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  Management Feature

10 Budget-Friendly Ways to
Market Your Shop

Posted 4/10/2012
By Leona Dalavai Scott

Like their budget-conscious customers in today’s times, ASA member-shops are looking for economical ways to stretch their marketing budgets.

10 Budget-Friendly Ways to Market Your ShopWhen it comes to marketing their businesses, ASA member-shops have a variety of practices in place that run the gamut from email marketing to online advertising and a host of others in between. The American Marketing Association’s definition of marketing is: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Here are some marketing ideas and strategies that have worked for shops in promoting their business to the motoring public. Implement them for your business or maybe they will spark a “light bulb” of your own.

1. Use creative license plate frames or other “gimmicks” to promote your shop. To build recognition of his shop in the community of Merchantville, N.J., Robert Mulhern Jr., of Mulhern’s Auto Repairs, ordered license plate frames printed with various slogans that communicate the message, “My Car Loves Mulhern’s Auto.”

“These [frames] are installed on the rear of any car that visits our shop (unless it already has plate covers) and can be seen by the driver behind my customer while driving,” says Mulhern.

For a little more than $1 per frame, Mulhern says he is getting maximum exposure for his shop in this small community where five other facilities are competing for the same business as him. “It’s little things like this that give us the edge,” he says. 

Look around and see what other businesses around you are doing to get their name out there and start thinking about how you can incorporate some of those ideas into your shop.

The use of license plate covers varies from state to state, so be sure to check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

2. Become known in your community for keeping children safe or other worthy causes. For years, Francis Auto­motive in West Chester, Pa., has worked hard to keep children safe in cars by becoming a certified child seat installation facility. John Francis Jr., AAM, owner, did his research and found that no independent shops in Pennsylvania were offering this service. As a grandfather himself, Francis was astounded to learn that seven out of 10 children in child safety seats were not buckled in properly. Wanting to give back to his community, he invested the time, resources and money to become a certified facility.

Francis says parents are thankful to his shop for this specialized service. He adds that Francis Auto­motive never tries to sell their shop to the parents. “It’s all about the child and installing the seat properly,” he says.

The shop does send a thank-you note as a follow-up, and Francis has noticed that an increasing number of parents are coming in for service. He adds that if a shop decides to get involved and support a cause, he recommends picking an area that will make your shop stand out. In his case, child safety and vehicles were a perfect match. He also says to make sure you get buy-in from all of your staff and to “stick with it” – that is key to making it a success.

3. In spending your marketing dollars, think “cost effectiveness.” Doug Kirchdorfer, AAM, owner of Downing Street Garage in Denver, will be the first to admit that good marketing can be costly but it’s how you look at the costs, based on long- and short-term results (think return on investment), that is important.

Want to Discuss Budget-Friendly Marketing Ideas?

Be sure to visit ASA’s Communities section to share your ideas and experiences. See the forum titled “Marketing Ideas” under “Member-Shops Issues.” To log in:

Enter your personalized username. Your username is your firstnamelastname with no space. Example: joesmith.

Enter your password. Your password is your six-digit member number. This can be found on your AutoInc. mailing label right above the recipient’s name. Once logged in, users can change their passwords.

For instance, he hired a graphic designer (not cheap) to design a logo to use on all of his shop’s marketing materials – from signage to its website. As most marketing professionals will tell you, an attractive logo can make all the difference in projecting a professional image. They also hired a company to design their website (also not cheap) and handle search engine optimization (SEO) and other online marketing. When spending money on marketing, Kirchdorfer prefers to use the term “cost-effective” in weighing the dollars spent with the results he is looking for, especially for the long term. He adds, “You get what you pay for.”

4. Support your community by hosting local events such as a movie night. Eddie Ehlert, owner of MazdOnly and ToyOnly, Chamblee, Ga., has found that sponsoring a movie night through a local neighborhood association is a creative way to get his name in front of moviegoers. Investing about $300-$600, Ehlert sponsors a movie, which is shown outdoors and is usually some kind of kid-friendly feature that attracts young families. As a result of the exposure during the event, Ehlert said that last year the opportunity generated enough business to more than pay for sponsorship costs. Look around in your community and see if there are local sporting or cultural events, fairs, carnivals and other opportunities for sponsorship.

5. Work with a nearby business or corporation and offer to host a seminar or workshop during employees’ lunch hour where a shop can educate them about the importance of proper car care. Once again, it gets a shop’s name in front of people in a friendly and educational type of venue. Kirchdorfer has done multiple “Lunch ‘N Learns” for the Mountain State Employers Council in Denver, and said for less than $200, he touched about 25 people through the PowerPoint presentation.  


More Marketing Pointers

Know your clientele. Do your customers prefer emails or snail mail? If you have both types of needs, then don’t go with an Internet-only company.

ASA offers a multitude of training options from the local to national levels through seminars, and training events such as Automotive Service and Repair Week. Attend the classes to learn as much as you can to implement the best marketing practices.

If working with a third-party provider for your marketing needs, ask for a trial period of a certain service or product before signing a long-term contract.


6. Follow up every service visit with an email or phone call. Paul Pamer has been handling customer service for Express Care North in Spring, Texas, for nine years. He has a simple formula in building positive relationships with Express Care North’s customers: a follow-up email. Using an email program, Pamer has found that following up on every service visit with a thank-you note is a good way to get referrals for the shop. He says that there are many companies out there that offer this type of service, but he has found that doing it in-house has been the most cost-effective for Express Care North.

Pamer has gotten some great feedback – good and bad – as a result of the emails. And for those customers who don’t want to provide an email address, he will pick up the phone and call. 

He has more than 2,000 valid email addresses that allow him to send special promotions and discount coupons. He says, "This is much less expensive than paying another company to send postcard mailers and much more effective! Another way of keeping your shop’s name in the forefront.”

7. Learn what marketing practices and strategies give you the most bang for your buck. If marketing budgets are tight, then do your research to see what types of things you can implement for the money you have. Remember, advises Betty Jo Young of Young’s Automotive Center, Houston, that what works for one shop may not work for your shop.

8. Network, Network and Network. There are many networking groups out there, including ASA, to promote your shop and its services and learn from other business owners like you.
A good start would be to join the local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau, if you haven’t already. Other places to check out: LeTip International, Business Networking International and more.

9. Don’t overlook the small details, especially for your female customers. In marketing your shop and trying to project a positive, friendly and warm image, don’t overlook the growing market of female customers. “Marketing is all about the experience,” says Kirchdorfer. Seventy-five percent of Downing Street Garage’s customers are female. Therefore, the shop makes sure to have magazines that women enjoy reading while they wait on their cars. He says there are many different places that offer magazine subscriptions for a discount, so shop around. And Kirchdorfer emphasizes the importance of having clean, spotless bathrooms as well. All of these details are important in helping to create a customer-friendly atmosphere for your shop.

10. What about Facebook and Twitter? They are free. No marketing plan in today’s age would be complete without mentioning the impact of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. ASA shop owners mentioned that they have had some success with these sites. However, they caution that managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts requires time and resources. To do it right, said one owner, you have to engage almost daily. Because Facebook and Twitter are free to use, they may seem like a good, budget-friendly option to market your shop. But like your shop’s web page, it takes time and dedicated resources to make it function properly.



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