Tom Franklin

Tom Franklin (122)

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing consultant for forty years, specializing in automotive and auto body. He has written numerous books and provides marketing solutions and services for many businesses. He can be reached at (323) 871-6862 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Tuesday, 13 July 2010 21:16

Using Fraud And Fear As Marketing Tools

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

A while back, Ford used the following headline in their magazine ads: “Only Your Mother Cares More About Your Safety.” With the media today telling consumers about manufacturing defects and recalls, faulty repairs by shops, and even huge amounts of fraud, the prospective repair customer may fear for her and her children's lives if she chooses the wrong shop. Today many people are more motivated by fear than by positive motives. This may be a good time for a wise shop-owner to use this perception to his or her advantage.

Every successful shop owner needs to educate the customer about the importance of doing a quality repair and why his or her shop is the best place to get it. And maybe a few shop owners make some comments about the poor quality of a competitor. But now it may be time to talk seriously about the dangers of faulty repairs. Accelerator pedals that stick, brakes that fail to stop a vehicle, welds that don't hold, and—perhaps worst of all—repairs that were paid for and never done. These are all legitimate sources of fear that a shop owner can capitalize on when selling the reliability and integrity of his or her shop.

Recently more than fifty shop owners and estimators in Orange County were charged with fraud. This is not a new problem. An article in the January 30, 2007 Los Angeles Times [controversially] reported that an investigation by the State of California BAR “has found that billing for 43% of cars inspected so far, after being repaired had evidence of fraud with an average of $586 in overcharges for parts not used or labor not performed.” The article further reported that “about 13% of the repaired vehicles had structural issues that would indicate inadequate or defective repairs to car frames… Those inadequacies included improper welds and failure to rust-proof key parts.” It goes without saying that many of these deficiencies compromise the safety of the driver and passengers of the vehicle repaired. [Ed—the numbers cited in this article were later walked back by Sherry Mehl, the BAR chief appointed at about the time the article was written, citing flawed methodology in the survey.]

Last modified on Monday, 26 July 2010 17:32
Rate this item
(0 votes)

I was recently helping a shop update their website, and checking out numerous other shop websites in the process. One characteristic stood out in most of them: their primary emphasis was on their QUALITY of work.

This struck me as curious because many customers have indicated to this shop that their main concern was how fast they could get their car back, and with self-pay customers, it was price that was most important. Very few mentioned quality.

In recent years, it seems in many business areas speed and prices have triumphed over quality. Fast food establishments far outnumber other restaurants, and while quality may be a minor concern, price and speed of service are what counts. Today’s marketplace is dominated by “instant” services: photos, cleaning, car washes and even tune-ups and oil-changes. Given this preponderance of concern for speed and price, I found it curious that these factors were rarely mentioned on collision repair websites I visited. Of course there was some mention of “cycle time,” but I never found this trumpeted as THE reason to visit the shop.

So is quality dead as a primary characteristic when marketing a shop? Of course not, but when visiting dozens of shops, I was surprised to find that some of the busiest shops were better at marketing than quality of work. Of course possibly it was due to the large volume of jobs that there were more returns and re-dos. I’ve also found this discrepancy to be true of some other professionals I’ve worked with. A mediocre attorney was always busy because he excelled at promoting himself. I even went to a highly promoted dentist who was incredibly busy, but the dental work I received was far below the quality I’ve received at a small dental facility.

I’ve observed that those businesses that manage to attract a large volume of customers concentrate heavily on marketing. This is not to say they neglect the quality of the work they deliver, but when advertisements all loudly proclaim the great quality of their services or products, perhaps viewers come to believe that they’re all about the same. And if there isn’t any significant difference in quality, why not simply choose on the basis of price and speed?

So what might these observations mean to a shop owner about to spend time and money on advertising and promotion? I would say the number one take-away is don’t underestimate the importance of a full-time focus on marketing. Many shop owners started out in production themselves. They are naturally concerned with the quality of work their shop produces and marketing is probably not as comfortable a skill as production quality. Nevertheless, if marketing is properly viewed as the tool that brings customers in the door, it has to be elevated to the number one position whether the shop is slow or not.

The next take-away might suggest a change of focus for their website. Anyone surfing the web looking for a collision repair facility is unlikely to be swayed by assertions of superior quality that are fairly uniform from one collision repair site to the next. It’s also likely that this surfer wants to eliminate the time it would take to travel around to various shops or to even call them. The web surfer is obviously concerned with time and speed. Finally, why do people purchase products and services on-line rather than from a local shop or store? Abundance of choices is certainly a factor, but when narrowing down those choices, price is likely to be the deciding factor.

And so we come to the final question: What can a shop owner say on his or her website that will bring in the prospect looking for price and speed of service? The offer has to be credible, so some sort of guarantee must be included. “Lowest price” generally means nothing. An offer of a percentage discount is also useless. These days people automatically assume the product or service has been marked up another ten percent before that percentage is deducted. One effective approach might be to mention that insurance companies always demand a parts and labor discount. The website could promise the customer he or she will receive the same discount the shop offers insurance partners.

Speed of service is a trickier proposition. I’ve visited shops that publicize a turn-around time based on the price of the job: Under $500, 24-hour service; under $1000 two-day service, etc. One shop offered to reduce the price of repair by a percentage for each day they exceeded the estimated time. Another offered some sort of rebate if the job wasn’t completed on time. A shop owner might not want to offer these terms to anyone other than a prospect on the web. But given the reasons prospects surf the web, this focus on price and speed are most likely to bring the prospect in the door.

To view a PDF of this article PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Thursday, 27 May 2010 18:57

Save Marketing Money By ‘Piggybacking’

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

A local collision shop recently set up a table at a Volvo dealer’s Customer Car Care Clinic on a Saturday. While not the exclusive authorized repair facility for the Volvo dealer, the shop does a fair amount of repair work for the dealership’s customers. The cost for the body shop for piggybacking on the Volvo dealer’s event was very little. Two people attended to pass out T-shirts, pens, and other specialty items. They also prompted questions from attendees on the condition of their vehicle’s autobody, and offered a free diagnosis for paint wear, structural problems and more. Several potential jobs came out of these discussions.

With business volume and profits down these days, shops need to look for ways to cut costs and this includes marketing. Generally when business is slow the last expense a shop should cut is marketing, but piggybacking is a great way to stretch those marketing dollars. This same shop took advantage of another opportunity to share in an inexpensive event at a local high school. The school held a driver awareness day sponsored by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Auto Club and a local TV station. A personal connection enabled the shop to set up an information table during the event. Since schools in this state no longer offer driver training programs, there is a good opportunity for collision shops to promote opportunities for events like this in local high schools. An insurance partner is likely to participate, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to recruit a local driving school and possibly even a towing company to join in.

Another shop has capitalized on a strong relationship with the owner’s church congregation. The church has a high school and the shop provided free repairs on a school bus as a contribution that resulted in an invitation to share in a church’s community event and to be listed in the church bulletin. Other local community events like parades and family fair days can provide a shop with an opportunity to have an information booth and to be listed in any event literature. Most of the costs of attracting attendees to these events have been covered by the hosting organization, and these are the biggest costs in putting on any event. I know of one dealership where about $10,000 was spent on a one-day open house. The cost of catering was far less that the promotional costs. The shop piggybacking on such events incurs practically no costs by comparison.

Monday, 11 January 2010 14:25

Finding a Marketing Hole and Filling It

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

A shop in my area recently experienced an attack by a competitor. One of the competitor’s reps was trying to get one of the shop’s dealership “authorized collision repair” status. At the same time they tried to hire away one of his best technicians, and some nasty “black P.R.” was employed to hurt his reputation with local insurance agents. He tried to fight back. An old military maxim says, “the best defense is a good offense,” but this shop owner felt he lacked the personnel and resources to really mount a good offense against this larger, multi-shop competitor.

By the time this shop owner realized he was under attack, it was almost too late to do anything about it. He should have been maintaining a competition conscious posture in his area. A business can’t afford to operate as though they exist in a vacuum. It can be fatal to ignore the activities of one’s competitors. An on-going marketing strategy should be in place to evaluate competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and to capitalize on any perceived “hole” in their approach to getting new business.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:27
Tuesday, 09 February 2010 14:22

New Year’s Resolutions You May Have Missed

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

The New Year is well under way and by now most of us have probably forgotten our New Year’s resolutions—that is, if we even bothered to write any. Those of us who did write some probably tapped our mental list of those things about ourselves, our businesses, our relationships and our finances that we would like to improve. It’s also likely that our list of resolutions was incomplete. There were probably many more things that needed improvement that we simply didn’t notice.

After a while we become so accustomed to that spot or tear on the sofa that we don’t notice it anymore. Perhaps we’ve had that old poster on the wall so long that we haven’t noticed that it’s hopelessly out of date and no longer a complementary decoration for our waiting area. Once we begin looking at some aspects of our shop from someone else’s point of view, we may realize that some additional resolutions to change things for the better should have been on that list.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:28
Rate this item
(0 votes)

In the 1940s, in the Spring the Missouri River, in the vicinity of Kansas City, would overflow from heavy Winter snows and Spring rains. The result was serious flooding of the surrounding land. One factor that made the flooding worse was the meandering nature of the river, and one of the worst meanders was locally called “Jackass Bend” where severe flooding was nearly an annual event. To resolve this situation, the U.S. Corps of Engineers dug a straight new channel several miles South of the old one called the Liberty Bend cutoff, and dammed up the old channel. And they built a new bridge across the new channel called the Liberty Bridge.

I’ve noticed that a number of shops put their customers through a few “Jackass Bends” just to get their vehicle repaired. Forms must be filled in and a customer may have to wait for an estimator and then wait for a rental car. The popular buzzword of the day is “Lean Procedures,” with a focus on eliminating unnecessary steps and delays. Much of the emphasis is placed on lean production, but lean customer processing is equally important. Many shops thrive on customer referrals and a customer subjected to a series of “Jackass Bends” is not likely to go out of the way to refer the shop.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:28
Rate this item
(0 votes)

I recently learned that a shop owner in my area had dropped a couple of DRPs, including Farmers and 21st Century (which had been absorbed by AIG). I heard that he had decided that between his Toyota and BMW dealership relationships plus his many-year prior customers, he no longer needed the hassle of increasingly onerous demands and low profits from the insurance companies.

Naturally I applaud his courage in seeking to prosper without the insurance connections, but I had to wonder if he adequately considered the long-term ramifications of his decision. Over the years I’ve observed that body shop relationships with dealerships are often similar to marriages. Many end in divorce.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2010 14:29
Rate this item
(0 votes)
A shop in my area recently experienced an attack by a competitor. One of the competitor’s reps was trying to get one of the shop’s dealership “authorized collision repair” status. At the same time they tried to hire away one of his best technicians, and some nasty “black P.R.” was employed to hurt his reputation with local insurance agents. He tried to fight back. An old military maxim says, “the best defense is a good offense,” but this shop owner felt he lacked the personnel and resources to really mount a good offense against this larger, multi-shop competitor.
    By the time this shop owner realized he was under attack, it was almost too late to do anything about it. He should have been maintaining a competition conscious posture in his area. A business can’t afford to operate as though they exist in a vacuum. It can be fatal to ignore the activities of one’s competitors. An on-going marketing strategy should be in place to evaluate competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and to capitalize on any perceived “hole” in their approach to getting new business.
    Keeping a simple file on each major competitor, enumerating which of the ten major business sources each one focuses on, is a start. For example, the shop owner should have known that his aggressive competitor had lost one authorized dealership position when that dealer went out of business. This should have raised an “alert flag” to strengthen and sweeten his own dealership position, knowing his competitor’s predatory nature.
    Another competitor nearby picked up a major DRP relationship lost by a shop that changed hands. Not keeping track of other shop’s marketing efforts probably cost him any opportunity to compete for that DRP status. In his defense, tracking one’s competitor’s activities can be time-consuming for one competitor, let alone dozens of competitors. The best sources of shop gossip and private information are the vendors, adjusters, jobbers, delivery guys, and various sublet service people. Taking a little time to ask key questions of a few of these people who jump from shop to shop could alert a shop owner to possible opportunities (or consequences).
    While it’s extremely valuable to get a heads up on a pending business threat, it may be even more valuable to spot the hole in one’s competitor’s marketing arsenal. I’ve spoken to many shop owners who avoid commercial vehicle accounts. They say they always have to discount prices and going after that kind of business is too time-consuming. They’d rather have jobs sent to them by dealerships or DRPs. If this is a hole in most of a shop’s competitor’s business mix, it could be an excellent opportunity to fill the need.
    This tendency to sit and have jobs sent to a shop may allow one to get the jump on the competition and seize the direct marketing business falling through those competitor’s holes. Many shops are not willing to expend the time and effort to distribute direct literature or write business-card size estimates on vehicles in parking lots and local streets. This is an easy hole to fill.
    When one’s competitors are enjoying sufficient DRP or dealership business to avoid harder marketing targets, this may also open up an opportunity to go after fleet work. Getting local government fleets, a GSA account, or national fleet services like C.E.I. and Fleet Response can take a lot of time and effort. Governments require endless paperwork and getting the attention of many fleet services can also be very time-consuming, but ultimately very profitable.
    While these more difficult targets are often “holes” in a shop’s competitor’s marketing mix, the juicier finds like DRPs and dealerships may show up as available targets. Creating a list of the DRP relationships at one’s dozen or so main competitors shouldn’t be that difficult. Most shops list their DRP relationships in their literature. Going over those lists should show at a glance that those DRPs are unlikely to add another shop locally. But these days there are dozens of insurance companies with one form of direct repair or another. If there are companies not represented in your area, this may be a hole you should find it relatively easy to fill. Who would have thought your competitors could be so valuable in helping you expand your marketing efforts?
Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2010 12:03
Rate this item
(0 votes)
The New Year is well under way and by now most of us have probably forgotten our New Year’s resolutions—that is, if we even bothered to write any. Those of us who did write some probably tapped our mental list of those things about ourselves, our businesses, our relationships and our finances that we would like to improve. It’s also likely that our list of resolutions was incomplete. There were probably many more things that needed improvement that we simply didn’t notice.
    After a while we become so accustomed to that spot or tear on the sofa that we don’t notice it anymore. Perhaps we’ve had that old poster on the wall so long that we haven’t noticed that it’s hopelessly out of date and no longer a complementary decoration for our waiting area. Once we begin looking at some aspects of our shop from someone else’s point of view, we may realize that some additional resolutions to change things for the better should have been on that list.
    Since more than half of our customers these days may be women, that could be a useful point of view to start with. Most of the men I know only occasionally buy new clothes or pay much attention to what other men are wearing. Women, on the other hand, are generally very aware of what other women are wearing and often ask where someone bought that purse or shoes or jacket. They have a keen eye for appearance and for detail. If clothing retail merchants had to depend on men’s shopping habits, few would have survived this recession. Shops with tasteful uniforms for employees will have a definite advantage with the clothing-conscious ladies.
Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2010 12:02
Monday, 30 November 2009 13:55

Franklin --- Business Beyond NACE

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Every year NACE is eclipsed in size by the SEMA and AAPEX Shows during industry week. This year the AAPEX aftermarket show had 132,000 attendees, about six times the number at NACE and CARS this year.
    Some collision shop owners and managers make it over to the SEMA Show, but I’m always amazed at how few seem to grasp the enormous profit potential for their shops. I’ve written about this before, but let me refresh you on a few details.
    SEMA says their specialty automotive industry is now about $31.85 billion with 7,144 member companies. Retail sales of these products increased more than twice as fast as the general economy. One dealership body shop manager told me they did $25,000/month in accessory sales and installations. I don’t know the exact numbers, but even with our diminished economy, automotive accessories are still selling well.
Rate this item
(0 votes)
The collision industry in my area is divided into two camps: The big guys and the smaller independent shops. The big multi-location or consolidator-owned shops have a huge advantage over the smaller shops. In addition to more revenue to hire top-rate repair technicians, they can also afford many more administrative people to enter data into the computer and do follow-up mail, e-mail and phone calls.
    One of the greatest competitive advantages is marketing data. Marketing research companies go to great lengths to acquire demographic information, and they collect sizeable revenue from client companies. Collision repair facilities have all of the marketing information right at their fingertips, but few have adequate personnel to collect it. A well-designed customer information form asks for customer and spouse’s name and anniversary, number of children and all family birthdays and additional family vehicles. Naturally it asks for the exact referral source, insurance company or agent, dealership, commercial enterprise, family or friend, and maybe even contact phone numbers. A superior form should also ask for the customer’s business or employer plus vehicles owned by the business along with some contact numbers.
    In a busy shop with only one front desk person and an estimator or two, the odds of collecting this data are nearly zero. Only a shop with a trained and dedicated data collection person will have any chance of collecting this information. Few shops would even bother collecting this data, because it is so unlikely they would have anyone on hand to use this marketing data to make the follow-up calls, e-mails and proposals.
    Someone selling automobile information would see this data as a potential gold mine and jump on it with great eagerness! Here would be an opportunity to sell a policy to other family members, to insure additional family and friend vehicles, and to possibly even sell some auto policies to the car owner’s employer or employees if he or she owns a business. That same opportunity exists for the shop to invite in any of these vehicles for anything from a detail to a major collision repair. There just must be a person dedicated to the task.
    The KEY to the big shop advantage is personnel! With several people on the front desk, when several customers all come in at once, complete information can be collected. Multiple phone calls can all be handled at once. A person or two can be dedicated to keeping customers informed and making follow-up calls on estimates that didn’t immediately turn into jobs. Customer satisfaction survey calls that get more real responses can be made by shop personnel instead of being farmed out to a CSI company. Referral sources like agents, brokers, dealerships and local businesses can be called and thanked and, when appropriate, sent thank you theatre tickets or restaurant meal tickets.
    All of these simple administrative procedures when added together produce increased business volume making the big shop even bigger. How can the smaller, independent shop owner hope to compete with this personnel advantage? Employees are costly and few small shops can afford even a fraction of the employees big shops employ.
    The first step is to realize that more administrative personnel do give a shop a competitive advantage when trained and focused effectively. Now all a shop owner has to do is work out a way to get more admin people without dramatically increasing payroll. Fortunately the present job situation makes this unexpectedly easy. Many college graduates are failing to find work and may accept part-time or even training positions. High school kids with a strong interest in cars may easily be attracted to part-time entry level car-washing and repair prep, but the others, with an interest in computers, bookkeeping, or other administrative skills, may be just as willing to have a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a collision shop office either after school or on a part time basis.
    A shop can also take advantage of youth training and apprenticeship programs like those offered by the Chamber of Commerce, I-CAR, ASE, vocational schools and other programs. As unemployment grows, we’re also likely to see more federal and state assistance programs, summer programs, matching dollar programs and grants.
    The KEY is to go beyond collision repair tech trainees. Very few administrative job seekers may ever think of the collision industry as a possible place for an administrative vocation, but once introduced to this friendly industry, many may stay. And with a focus on data collection that few usual people in shops possess, these administrative-oriented people may take advantage of that valuable marketing data that each and every customer can provide for the shop.
«StartPrev123456789NextEnd»
Page 4 of 9

E-NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP

Sign up for our FREE twice monthly newsletter now!

//< script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.autobodynews.com/script/ //< /script >