Collision repair shop owners are mainly in the people business. The days of one-man shops are long gone. Every shop has employees, and most have technicians specialized in body, paint, structural and more. The typical shop owner came up through these ranks and is sufficiently knowledgeable about the details to hire competent workers. But marketing is different. Few shop owners come from a background in sales or marketing, and only fairly affluent shops can afford to hire personnel solely for marketing and sales. But that doesn't mean the need isn't there. To survive today every shop needs to bring in new customers and that means reaching out with sales and marketing. And it may mean that some employees have to do double duty. Generally that means estimators and front desk people, but it could include the parts guy and even some unusually communicative technicians.
Almost every shop owner I speak to tells me he or she wants more business. But when we start talking about business growth, I begin to hear reluctance. Too much growth means hiring more people, which means more paper work, more reports to the government, more insurance, and on and on. It also means more capital investment to cover additional equipment and to cover accounts receivable during the interval between the time parts are purchased and checks arrive for completed jobs. Everyone wants to grow in profitability, but very few want to face the costs and pains of growth.
Most people think they know what "P.R." means when they see it. Movies, TV, recorded music and other forms of entertainment rely heavily on promotion and most people think that P.R. is just a synonym for "promotion." But the fact is P.R. stands for "public relations," a very distinct aspect of marketing. The dictionary tells us "public relations" consists of "methods and means by which a person or an organization seeks to promote a favorable relationship with the public." It is often confused with "publicity" which is the effort to get favorable mention is media and the press.
Global changes are reshaping the nature of marketing today. In the earlier part of the 20th century, efforts to reach a prospective customer were referred to as "advertising." Promotion, product packaging and publicity were all considered parts of advertising. Gradually these became four separate specialties.
Nature provides us with many wondrous examples of renewal. The snake sheds his skin and appears with a new one. The caterpillar metamorphasizes into a colorful butterfly.
As we once again move into a New Year, perhaps it's time to renew and re-create a powerful forward thrust to gain new, better, or more profitable business. I see the most successful shops in my area looking to a future of change. Technicians are being re-trained to repair new vehicles.
The once a month, one-hour conference began again with an invitation for individuals to commit to being inventors of our industry's future. Members take an oath: "We are repairers, insurers and vehicle manufacturers who hereby declare the possibility of aligning our industry to a common vision, which puts the consumer first."
Although there are still many more independent shops than franchise and multiple operator shops, many of the best DRPs and dealership deals often go to the well-funded group shops. This trend may increase, as vehicle manufacturers require expensive equipment, tooling and certification to work on their vehicles. To carve out a successful niche for an independent shop, in the past I've suggested a variety of options. One that I think gets too little attention is the commercial vehicle market.
Recently I had the pleasure of being the only reporter at a local autobody association chapter meeting. This was an especially interesting meeting focusing on the new Ford F150 truck and its aluminum body. There was a great panel of industry experts whose comments could significantly impact the success of a shop trying to perform more competitively and profitably. So I was troubled when one member of the panel asked how many shop owners were present and only about six or seven raised their hands. This was a room containing an audience of more than one hundred people. One would think that at least a quarter of the attendees would be major shop decision-makers. But I shouldn't have been surprised. I've heard the same question at numerous meetings with the same low decision-maker count.
The marketing world has changed significantly during the past few years. So much has moved on-line that most other marketing expenditures may no longer make sense in your area.
Shop owners with a shop in a metropolitan area see many vehicles with minor dings, dents, scratches and more, all around the city. Many of these drivers have tolerated these imperfections on their vehicle for weeks, months and possibly even years. Why haven’t they done something about these eyesores?
Recently, the president of the local California Autobody Association (CAA) chapter renamed his shop. It had been J & L Body Shop for many years, but he chose to rename it Fix Auto Sun Valley. Obviously, he chose this name to reflect a relatively new relationship with the Fix Auto organization. But there may have been a deeper reason for the renaming.
Gender marketing—it sounds like it would be prejudicial and maybe even illegal. But in many collision repair shops, the marketing is already heavily gender-oriented. A shop that focuses on race cars, muscle cars, classic cars, and sponsoring events around these interests are already marketing to a mostly male audience. Add to that emphasis all-male estimators, and you have a shop that has a definite male gender focus. Considering that as many as half of the collision repairs coming into the shop are brought in by female customers, adding a female focus to marketing would hardly be prejudicial.
By now, most shop owners know the collision repair world is changing rapidly. Last month I wrote about the Sci-Fi Shop of the Future. New materials and new smart cars require new skills and new technology. But what is changing even faster is the way people communicate with one another. Facebook’s recent purchase of WhatsApp for 19 billion dollars to enhance the mobile segment of its 1.2 billion users says that mobile communication between users may become the predominant way people communicate in the future. But how many shops employ someone solely for the purpose of connecting with this segment of the population? And is there any good reason to do so at this time?