Best Marketing Practices for Your Shop
By Douglass Kirchdorfer, AAM
Marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of owning a small business that we as auto repair shop owners face. Webster’s Dictionary defines marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service.”
How do you market your company to get the message out that you are open and ready for business? Attracting the customer or getting the phone to ring is just the start, so let’s start with the basics.
A marketing plan can help the small-business owner get really clear about what they need to do to get the message out. While a comprehensive marketing plan can seem overwhelming at first glance, it can help with timing your efforts to get and keep your bays full. Even a simple calendar of what direct mail pieces or radio ads you plan on doing can help keep you on track.
Bryan Stasch, vice president of Automotive Training Institute, says an effective marketing plan covers every aspect of your business from how the service adviser answers the phone to what weekly, monthly or annual special you plan on offering. He goes on to say that measuring the results is the only way to know if that postcard special was cost effective.
First impression is high on the list of best practices. Step outside your business and take a look at what the customer sees. In an auto repair shop, the customer comes to you for repair and service of their car or light truck. The customer wants to go to a company that can communicate with them on their level. A place that is clean, has the ability to fix what’s needed and works on the type of car they drive.
The office or reception should be uncluttered and inviting, the magazines relevant to your type of customer with comfortable chairs or couches that are clean. The bathrooms must be clean with no offensive odors. The parking lot should be well lit, free of debris, and have easily accessible parking spots. Most of all, the cars you are working on should be similar to the type driven by the customer you are looking to attract. When your employees answer the phone, they must sound professional and be able to help the caller. On-hold messaging is important if the caller is put on hold. These are just a few of the ways you’re marketing your business. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression and part of your overall marketing plan needs to take these items into consideration.
Let’s assume that you can fix what they came in for – that you have the tools, training and skilled people to get the job done. You have a sparkling-clean reception area, and your people are dressed in a professional manner. You answer the phone in a professional way and ask the customer questions to understand what they really need.
How can you get the phone to ring and cars in the door? Signage is an easy way to communicate your message and is often an overlooked aspect of the overall plan. Your signs and banners need to be easy to read, the right color and not too busy. Don’t try to say everything you do on one sign.
Business cards are another way you market your business. Your card needs to say just the right amount of information without being too busy. Tout that you are an ASA member-shop, are AAA-approved or hire ASE-certified techs.
The Internet is the communication tool of choice for most consumers today. It is one of the most complex forms of marketing your business and is so much more than just having a website. Facebook, Google+, Yelp, City Search and Twitter are just a few of the multitude of Internet sites that can complement your Internet presence and should be part of your overall marketing campaign. The best place to start your Internet marketing is with a well-designed website that is properly managed. Making your website come to the top of the page or “above the fold” on every search engine is a task not left to the faint of heart. The days of having your nephew who understands computers help you build a website is long past.
Danny Sanchez, CEO of AutoShop Solutions, an ASA associate member, is a specialist in designing, building and managing websites for the auto repair industry. He says a well-designed website must convey your unique message to the consumer. It must represent your business and convey your sales message with images that reflect who you are and be able to reach your target market. Another measure of a well-designed site is conversion. It’s not enough for consumers to see you; the site must entice the consumer to pick up the phone. He also says the quality of the code that the site is written in can affect your ranking with Google, which can in turn affect your pay-per-click ad rates. In short, a well-designed and managed site can actually cost less in the long run.
Once you have that outstanding site you will need to continue maximizing its overall effectiveness. Constant changes and relevant content get and keep your website at the top of the search engines. Find-ability, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, search engine marketing, mobile site, keywords, reputation management, fresh and relevant content, analytics, blogging and social media are just a few of the Internet marketing buzzwords now being used. Whoever manages your Internet marketing campaign will need to know and understand what these terms mean and how to best use them.
Direct mail is by far one of the most cost-effective types of marketing an independent shop can use to get customers in the door. This can be a postcard developed in-house and mailed to your regular customers, reminding them of their next oil change – or a piece put together by a professional marketing company designed to attract a specific customer. The most effective direct mail piece needs to be well designed, have a clear message and a call to action. Just like the signage mentioned earlier, a direct mail piece needs to be easy to read and needs to be something the buyer wants now. The call to action will have a limited-time offer that will get the consumer to take immediate action. The last part of a successful direct mail piece is one that is easy to track.
Bill Moss of EuroService Automotive in Warrenton, Va., uses Mudlick Mail, an associate member, to send direct mail pieces to customers in his market area. Moss says the company was able to target customers who drive specific makes and models of European cars. He said that while only some of his regular customers use the piece, he still sees a good return on his investment.
Tom Piippo of Tri County Motors in Rudyard, Mich., created a newsletter that is light coffee table reading with some quirky traffic facts and jokes; nothing technical. He includes an insert that doesn’t have an offer or discount. He calls it his personal blog and has gotten great comments on his light-hearted approach to keep his customers coming back for more.
Regardless of what you do, be it the Internet, direct mail or even personal phone calls to make sure the car got fixed correctly, all are some form of marketing your business. And to stay busy during those slow times, you must do something.
Doug Kirchdorfer, AAM, is owner of Downing Street Garage, Denver, and a member of ASA’s Mechanical Operations Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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