Owning a local collision repair facility is a daily competition to attract potential customers’ attention, earn their trust and business, provide them with high-quality repairs and deliver excellent customer satisfaction – all while the MSO operation down the street is trying to do the same.
With three CARSTAR locations in Sidney, Troy and Piqua, Ohio, I’ve seen a variety of business cycles over the years and many forms of competition. And I’ve learned a few things along the way that have helped me and my team navigate these varying environments and come out at the head of the class.
Focus on Yourself
When new competition comes to town or a local company acquires more locations, that is not the time to panic. That’s the time when you should focus on yourself! A thorough evaluation of your business, performance and people are critical starting points. Look at your operations from a customer or insurance partner’s eyes. Are you excelling in all areas? Or are there opportunities for improvement?
While your competition is getting settled into the acquisition or new locations, you should be enhancing your business. Reach out to your local insurance partners, key fleet accounts and top customers to see how you can better serve them. Don’t take their feedback as criticism – embrace it as a way to get a leg up on your competition.
If you’re part of a national network, you can rely on their resources to conduct a business assessment and create a plan for improvements. Their field team can be a tremendous asset. If you’re an independent, there are coaching and evaluation services available that can provide this valuable service.
I’ve always been an advocate of being a good community citizen and supporting local organizations and those in need. With the shadow of competition looming over you, now is the time to shine even brighter. If you’re already involved in select community organizations, look for an opportunity to showcase that involvement with a local event and press conference. Or, turn to a collision repair industry organization like the Collision Repair Education Foundation or National Auto Body Council and co-host an event with them.
It’s also smart to strengthen your business relationships. Hosting a chamber of commerce after-hours event or speaking at a local business group reminds the audience that you’re a longtime community member and trusted business partner.
Another good strategy is to double your efforts to secure business from local towing partners, fleet managers, rental car companies and other entities you get referrals from. Remind them why your long-term relationship offers added value over the new guy (or girl) in town.
If your business evaluation provides you with opportunities for improvements, now is the time to show them off. Did you paint and remodel your location? Hire new technicians or add new technology? Did you offer new services like aluminum repair or hybrid/electric vehicle repair? Let your customers and the community know. Host an open house for your business partners. Announce your new team members and services in the local newspaper and create signage announcing the same at your location. You can also send an email newsletter to all your past customers and partners sharing your new services.
Remember, when competition comes to town, it’s like the new student in school: they may get some attention at first, but most customers and partners will remain true to the trusted local business they’ve known for years.
Following this approach has helped me succeed locally for three decades, and hopefully this advice will help you also remain at the head of the class.
Tom Martin is the owner of three CARSTAR locations in
Ohio – CARSTAR Sidney, CARSTAR Troy and CARSTAR Piqua. He started working in a collision repair shop at 15, then went on to purchase the business. He joined CARSTAR in 2003 with his first location. He opened his second CARSTAR location in 2014 and a third in 2019. He has long been a champion of advanced technology and also training for his team. He also donates his time to a variety of volunteer organizations, veterans in need, the homeless and youth sports. He can be reached at [email protected].