Events: eBay Motors Experience to Bring Industry Products to Life at SEMA Show
Once you understand what marketing is, you can better formulate a strategy to take your market by storm.
At one time, it may have been possible to open a collision repair business, hang a “body shop” sign out front and believe customers would just show up. We thought that, with the aid of a billboard or a little radio ad, it would work. But as the public began to think about their choices, the DRP world we have come to know took over. Shops across the country signed up and were happy as could be with the stream of work that flowed to them.
Fast forward to the present when shops are aware that there’s not enough work to go around. If you want to be one of the shops that survive, you’ll need to develop a good marketing strategy, and there is no time to waste. You may have been advertising for quite some time and plan to continue. However, advertising is just a piece of the puzzle. You have to pursue marketing.
What is “marketing?” It’s everything you do from the creation of a product or service to the sale and delivery of that product or service.
There are three crucial steps you must take in order to devise a good marketing plan. Most of us have at least three keys on our key ring that are important to us. The first key is our home, which in marketing relates to our core beliefs or value proposition. It’s what separates us from the competition. It’s not nearly as easy as you might think to put three sentences on paper that state how you’re different than the shop down the street. It seems easy to start with “quality,” but who in town says they do “poor” repairs? It might be “price” that sets you apart, but that may be a slippery slope you could easily regret going down. Establish some core values and a value proposition. Print it, hang it on the wall and make sure every employee can quote it from memory.
The second key on our key ring is a key to our business. In marketing, that would be our product. Are you a repair shop that goes for the DRP contracts, or do you avoid the DRPs and work to build a referral-based business? Do you go for the mainstream and economy vehicles, or do you specialize in a couple high-end vehicle brands? Maybe you do some custom work, upholstery, mechanical or restoration work. If you haven’t decided, decide quickly, because you can’t be all things to all people; and if you could be everything to everyone, it would be nearly impossible to market. You’re most likely not profitable doing the things you’re not really equipped or motivated to do.
The third key on your key ring is the key to a vehicle. In marketing, this is how you do business. Have you taken a hard look at your business lately? Walk through your front door tomorrow without warning and begin to snap pictures of your people and the facility. Load the photos onto a computer and look at them on the biggest monitor you have. It’s almost a sure bet you won’t be satisfied with what you see. This is what a customer sees when they walk in your door. Another way to check on things is to have someone call your business and record the results for you to review.
Once you have these three keys in place, you have three great opportunities to start marketing. Put your value proposition out there for the world to see. It belongs on your business card, signage, employee checks, estimates, final repair bills, parts orders, etc. Everyone should know where you live! Then, when you focus on your product, it’s much easier to hold first place in the minds of your desired customer base.
Brand yourself at every opportunity. You need to be at the front of your customers’ minds before they need you. Count the segments of people you come in contact with every day, such as employees, customers, vendors and businesses. Your bank and all of your employees’ banks are an example. You can look for opportunities to promote your business with all of these people every day. There are so many ways to market and promote your business that it’s essential to give it some thought and create a plan, as opposed to just plowing ahead haphazardly.
As you develop a marketing plan, there are at least three things you’ll want to consider.
Is marketing part of your business plan? If your business plan includes expanding, opening more locations, targeting a specific group or adding other services, how you plan to market this should be part of the business plan.
Is marketing included in your budget? You should budget no less than two percent of your sales for marketing, but keep in mind that 2 percent is not aggressive enough to see much growth.
Do you need outside help, or do you have the inside people to market your business? When you consider all the facets of marketing, it’s not likely you have the people in place to address all the areas you need to include.
We’ve talked about product and price, and these are up to you, but if you’re not happy with the photos and call results we mentioned earlier, it may be worthwhile to bring in some outside assistance to help with the way things look, how they’re organized or how they run. Also, with all of the technological ways that now exist to promote or advertise your business, it’s almost certain you’ll need outside help to navigate through these.
Take a look, for example, at four categories you may want to include in your marketing plan. First, there are printed ads, e.g. newspaper, phonebook and mass mailers. While these are a little old-fashioned, if done properly, they may still be valuable to your business.
Second, most of us still tune in to airtime of some sort throughout the day, whether it be radio or TV. Audiences are getting harder to target with all of the satellite and cable networks out there, but that’s where some consumer research may pay off. You might do this research yourself, but it would most likely take longer than you have.
Third, pretty much everyone driving is on the Web these days. Add in all of the social media sites that are so popular, and it quickly becomes a fact that you must market your business on the Internet. The reason it’s so necessary to use the Internet as a tool is because it reaches into people’s personal lives.
That brings up our fourth category: people! People still talk a lot, some of it with their thumbs these days, but there’s no better way to reach people than with people. Do your employees take ownership in your business? They can be a great asset in promoting your company. Are you involved in your community? People connections will pay huge dividends.
This is a good place to consider getting out of the box. Have you surrounded yourself and your employees with walls? If you consider the different age groups we serve each day, you can easily get out of the box in a hurry.
We have customers arrive every day with child safety seats and small children. Some of us may have put toy boxes in the customer waiting area and collected a little child safety information, but if we went a step further, it could be huge. What if the child got a call from their favorite TV character promoting safety on their birthday? Those of us in the collision industry love teenage drivers because they’re such a wonderful source of work. Who better than the collision shop to promote safety programs in school, or maybe a clinic on what to do in case of an accident? How many days did you spend at your local high school promoting your business? What a captive audience that statistically is such an incredible source of new business! Would it be worthwhile for you to sponsor an event that promotes safety for a senior class before prom night?
With today’s technology and everyone being so short on time, online dating has become part of our society. What better place for a collision shop to advertise? All the daters online have vehicles, and it might be a good place for guys to show that chivalry isn’t dead after all.
We may not all have children, but all of us had parents. Many people may have relocated and left parents behind. This may produce a unique opportunity for a shop to be a safety net in caring for someone’s aging parents. Something as simple as having a hotline for the elderly when they have vehicle questions, or periodically picking up a vehicle to be washed, could be a great marketing piece.
Most shop owners have the opportunity to secure the use of a limo or some type of luxury transportation. Many shop owners have also put in some type of express lane for quick repairs, but may be still struggling with cycle time. Could you make a big improvement in cycle time if a few customers came in after normal business hours? You provide transportation to dinner and a movie, and they pick up their vehicle the next day or maybe even later that night? This gives some customers VIP treatment that they’ll mention to all their friends and co-workers, and you’ve made use of additional time and resources in your business.
We’ve talked about children, parents, singles and couples, which only leaves our furry family members. If you haven’t considered it, there’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “Dog is man’s best friend.” Shop owners might want to cater a little to their customers’ best friends. Would a car and pet show where people could show off their kennels and pet paraphernalia in their vehicles be a good way to promote your shop?
A Business Decision
As you can see, the topic of marketing is massive and touches everything we do each day. It’s how we present our facility each day, how we advertise, who we do business with and how we interact with our employees. Regardless of how you view these areas, it’s essential to develop a marketing plan if you want your business to be successful in the future. If you find all of this a little difficult to wrap your arms around, you may need to enlist the help of an outside professional.
The way you approach marketing is a business decision that only you can make – because it needs to reflect the personality of your business. One thing is certain: you won’t reach the top of your market until you’re at the top of your customers’ minds, so stay ahead of their needs and market your business before they crash.
Selling Yourself with Safety
Chuck Jessen knows the best ways for body shops to market themselves effectively. The owner of PreFab Ads, he produces commercials for collision repair facilities that drive home the message they want to get across in both humorous and serious ways.
His latest commercial takes on the serious message of, “Don’t text while driving.” He sent out storyboards for three different commercials to his current customers, asking if they wanted to pre-invest in any of them, and the “don’t text” message struck a chord with all of them as that was the one they overwhelmingly chose.
The commercial will show a young girl driving and texting her boyfriend. Then, she gets into an accident, sirens wail at the post-accident scene, and a text pops up on screen from her boyfriend wondering where she’s at and what’s taking her so long to text back. The final message is: “Don’t text and drive. We don’t need your business that bad.”
“It’s a good message to run,” says Jessen. “It gives shops the opportunity to get some local press and speak out on the topic. People will be talking about it because texting while driving is a problem. It puts shops in a leadership position and also portrays them as community citizens.”
One trend Jessen has been noticing is that some of his body shop clients are starting to only license his videos for their websites. It helps them drive traffic to their sites, and they hope that maybe the video will go “viral,” with lots of people sharing it among each other via social media, email, etc.
Another new venture for Jessen is outdoor billboards. He has eight concepts he’s now licensing that shops can use on select freeways around their cities.
“Good marketing is doing all these things – TV, radio, billboards, websites – and watching them work together. There is no magic bullet, no "one thing," says Jessen. “But at the top of a shop’s list should be search engines, a good website, customer relations and social media.”