do I get on the program.”

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Claims are down, and insurance companies don’t need as many shops on their DRPs. So the shops they’re saying goodbye to are trying to jump on other programs, but those insurance companies aren’t looking to add anybody. Which is why, Papotto says, you have to “think outside of the box” and come up with a better way to get their attention.

“Dropping off a handful of pens and notepads doesn’t cut it anymore,” he says.

So Papotto partnered with his local paint supplier and invited insurance agents to one of his shops to enjoy a catered lunch and attend a clearcoating class (to earn credits they need) – all on his tab. They were also able to tour the shop and see how things operate.

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“The response was phenomenal,” Papotto says. “We had to put on two more classes because word got out how good it was.”

Papotto also mails DVDs to insurers with PowerPoint presentations on them that illustrate his shops’ lean production processes.

“We’re marketing a difference in us,” Papotto says. “You can’t go to them and say, ‘I want to be on your program because I need work.’ So does everybody else.”

Bottom line? No matter who you’re marketing to, you better have something unique to tell them to let them know you’re different than anyone else.

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Jason Stahl, Managing Editor
E-mail comments to [email protected]

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