For most of the first 20 years I’ve owned and run my business, I’ve put a skill I learned in another career in another industry to good use – and it’s served me well and helped to expand my business and my circle of contacts in the community. For some unknown reason, I’ve neglected that skill in the past five or six years. But in recent months, I’ve begun using it again – and the results are working just like they always did.
The skill is writing thank-you notes, letters and short correspondence to people with whom I want to have continued contact. But these simple letters become more than casual correspondence; they expand my contacts and distinguish me from other businesses.
If you can do something that makes you different or memorable, it will benefit you in many ways, not the least of which is more business. I’ll use real examples in this article, and maybe you can use one or more of these ideas for your shop.
The Welcome Wagon
Yesterday, a new insurance agent came to our shop with a veteran agent, who was introducing the new guy to the community and helping him find his way around his territory. We shook hands, exchanged business cards, took a quick tour of my business and introduced him to my staff and technicians. Before he departed, he told me he’d previously worked in claims, so he had a broader level of experience than most new agents. I mentioned that I don’t use aftermarket (A/M) sheet metal in my shop, to which he responded, “I’m glad because I don’t like the stuff either.”
With that said, I know he and I will get along fine. I fully intend to have lunch and attend community meetings with him in the future. That afternoon, I sent him this note:
“It was nice to meet you and welcome you to our shop and community. You work for a fine company, and if we can ever be of assistance in the future, please contact us. I wish you every success in your new agency, and I hope you’re blessed in every way in your business and family.”
Out of probably 15 or more people he met that day, how many do you think sent him a letter wishing him success? I also enclosed another business card. I hope we stand out and he remembers us. I think he will!
It’s a Party
For many years, we’ve had one particular delivery driver for our main supplier. Jim is a man who you just enjoy seeing even when he doesn’t have anything to deliver because he always gives you a smile and outstanding service – no matter what. One day, I found out he had a birthday coming up, so we ordered a cake decorated with miniature versions of the products he delivers.
When he arrived the following week, we gathered everyone into the office for a meeting and celebrated Jim’s birthday in style. I also wrote the company CEO and told him what an asset Jim was to his business. I pointed out that people like Jim are the backbone of every successful company and that I wanted the CEO to know our thoughts about Jim. I asked that he pass the letter and our praise down to Jim, and he did. He also posted it for all the employees of his company to see, with a note that Jim was setting the standard for customer service.
We praised Jim here at the business, and we gave him a beautiful plant to take home to his wife. On many occasions since that birthday celebration, I’ve been informed that Jim runs his route backward if we need something early in the morning instead of in the late afternoon, and he considers us one of his very best customers. Attention and praise benefits everyone, and you make lifetime friends from little acts of kindness.
I read two papers daily, one morning and one evening edition. I clip articles or photos of people I know or who reside in my market area. We laminate the article or photo at the shop, and I enclose it in a card with a short note sending my best wishes and congratulations if a promotion or achievement occurred. I’ve sent them to parents, grandparents and numerous employees of large companies who are customers of our business. Almost every time, someone calls to thank us and let us know it was appreciated. We’ve gained many new customers over the years by complimenting others on their achievements, anniversaries and many other occasions that deserve notice.
Children Are Our Future
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many high school kids, shake their hands and introduce myself. If I know their parents, I’ll often send a handwritten card telling them how polite their children were. Parents are delighted to receive anything positive about their kids, and when the kids get older and start buying and driving vehicles, I often end up repairing their cars.
I also try to treat teenagers like adults; they appreciate that and remember it later when they need repairs. By simply treating kids well, we make lifetime friends. Too many people in our world neglect kids. But they’re our future in more ways than one.
We also sponsor baseball, soccer and other youth activities at the high school and college level. I advertise in yearbooks, school newspapers and anything else that will make our company stand out to young people. All customers reward us by giving us their business, young or old.
I have a friend who makes it a habit to take notes about exemplary service he’s received and send cards to those people’s employers explaining the outstanding job. He also goes one step further (I’ve done the same thing on occasion): When he needs a receptionist for his office staff, he goes through his notes until he locates a waitress, a service attendant, a hairdresser, or one of the many others, and he offers that person a job – usually making more money and with the potential to be promoted to service writers, computer staff or other openings in his business.
He once told me if he hires someone with people skills and an outstanding personality that he can teach that person anything he or she needs to know to be successful in our business. At one time, almost a third of his employees were people he’d met in some other capacity. His general manager was a man whom he met while having his car serviced for a mechanical problem. His office manager used to cut his hair. His parts manager used to deliver parts to his shop.
Everyone in our industry is talking about a shortage of good people, but maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong places or overlooking the diamonds we deal with every day.
Friends in the Community
Recently, I attended a dinner honoring law enforcement officers in this region. The dinner was hosted by one of the world’s largest paper companies at their retreat located in the middle of about 12,000 acres of land near my home. When I attended last year, I exchanged business cards with one of the company officers. This year, I received a written invitation to the dinner. While I was there, this company officer made sure I was able to meet six or seven other company officers who were present, and on the way home, I wore a beautiful new baseball cap. The cap is custom embroidered – the kind I’ll keep and wear.
At the dinner this year, I told each officer how much we appreciate their company presence in our community and their local plant that employs many community members. I also learned more about the numerous programs they support. One of my friends made the remark that I sounded like a politician or someone from the local chamber of commerce. I laughed and said I wasn’t a politician nor was I interested in running for any public office – but I now have hundreds of new potential customers from that one evening.
The next day, I wrote a letter to the officer at the paper company, whom I now consider a friend. I wonder how many of the 100 or so other people present at the dinner sent a thank-you note?
Letters and appreciation get remembered, helping you to make some very influential friends over the years. When you meet such people, they may be lower-level managers, but someday, they may be vice presidents or higher. Decisions are made fast at that level. You never know which people you’ll meet who can help you in the future.
Human Skills That Build Business
If you can’t afford to send letters or cards, you can meet people face to face, shake their hands and tell them how much you appreciate their business or friendship. You can take a day off work to venture out in your community and visit dealers, parts and service directors, agencies and many of your customers in other businesses.
Both my daughters grew up doing just that with me. I wanted my children to be comfortable with anyone they ever met, and one way to do that was to include them in community functions, banquets and face-to-face meetings. From time to time, I may load up my general manager, my office manager or anyone else who works with me – business cards and other freebies in hand – and we get out and visit people. Within days, we usually get new business from someone we visited.
You can’t sit back and wait for people to beat a path to your door – you have to attract their attention and business any way you can. Human skills and doing little things that other people don’t do may not make you a millionaire, but it will help bring business to your door, improve relationships and make others feel like a million bucks.
Writer Bobby Johnson and his wife, Judi, own B&J Collision, Inc. in Jefferson, Texas. A contributing editor to BodyShop Business, Johnson has been involved in many areas of this industry for more than 26 years and was BodyShop Business’ 1989 Collision Repair Shop Executive of the Year.
Here are a few kind actions that will bring business to your door and make customers and business partners feel like a million bucks: