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  Management Feature

'Why Isn't My Advertising Working?'

Posted 4/8/2010
By David Rogers, AAM

Maybe you need to rethink what you've been taught.

"Why isn't my advertising working?" It's a question I hear time and time again from shop owners. They're tired of bad customers, tired of losing money, tired of playing the price game that leaves their bank accounts empty and their bays full of low-quality, complaining, angry customers.

So why isn't their advertising working? It comes down to what they're advertising and how they're advertising. Changing these two things isn't hard for shop owners, but it does require rethinking a lot of what they've been taught.

What Are You Advertising?

It's really interesting to me how time after time, repair shop owners fall for the same couple of marketing "tricks" to try and fill their bays. The truth is, if there are "tricks" to marketing your shop, they're about how you run your shop and who you're marketing to, not about tricking people into bringing their car to you.

One thing that is true of all advertising is that your offers and claims must be sustainable. What I mean is that the customer must experience everything you promised, or you'll lose trust faster than you can say "coupon."

For instance, are you promising the friendliest service in town? All it takes is answering the phone call without a cheery voice once to contradict your claim and for the customer to learn their lesson: you don't live up to your promises.

The same goes if you claim to have the most knowledgeable technicians. One comeback is all it takes to fail to deliver on that promise.

Small businesses are especially at risk here because they cannot afford to advertise at the level of the large chains and outlets. Burning customers that you brought in through advertising with mediocre or poor service is truly destructive.

Should you stop making promises? No! You may need to adjust some promises so that they're sustainable and quantifiable (meaning you can prove them).

But without any claims, there's hardly anything to advertise about, is there? Besides, these things set you apart from chain stores and dealerships, and you need to let customers know about them!

My point is that before that advertisement hits the streets and mailboxes, you need to have a serious talk with your service writers and technicians about expectations. When you come through, you'll have won that customer's trust ... which means more referrals, higher sales and increased visits.

Why You Can't Advertise Having the Lowest Prices!

Independent shops cannot play the "lowest price" game. Why would you even want to? Trying to undercut other shops with cheaper service and lower prices will be destructive to your business.

This happens for two reasons. First (and this goes back to my first point), low prices aren't sustainable. If you promise that you're the cheapest in town and then can't deliver because the chain store is offering unreasonably cheap services, that customer knows they can't trust you!

Secondly, and more importantly, the more people you bring in on cheap offers, the more money you lose!

Why? Because consumers who consistently shop for the cheapest prices are the least loyal. They do not typically respond well to the "loss leader" style of marketing. ("Loss leading" is where you offer a service or item at lower than your cost, in order to lure them in and try to up-sell them on other items. This works well in grocery stores, but in auto repair, it'll kill a small business!)

I'll admit that you can get an amazing response when you advertise how cheap you are, and your bays will be stuffed full of customers. The problem is that your bays will be full of no-value cars and no-value customers.

How Are You Advertising?

How Are You Advertising?As I've said already, advertising is about making and keeping promises. A shop that is serious about making its marketing work needs to concentrate on what those promises are and how they can keep them.

But how should you go about it? How can you advertise in a way that works?

In my shop, I concentrate on advertising to more intelligent customers. We tell them how we're different from other shops, how we'll take care of them and how we'll teach them about what their car needs.

In other words, I don't concentrate on getting them into the shop so I can "up-sell" them.

Customers (at least the good ones I want in my shop) got wise to that game a long time ago. Today's average driver is smarter, more educated and more likely to have read their owner's manual. The second they feel I'm trying to stick them with an up-sell is the second they decide they're walking out and never coming back. Which is why we teach them the truth about what's in their best interest and how to get more miles out of every dollar. We use visual aids and take them into the shop and show them what's going on and explain how it could've been avoided. Then we show them other items on the vehicle and teach them how preventive maintenance can keep them from ending up again in the situation they're in now.

We use a much longer-term approach to our marketing and advertising that results in longer relationships with our customers.In other words, we use a much longer-term approach to our marketing and advertising that results in longer relationships with our customers. Instead of using gimmicks or trying to trick them with offers that are too cheap to believe, we focus on an ethical, educational and sincere approach.

(The truth is, trying to be the cheapest isn't profitable for us, even if we capture the sale today. If we use cheaper parts to give a cheaper price, we ruin the experience and the chance of them trusting us over the long term.)

Try This New Approach!

If you're serious about making your advertising work, your goal should be: make sustainable promises that you can actually meet and concentrate on making those promises to intelligent, high-end customers.

This approach won't give you the ridiculous response rate that cheap advertisements to cheap customers do, but that's OK. Making advertising work is about making your advertisements work for you, and that can only happen if you're making money and growing your shop.

If you can rethink everything you've learned about advertising, you can start to make it work for you! I know it can, because changing our advertising in the ways I've written about here is what we did to grow our little $1.2 million operation into a $3.2 million business in under three years.

If you're not sure if your marketing is effective or ineffective, I've put together a free marketing assessment on It's fast and easy to use, and can tell you how effective your marketing is in seconds. Plus, the marketing solutions that we use in our shop are all available there, too!

Above all, good luck! Your shop can find marketing that works, and I know it'll change your profits, your shop and your life!

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

David Rogers

David Rogers is the chief operating officer of Keller Bros., rated the No. 1 Repair Shop in the Nation by CarQuest. In 2009, Keller Bros. was the winner of the Colorado Ethics in Business Award and a BBB Torch Award Top-3 Finalist.

Rogers is also president of the Automated Marketing Group, an award-winning print and electronic marketing company that specializes in providing effective and affordable solutions that attract and keep high-quality customers for independent repair shops.

He can be reached at contact@longterm, toll-free at (866) 520-3030, or online at and


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