The best. You can’t get better than that, right? It’s the highest in terms of quality and excellence. It’s the best there is. So, the best it will be – as in the best marketing ideas ever for independent collision shop owners.
The Best Basics
These are the best essential marketing components, the categories that you as a business owner have to cover. No excuses! Include these in your marketing plans:
Reminders. Don’t take your present customer base for granted. You need to be continually conversing with them. Use emails to remind them about upcoming appointments or that repair job they’ve been postponing and that now is a good time to complete it. Reminders can take the form of emails, texts or even phone calls. But that outreach will guarantee you that when a collision repair is needed, you’ll be top of mind.
Referrals/reviews. There is no better method to get the word out about your business than word-of-mouth. When you hear from a friend that a restaurant they just went to was terrific or that a contractor they used was good, don’t your ears perk up? You immediately have the sense that this person has no agenda and that no one is paying them to mention this person or business. That’s the same with your shop. A satisfied customer who mentions you to their friend is gold. A great way to encourage referrals is to come right out and ask for them. When you send thank-you notes after a job is completed, end the note by encouraging them to tell their friends or write a review.
Coupons/specials. You may be the emergency room of repair shops, but that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage customers to come in and get that repair they’ve been postponing done. You have customers or even potential customers who have postponed that small job since it doesn’t affect the drivability of their car. That’s where a promoted coupon or special comes in. Whether it’s a percentage or a flat dollar amount off on a new bumper, you’re inviting customers into your business. A coupon or special can be promoted with emails, postcards, social media posts or even at your front counter, so make sure your customer service people know the terms of your offer.
Good customer service. You appreciate your customers. They come into your shop and they want you to solve a problem. That’s what you’re there for. The relationship you and your team have with each customer is job no. 1. It may sound basic because it is. From that first phone call to when their car is picked up, it is your job to always have a satisfied customer. And if something does go wrong, it’s your job to fix it…after all, things happen. The difference between a “just okay” shop and a great shop is how they deal with issues as they come up. The faster a shop acknowledges it and gets it right, the better for both the shop and their customer.
Postcards. A successful business needs to get the word out about their shop to both new and existing customers. Develop a long-term plan for postcard marketing. Keep in mind the message. Do you want to have one creative message for prospective customers who are new to the neighborhood? And another for returning customers? Remember to include your contact information with your name and the name of your customer service person. Make it a personal message, and always remember to say “thank you” at the end of any postcard message.
Kareem Abouzeid of Knockout Collision Repair in Chico, Calif., is one of the best marketers around. He has been in business for 19 years and is passionate about the industry and how marketing plays a key role in having a successful shop.
“The quality work we deliver to our customers is the best marketing for Knockout Collision,” says Abouzeid. “But you can’t leave it there. I’ve learned that a successful business needs to continually communicate with customers.”
The Best ‘Don’t Forget Abouts’
Once you have the basics down, it’s time to step up your marketing game. There’s always more to do, so here are some elements you can now include in your marketing plans:
Press book. Develop a press book, sometimes called a press pack or a promotional booklet. You’ll need it for your industry outreach. Think of your press book as a collection of statements representing your company. It should be digital, but you should also have hard copies to hand out at meetings. Elements of a great press book include:
• Mission statement: Two to three sentences with a clearly stated purpose and the overall goal of your business.
• Photos: Crucial for any business but especially a collision shop. Those before-and-after photos are proof of the beautiful work you and your team complete every day.
• You: After all, it’s your business. You opened the shop because of your dedication and love of cars. Here’s the place to brag. Include a nice photo of yourself along with a statement about how you started in the business, how you’ve grown the shop and where you are now.
• Team: A photo of each team member, their name and title. You can also include how long they’ve been with you, plus industry certifications.
• Insurance: A statement about how you work with insurance claims.
• The shop: A few photos of the shop that include you and your team.
• Community: List who you work within your community, from local sports programs to your local fire department.
• Reviews: You can use reviews from Facebook, Yelp and/or Google.
• Warranty: A statement about how you stand behind the work you do.
Plans. Put together your marketing plan, objectives and budget every year. You can always adjust them quarterly. Your marketing plan should include statements about what you would like to achieve each quarter, the different elements of your plan and the budgets. A few things to include in your plan are:
• Social media: Facebook, Instagram and all of the platforms you use
• Local outreach to the community
• Networking with insurance agents
• Website: Frequent updates with new content
• Promotions and specials
• Seasonal messages: holiday, back-to-school, summer vacations
• Customer outreach: email blasts, text messages, phone calls and thank-you notes
Branding. With every postcard or post, keep your branding top of mind, from the logo to the caption to the colors used. Consistency with branding will contribute to the overall awareness of your shop in the community.
Insurance agents and brokers. This is where you’ll be using that press book. The bottom line is: continual outreach to agents and brokers will result in more business. Developing these relationships will be very beneficial for your shop.
Fleet companies and large employers. Meet with department heads at local fleet companies. Bring your press book. Invite them to the shop and have them take
Chamber of Commerce. Don’t forget to become a member of local organizations. When you go to their meetings, be sure to have
a stack of business cards with
Media. Depending on your market, local TV or radio spots may be beneficial. Newspaper or billboards are also something to investigate.
“The shop’s press book is important,” says Abouzeid. “It provides an element of reality. It’s a great overview of the business using statements and photos in one concise packet.”
The Best Digital
Digital initiatives and plans are something you need to do from the outset of your shop’s opening. Below is a breakdown of initiatives:
Email list. Even before your doors are open, you should be promoting your coming shop. Ask for emails so you can alert people when you open for business. It’s crucial to start collecting email addresses ASAP. A year down the road, you will be grateful that you have grown that important database. Start now if you haven’t already.
Website. A good site is the 101 of any business. This is the shop’s home base of any promotion. It’s also important that the site is updated with new photos and information regularly. A great website is a living and breathing thing and not something you do once and you’re done. Give people a reason to return to your site with new updates. This is probably how the public will first become aware of your shop – first impressions are important – so make a good one with a terrific website. Don’t forget that it needs to be mobile-friendly, too.
Social media. Everyone is online, including customers. All the usual suspects including Facebook and Instagram are the perfect places to showcase your before-and-after photos. If possible, include your customers in those photos. Everyone likes seeing happy customers. Always tag that customer too. They’ll most likely share the post with their friends, thus expanding the people (and prospective customers) who see your work.
Car advice blog. A blog is a great way to get the word out about your shop. This is perfect content for your website as well as social media and emails. Bring your love of cars to life and talk about anything car-related that you think your customers would find interesting. From the best way to wash your car to car safety tips – content is king!
Video. Fun video clips can be posted on your site and social media. Don’t worry if they aren’t super professional. Just use your phone. From a quick clip of a happy customer sitting in their newly refurbished car to a new team member’s hello, video clips can be quickly produced and posted.
Texts. Be sure to ask customers how best to contact them. You’ll have many who prefer a text message over emails.
Newsletters. Once you have started to grow that database with email addresses, you’ll need to start sending periodic newsletters. An informative and entertaining email makes someone want to open it up. Think about different content like maintenance tips, links to video clips, specials and discounts. Another thing to consider is a column featuring that month’s favorite customer.
“Social media is important for educating the community about what you do and it also keeps the business top of mind for any customer,” says Abouzeid. “Posting before-and-after pics is perfect for social media. It’s very effective.”
Bet You Didn’t Think of That
Get creative and try a few marketing actions that are out of the ordinary:
Host in-store events. Local organizations need a place to host their event. From Boy Scouts to the local historical preservation groups, reach out and offer your shop as a great place to meet. Your waiting area is a natural place for meetings.
Cross-promote with another local business. Talk to a few of your fellow local business owners. Maybe you and the local coffee shop can offer a combined promotion of a free iced coffee with each referral.
Memorable phone number. You probably remember a catchy phone number of a local business. Well, you can do the same. Buy a phone number that is easy and fun to remember.
Notes to customers. Reaching out to customers is always a great idea. But if you handwrite that thank-you note, it makes it even more personal. Sending birthday cards to customers would stand out and drive home your brand.
“A handwritten note is a unique way to reach out to customers,” says Abouzeid. “With everyone using email today, it’s unexpected. The key is to send those out timely. For the biggest impact, send them out right after they are in your shop.”
Mandee Bradshaw is vice president of Marketing & Business Development for DRIVE and is responsible for cultivating relationships with parts vendors and trade associations. She also oversees all of the company’s marketing functions. Her diverse background in business and 10 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket contributes to her unique skill set, focused on communications, relationship management, marketing and leadership. She can be reached at (818) 863-1077.