So you’ve finally decided that word-of-mouth advertising isn’t enough and you’ve come to grips with the reality that you have to advertise. Let’s face it: In today’s economy and market, you have to do more than sit and wait for work to come to you.
Building a Relationship
It’s a well-known fact that people only need a body shop once every seven years. People need insurance, however, every day.
So who has the customer talked to more: their insurance agent or a body shop? Who has already built a relationship and opened a dialogue with the customer prior to an accident? The insurance company. Who do you think already has a jump-start when it comes to communicating with your potential customer? That’s right, the insurance company. And all of this happened before the customer got in a wreck.
You’re probably wondering, “Why is he talking about insurance companies in an article about advertising?” It’s simple. Most collision repairs take place within the DRP system, and who do you think is telling your potential customer to go to a DRP shop? The insurance company. And if you want a piece of that pie, you’re going to have to work for it. And when I say “work for it,” I’m not referring to doing quality work and offering great customer satisfaction. Every shop in the country promises quality work, and every customer expects top-notch treatment. So you need to do something different to set yourself apart from your competition.
The easiest and most sure-fire way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack is to advertise “pro-customer.” How do I know this will make you stand out from your competition? Because nobody – absolutely nobody – is going to follow you.
Your competition has been told and convinced over and over again that pro-customer advertising can’t work and won’t work. Most of you reading this right now are probably saying the same thing. But before you totally dismiss this kind of advertising, let’s define what it’s going to do.
If you pursue pro-customer advertising, it means you’re going to spill the beans on our industry’s dirty little secrets, like who really benefits from DRPs and the truth about diminished value.
Can you advertise “pro-customer” and be successful? That’s the question that goes through every repairer’s mind. I know, because it went through mine. The answer is yes.
My brother and I were told by everybody that the insurance companies would put us out of business if we went forward with our pro-customer advertising campaign. Three years later, our business has almost tripled – yes, tripled. And we’ve done this without snaring any DRPs.
There will only be one group of people who will appreciate your commercials: potential customers. Lucky for you, that’s who you’re trying to reach!
Other body shops and insurers will hate you. But last time I checked, I wasn’t in the business of fixing other body shop owners’ cars, and neither body shops nor insurers were referring work to my shop. The only downside is that you won’t be “getting along” with insurers.
Do you realize how much it costs to get along with them? At least $5 per hour on your labor rate, 2 to 8 hours on each job for miscellaneous operations, and a whole lot on your paint and materials. That’s right, you discount your work this much every day on every job to get along, and I’m talking about what non-DRP shops give up. Even non-DRPs are coerced into giving steep discounts, all in the name of getting along, a.k.a. not getting blackballed.
It almost sounds like paying the mafia for protection, only it’s the insurer saying, “Give us a discount but don’t say anything to the customer about it or we’ll do our best to put you out of business.” And after paying for this “protection,” the insurer does nothing to help you. Shoot, they don’t even leave you alone, they just don’t mess with you as much.
If you would like to operate your business without paying for this “protection,” you’re going to have to advertise. You have to let your potential customers know that, without a doubt, you’re the one they want to fix their car, and you need to communicate this to them before they have an accident. Let me share with you what worked for my shop and others.
I asked Mike Parker, owner of Parker’s Classic Auto Works in Rutland, Vt., about his decision to advertise pro-customer. He told me it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t an overnight process.
Parker laid out a three-year plan on how he would implement his new strategy without hurting his business. He ran an aggressive radio campaign, which wasn’t cheap but paid him back with enough work to keep him scheduled three to six weeks out. The radio spots educated his customers and ranged in tone from serious to comedic. While they were entertaining and catchy, they delivered an important message: Parker’s is there for the customer.
The Parker’s commercial that sticks in my head the most went, “So if you’re looking for deals, here’s some advice: You shop for deals on sofas, TVs or chicken, but understand that the only good deal in collision repair is when the repair is safe, durable and invisible.” That says it all, doesn’t it? You can listen to his commercials at www.parkersauto.com/ads.asp.
Another example of successful pro-customer advertising was done by Stroud’s Auto Rebuild in Tacoma, Wash. Owner Mike Harber has been advertising pro-customer for 15 years. He decided to think “outside the box” and create his own live call-in radio show called “Crash Talk,” which airs in Tacoma, Wash., and Amarillo, Texas. He uses the show, which reaches thousands of people each week, to educate his customers for two hours every Saturday morning.
Crash Talk focuses on a wide range of topics, including collision repair, total losses, diminished value, crash parts and the appraisal process. He has a guest on his show every week, including attorneys and experts in diminished value, collision and post-repair inspection. Consumers get to call in and ask questions to help guide them through the maze of the collision repair process.
With the show, Harber has branded Stroud’s Auto Rebuild as the leading consumer advocate in Tacoma. And his reach will soon be greater, as he’s currently in the process of expanding the show to a new area.
Chuck Jessen knows a thing or two about pro-customer advertising. Through his company, Jessen Productions, he produces humorous, impactful TV commercials for body shops. Roughly 10 years ago, he started getting requests from shop owners to produce commercials with a more pro-customer message.
“They started asking if I had anything dealing with the message that it’s your choice where you want your car fixed,” Jessen says. “The more I heard that, the more I realized it was a need they had. A lot of them were bucking the DRP trend. Even DRP shops wanted this message because they were reluctant DRP shops and felt they had to have DRPs but at the same time wanted to get out the choice message.”
The first spot Jessen did with this message was “Tow Trucks” in 2007, where an insurer in his own tow truck plays tug-of-war with another tow truck over a consumer’s car and ends up tearing it in half. The following year, Jessen produced “Power Steering,” which shows a pair of mischievous hands grabbing a consumer’s steering wheel while she’s attempting to drive, trying to steer her to a shop she doesn’t want to go to. At the end of the spot, you see an adjuster with two broken arms sitting frustrated at his desk.
Jessen says one of his customers was a shop in Syracuse, New York, that wanted to go with the pro-customer message and drop all of its DRP relationships.
“I talked to him recently and he said he has never been busier, happier or more profitable, and the choice he made has really paid off,” says Jessen.
Jessen’s primary way to get TV watchers’ attention is humor. It’s the only way to reach them, he says, because they’re passive viewers who aren’t interested in body shops unless they feel they need them at that particular time.
“You have to entice them in through some compelling story or funny thing, and end with the tag, ‘Need a body shop?’” he says. “Then, they nod their head, smile and say to themselves, ‘That was a good commercial.’”
We Work for You
My brother and I opened Bernard’s Advanced Collision 10 years ago and advertised on and off for five years. The ads were nothing special; in fact, they were pretty bland and sounded just like everybody else’s commercials.
We came to a fork in the road about five years ago. We were beat up and tired because insurers were getting to our customers before we could. They were doing a good job of steering work away from us. We had a choice to make: do nothing and let them slowly kill our shop, or go on the offensive. It was an easy choice to make.
We came up with a plan and implemented it. First, we launched a large radio campaign, then we followed with a website. Shortly after that, we found out that there was an opportunity to get the Crash Talk radio show to air live in our area, so we worked out all the details and got it going.
Our commercials now have catch phrases like “Bernard’s Advanced Collision is your advocate for collision repair,” “We work for you, not the insurance company,” and “Tow it to Bernard’s.” They offer info on crash parts, DRPs and post-repair inspections.
One of our first commercials was a testimonial from a customer whose insurance company wanted us to clip his T-top Trans Am. We knew better, but wanted to see what the insurance company’s preferred shop had to say. This preferred shop said they wouldn’t clip the car, but when we told them that the customer was insured with one of their “partners,” they responded with, “Then yes, we would do it.”
We refused to clip it, educated our customer and got his car totaled. Talk about a walking billboard of advertising! These are the kind of commercials that let your potential customers know whose side you’re really on.
I hope this article has given you confidence and some ideas to implement your own “pro-customer” campaign. It can work with the proper planning and execution.
Shane Bernard is co-owner of Bernard’s Advanced Collision Body Shop in Amarillo, Texas, and a specialist consumer advocate for victims of automobile collisions. He and his brother, Terence, opened Bernard’s in 2001 and offer services such as post-repair inspection, diminished value evaluation, total loss evaluation, and vehicle damage estimating and repair. He’s ASE-certified and I-CAR-trained, and is a member of the Coalition of Collision Repair Excellence. Find Bernard’s online at www.bernardsadvancedcollision.com or call (806) 342-3137.