John Yoswick (148)
John Yoswick is an automotive freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the collision industry since 1988. He has a body shop in the family and is the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit www.CrashNetwork.com).
If there’s anything positive about an economic downturn like the country is experiencing right now, it could be that for the business owner, it certainly focuses the mind. Extraneous (even if valuable) activities often get set aside as such core fundamentals as getting work to the door take precedent.
Here are some low-cost, high-impact marketing ideas that shops around the country are using to keep collision-damaged vehicles rolling in. Some of these ideas may be more effective in some markets more than others. But even an idea designed for a community with a population of 15,000 could possibly be altered to work in a metropolitan area (and vice versa)—or may just help spark a related idea that will work for your shop.
Dinner on the shop. One shop owner is trying to spend a bigger portion of his marketing budget during the tough economic times in his small community to directly help local families and other community businesses. At least once a week when he’s out eating in a local restaurant, the shop is picking up the dinner tab for one or more other couples or families elsewhere in the restaurant.
“It’s not a big expense, and I figure every time I’m doing it, at the very least three I’m touching three households: the people whose dinner I’m buying, the waitress who tells them, and the owner of the restaurant,” the shop owner said. “And you know those people are telling others about it. That can have an impact in a town this size.”
The paid dinner tab comes with one of the shop’s business cards that says, “We hope you won’t need us, but if you do…”
The shop owner said after several months, it’s become something a group of local restaurant owners are talking to him about helping promote (he decided to keep the money local by buying dinners only in local restaurants, not national chains). One family wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to thank him. He said he feels much better about spending the money this way rather than buying advertising. And, most importantly, he can track at least several jobs that have come into the shop as a result.
“It’s not a lot, but I’m also not spending a lot,” the shop owner said. “And I think it’s only going to build as I keep doing this.”
Happy birthday to you. Robert “BJ” Bjorneby says that he first put his best low-cost marketing tool to work back in the mid-1970s, the last time a gas crisis seriously cut into people’s driving habits and “you could have played football on the street” in front of his shop near Seattle. He invested in a reader board he still uses near the street in front of his shop on which he displays birthday greetings to local residents and customers and other “fun stuff.”
“It’s become real well-known and it works,” Bjorneby said.
Happy birthday, dear BMW. Similarly, real estate agents, investment advisors and insurance agents have for years used birthday cards as an annual way of keeping in touch with clients. Mike Anderson of Wagonworks Collision Center in Alexandria, Virg., has put his own twist on the idea by sending birthday cards to his customer’s cars.
The shop notes the production month and year of customers’ cars, and each month sends a “birthday” postcard to all customers whose cars “were born” in that month of the year. The card invites the customer to schedule a free wash, vacuum and 12-point inspection of the vehicle.
Anderson said the program keeps his name in front of customers in a unique way, and gets many customers to come back into the shop, helping keep Wagonworks “top of mind.” It also gives the shop a chance to reinspect its own work. But perhaps most valuably, Anderson’s customer service team is well-trained to look for opportunities to up-sell a customer, and getting customers back in “between collisions” is a chance to look for minor damage or other opportunities for the shop to be of service to its customers.
(Another shop with good drive-by traffic holds a “free community carwash” at the shop once a quarter, holding signs—that include the shop’s name—out front to direct drivers into its parking lot. Shop employees and their families are asked to volunteer to help for a few hours —the shop buys lunch—and the shop accepts donations from drivers for a non-profit group, which also results in some positive publicity. Customers can get a tour of the shop while they wait, and the shop looks for damage or other possible work on the vehicles it washes.)
Your vehicle as billboard. Anderson jokes that he removed all the signage for his shop from his vehicle when another driver called the shop to complain how one of its employees was driving—and Anderson realized they were calling about him.
But other shops owners see their company vehicle as the perfect “rolling advertisement” for their shop. Painted lettering, magnetic signage, window decals or license plate frames can put your shop name in front of others on the road.
You can also make that message stand out a little more by wrapping your entire vehicle in a pre-printed decal promoting your shop. Signsource USA in Pompano Beach, FL, is among the companies offering this service, which can average about $3,500 per vehicle (depending on required design work, vehicle style, etc.). For ideas, you can visit that company’s website (www.wrapyourcar.com).
Look for free publicity. Yes, Craig Camacho is marketing director for the eight-location Keenan Auto Body organization based in the Philadelphia area. But he didn’t really do anything any shop couldn’t have done when he arranged earlier this year for a reporter from the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia to visit a Keenan shop to try her hand at automotive welding and painting with the help of Keenan technicians. The reporter does a regular “Take this job…” segment on the station’s morning newscast, and Camacho just called in to suggest “collision repair technician” as a job she may want to feature. The segment on the reporter’s visit to the shop aired in March, providing a virtually no-cost television promotion for Keenan.
Tough times force some businesses to make cuts where they can, and marketing is sometimes one of the budget lines that (often foolishly) gets cut. That makes this an ideal time to beat out competitors by keeping your name out there—often in ways that don’t have to cost a fortune.
“For repair shops, this is not acceptable,” Pat Gisler, executive director of the Automotive Service Councils of Kentucky, told representatives of CCC at the meeting. She said her group and other state associations would be urging their members to register their displeasure with CCC’s decision.
The subject of Gisler’s ire was the reinstatement of a refinish prompt in version 4.5 of CCC’s Pathways estimating system. The prompt asks the user if a plastic bumper is being refinished in a “continuous process” with other parts of the vehicle. If the estimator indicates that it is, Pathways automatically deducts overlap from the clearcoat refinish time for the bumper.
He described the changes as primarily “minor” or “editorial,” and that unlike the transition from State Farm’s “Service First” to “Select Service” program, the change in the agreement was not coinciding with a reduction in the number of shops participating in the program.
“Local management may have some market areas that they want to adjust (the number of shops) but that’s not associated with this update,” Avery said.
With the election and economy first and foremost on many people’s minds this fall and winter, it’s almost hard to remember how many other topics and news items the industry talked about this past year: Changes in some insurer’s repair policies. Changes in some shops’ relationships with insurers. Changes in the leadership of some associations. Changes in gas prices and consumer driving patterns. Changes brought about by laws and lawsuits.
Here is an annual review of the past year’s news as viewed through a collection of some of the most memorable, important, interesting or enlightening quotes heard around the industry during 2008.
“We have heard how complex we have made it to do business with I-CAR. We have to go after that with a vengeance.”
– I-CAR CEO John Edelen, speaking at the organization’s annual meeting in July, about the training organization’s internal restructuring following several significant financial losses.
“I believe this isn’t going to be popular, but my opinion is that it is our business and I don’t think we should be dictated to as to how we should operate.”
– Michael Lloyd of California Casualty, when asked if an insurer’s decisions about which shops are selected or removed from its DRP in any market should be made by a “board of independent individuals that cannot have a close enough relationship with a shop to gain any …gratuity.”
“They’re not opening their arms and saying welcome to the fold. It still takes some effort.”
– Bruce Halcro, a shop owner in Helena, Montana, and president of the Montana Collision Repair Specialists, saying insurers are, if only reluctantly, abiding by a 3-year-old law that the association backed which requires any shop meeting the requirements of a direct repair program to be allowed to participate.
“We’re going to see the current model for quite a while. Entrepreneurs owning one, two, three, six or eight shops will continue to dominate this business. Multi-state, 100-shop networks? Hard to do.”
– Brian Sullivan, editor of the weekly “Auto Insurance Report,” saying he no longer believes as he did a decade ago that the collision repair industry
– Crystal Abele, assistant manager of Collision Repair Specialists in El Cajon, California, speaking about State Farm’s required use of an electronic parts ordering program for its Select Service shops in some markets.
“I see this an inevitable part of progress. And I do believe at some point it will work. (And) when it comes to the extra time it takes to deal with aftermarket parts, and the reduced quality of repairs with aftermarket parts, a little bit of extra time dealing with an (OEM) parts system so that State Farm can get their discount is something I’m willing to put up with.”
– Brian Orr, second-generation owner of Jack Orr’s Autobody in La Mesa, California, also speaking about the State Farm parts ordering program.
“We believe now is the time to address this issue for the long run. We are encouraging other states to pursue this type of legislation.”
– Bob Redding, national lobbyist for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in February not to hear Allstate’s appeal of a Texas law banning insurers from owning collision repair shops.
“We believe this bill represents a substantial threat to the way in which we currently do business.”
– from an unsigned letter that California-based Mercury Insurance sent last March to shops in that state, urging them to contact state lawmakers to oppose an anti-steering bill that was eventually amended to only require the formation of a task force to look into issues arising from possible changes to existing California anti-steering laws.
“The consumer may be under the impression that he or she has no real choice. We want to make clear: Your car, your choice.”
– Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, voicing support for a proposed anti-steering regulation in that state.
“It’s outrageous that legislation is necessary to protect consumers from their own insurance companies, but that is exactly the problem that this bill addresses.”
– California Sen. Carole Migden of San Francisco on proposed legislation in that state that, had it not lost by one vote, would have prohibited insurers from requiring the use of non-OEM parts on vehicles three years old or newer.
“(Although) we strongly believe that reducing refinish times on a more widespread basis is an acceptable practice and reflects operations that allow the shop to restore the vehicle to its pre-loss condition, the decision to limit the use of partial refinish was made in large part to improve our working relationships with shops, and thereby improve the customer’s experience.”
– Chris Andreoli, corporate physical damage process manager for Progressive, announcing last May the insurer’s revised stance on partial paint / full clear.
“We are committed to strengthening Allstate’s relationship with the collision repair industry. Bringing strong leaders such as Dan into our organization will allow us to accomplish that goal much faster.”
– Bill Daly, Allstate auto claim assistant vice president, in announcing that former SCRS executive director Dan Risley had accepted a position with the insurer.
“In other words, you choose to pay, so end of game. The judge felt she had absolutely no decision but to dismiss the case.”
– New York shop owner Greg Coccaro explaining that the dismissal of Progressive fraud lawsuit against his shop was based in part on Progressive’s failure to indicate on its payment to the shop that it was “paying in protest, with all rights reserved,” on the $34,000 repair job that led to the lawsuit.
“As a result of this review, we have determined that this repair method is less feasible on newer model vehicles which incorporate special or alternative metals.”
– Mike Poulard, State Farm estimatics section manager, in a June letter to Illinois shop owner Pam Pierson saying the insurer will no longer include a full rear-body sectioning procedures (or “clips”) on State Farm-prepared estimates.
“Furthermore, only when a collision repair facility is confident that a full-body section is the appropriate repair, has the proper training and equipment to facilitate a quality repair, and has the approval of the customer or claimant for such repair, will the adjuster authorize it.”
– from an Allstate announcement in September saying that, like State Farm, it will no longer specify full-body sectioning (or “clips”) on its estimates.
“They will promise you the world in order to persuade you to go to one of their direct repair or network shops. Don’t be steered wrong.”
– wording in an newspaper ad jointly sponsored by a handful of shops in Temple, Texas, many of whom dropped out of State Farm’s “Select Service” program this past summer.
“Progressive and Nationwide definitely got the most hands. He said, ‘Maybe I need to be looking at those companies a little harder.’”
– Georgia shop owner Steve Peek, speaking about an association meeting with Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine at which Oxendine asked those in attendance to raise their hands to indicate with which of the insurers that he named one-by-one they are having problems.
“If everyone in our industry would utilize these charts…Wow, what a difference we could see.”
– Mike Anderson of Wagonwork Collision Centers in Alexandria, Virginia, and a member of the ASA Collision Division Operations Committee, speaking of the association’s two “not-included operations” charts designed to assist collision repair shops in writing complete estimates.
“This transaction will be a transforming event for the insurance claims and collision repair industries. Our customers are under increasing pressure to achieve new levels of efficiency and customer satisfaction, which requires their service providers to offer new and enhanced products, services and solutions. CCC-Mitchell will be positioned to meet these needs as we bring together our two talented teams to create greater value for our customers and business partners through increased innovation and network connectivity.”
– Githesh Ramamurthy, chairman and CEO of CCC Information Services, in announcing last April its intent to merger with Mitchell International.
“There is no doubt that this merger would reduce competition that benefits auto insurers and autobody shops and ultimately would lead to higher prices and less innovation for consumers.”
– David Wales, acting bureau of competition director for the Federal Trade Commission, announcing in late November that it had filed suit to block the CCC-Mitchell merger.
“While we are disappointed and disagree with the FTC’s position, we intend to vigorously challenge the FTC in court.”
– CCC’s Ramamurthy, responding to the FTC suit.
– Larry Rogers, owner of Mr. Rogers Auto Body in Cathedral City, California.
More insurance companies appear to be gravitating toward the idea of reducing supplements by enabling more complete disassembly of a vehicle prior to completing an initial estimate, according to a Collision Industry Conference (CIC) committee.
“Insurers are embracing a better repair process,” David McCreight, chairman of CIC’s “Business Management Committee,” said at the CIC meeting in Las Vegas in early November.
Over the past two years, McCreight’s committee has worked to estimate the costs – both for shops and insurers – associated with creating and processing a supplement. After determining that number to be in excess of $700, the committee documented what it termed a “complete repair plan,” which essentially involves a shop disassembling a damaged vehicle to determine virtually all of the parts and procedures needed, allowing for one estimate and one parts order, without the need in most cases for a supplement.
Here’s a wrap-up of some of the latest in the long-simmering battle over whether and how insurers are allowed to influence motorists’ choice of shops.
“There are times when the industry as a whole gets slow, so you really shouldn’t overlook the added revenue that fleet work offers,” said Salazar, who with his brother are the second-generation owners of Royal Coaches Autobody & Towing, a 23-employee company in Baldwin Park, California. “It’s a dependable source of work.”
“We’re basically holding steady with our marketing and advertising,” said Bob Himelstieb, parts manager at Stevinson Toyota East in Aurora, Colorado, saying he’s seen past downturns as an opportunity to pick up new business as competitors cut back their marketing.
When Doug Kelly stepped to the podium at a Friday afternoon session at NACE this past November, his goal was to help an audience consisting primarily of paint, body and equipment (PBE) jobbers understand how to grow their businesses.