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  Management Feature

It All Starts with a $ALE

Posted 1/13/2011
By Steve Louden, AAM

You have to market your shop to get those sales.

It All Starts with a $ALEThe very first step in a successful auto repair business is a sale. Nothing happens until something is sold. The following article is meant to move sales and marketing to the top of your business plan, if it is not already there. All the successful shops I have visited have a well-planned, funded and executed marketing plan.

Having visited more than 100 shops across the country, conducted numerous seminars, attended dozens of conferences and conventions, one thing stands out: Sales and selling are sometimes near the bottom of many priority lists. Let's face it: Most shop owners came up through the ranks, from the bottom up, where sales and marketing were not a part of repairing or painting cars. When shop owners complain of slow sales and are asked what they are doing about the problem, all too often the answer is, "I am waiting for the economy to turn around." When asked if they increase their marketing budget prior to or during slow times, the answer is usually "no."

Your new paint booth, scan tool, beautiful facility and trained work force mean nothing until that customer walks through your front door and says the magic word, "Yes." Don't get me wrong, your new paint booth, scan tool, beautiful facility and trained work force are all important factors in attracting customers, but an ongoing marketing and advertising program is a must in today's ultra-competitive marketplace. The old adage of building a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door is as outdated as the carburetor and lacquer paint.

Too many shop owners think the word "selling" is a dirty word. All too often I hear, "I only perform the work that the customer asks for. I am not going to sell them anything that their car does not need."

Stop right there. I am not advocating that a customer should be sold unneeded work. There is certainly too much of this going on in our industry. What I am talking about is selling goods and services that a customer's car actually needs and that the customer is not aware of.

Many times, asking for the order is the hardest thing some people ever do. Sometimes it is because they are not trained or educated in how to sell or ask for the order. Other times, that person may never feel comfortable selling or asking for the order. If this is the case, hire someone who is comfortable selling and send them to one of several service selling seminars offered around the country.

Let me emphasize: Customers buy more than products and services; they buy feelings of security, safety and confidence in your repair or maintenance service.

If your shop is like most shops, more than 50 percent of your customers are female.To gain market share, you must differentiate your business from your competitors and give potential customers a reason to use your services. The very first thing you need to do is create a mission statement and determine exactly what your core business is and then you can start to build your marketing plan around these core business objectives. Never forget that you are in the customer solution business, which just happens to be repairing cars. Customers come to you to solve their transportation problems and the better you do this, the more successful you will be. (For more on customer service, click here to see the customer service story.)

If your shop is like most shops, more than 50 percent of your customers are female. Be sure your shop is female friendly and not a turnoff to female customers. At the minimum, this means a clean and comfortable waiting room with female-oriented consumer magazines and a super clean restroom.

There are hundreds of books and seminars on marketing and advertising, and there are people who spend their entire working careers in that field. This short article is meant to get your attention rather than make you a marketing expert. If you are uncomfortable or have no desire to do your own marketing, hire someone who has the skills. If you are in a community with a college or university, request that their business department use your business as a class project and receive a complete marketing package free of charge. They love real-life examples, and you will be pleasantly surprised at their enthusiasm. After all, your taxes are probably supporting the college, so why not benefit?

How much should you spend on promoting your business? Experts will tell you that you should have a marketing budget between 3 percent and 10 percent of gross sales. Most national auto franchises mandate 8 percent to 10 percent in their franchise agreements. The important thing is to include marketing in your annual budget just like salaries, rent, utilities and insurance.

What should you promote? Here are a few categories: quality, integrity, honesty, convenience, stability, longevity of business, longevity of employees, awards, qualifications and certifications, community involvement, ability to do the job, character, value added, reputation, owner managed, pickup and delivery, free loaner cars, low-cost rental cars, wash and detail. The list is endless and many times includes exclusive local market content.

What medium should you use? Internet, Internet, Internet.What medium should you use? Internet, Internet, Internet. If you do not have a website, get one. A business without a website today is missing out big time. Don't make your website too complex so that you might lose viewers. In conjunction with your website is search engine optimization (SEO). In other words, the ability for a potential customer to find your website using search words. Then there is the social media explosion. This is all quite complex, so get professional help. In addition, there are the bedrock direct forms of marketing such as direct mail, television, radio, Yellow Pages, newspapers, billboards and point of purchase.

And don't forget the indirect forms of promoting your business: community involvement, facility, telephone manners, car clubs, car care clinics, ad specialties, public relations, industry and association involvement, clubs such as Toastmasters, BNI, Lions and Rotary - to mention a few - plus ASA, ASE, BBB, I-CAR, etc.

When it is all said and done, the main objective is to create and promote your brand and hopefully make it a household word in your market. This takes time and an organized and consistent marketing plan.

You sleep on an advertised bed, bathe with an advertised soap and shampoo, purchase advertised food at the market, purchase advertised gasoline and purchase advertised clothing - so do not make your "going out of business" ad your only promotion.

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. In 2011, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program..

Steve Louden, AAM

Steve Louden, AAM, was one of the three founders of AMI and is one of the original instructors. He was in the first graduating class of AAMs. He is a past chairman of ASA, AMI, Bosch Service Center Council and the Zurich Customer Council, and presently serves on the ASE board of directors. He is the owner of Louden Motorcars, Dallas, Texas, and has been featured on the cover of several industry magazines over the past 34 years and has won several industry awards.


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