Monday, 30 September 2002 10:00

To make it big you have to be discovered

Written by Tom Franklin

I live in Los Angeles, California, often called LA-LA-LAND, the city of fantasies and dreams. Each year hundreds of beautiful young ladies and handsome men descend on this city, hoping to become stars. Many of them wind up waiting tables while they're waiting to be "discovered." After all, Fabian was "discovered" sitting on a door stoop. Elvis Presley was "discovered" by the Colonel. Many such stars are "discovered" by some enterprising promoter who sees a potential money-making machine for himself if they succeed. But even to be "discovered," the hopeful "stars" have to put themselves in some situation where they'll be seen, even if it's only waiting tables in some classy restaurant. 

Much earlier in my life, I played the guitar. When I was in the U.S. Army, one evening I was sitting in the service club playing for my own enjoyment when I was "discovered" by three members of an army recruiting show group. They had just lost their guitar player and invited me to become part of the group. Thanks to being "discovered," I served out the rest of my hitch traveling around the country and performing music to help enlist new recruits for the Army. If I hadn't accidently been performing where I would be seen, I would never have been "discovered."

Put yourself where you can be "discovered"

Last month the Independent Agents Alliance had their annual meeting at a resort in Palm Springs, California. Booths were available to display services or products, and yet only one body shop had a booth there. I helped that shop, one of my clients, put together an effective presentation folder with photos of their new 30,000 square foot shop along with photos of a new spray booth, frame machine, and greatly expanded office and waiting space. By putting themselves where they could be noticed, they had an excellent chance of being "discovered" by insurance agents as an ideal place to refer business.

Depending on what kind of business you're going after, you should be able to find many such expositions and trade shows where you can exhibit or attend and circulate. Fleet management firms come together annually. Automobile dealerships have their annual conventions. Local fleets owned by bakeries, plumbing companies, contractors, electricians, mortuaries, etc., etc., all belong to trade groups that hold annual conventions. If you check the schedule of events at any of your local convention centers, you are likely to find numerous businesses and organizations to whom you could offer your services.

One shop in my vicinity repairs many cars for members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The owner isn't a member of the church, but says he fixed some members' cars and they liked his work and so referred his shop to many other members who bring him a lot of business. Nearly every group you can think of has members with cars you could be repairing. You just have to put yourself some place where they can "discover" you.

Put on your own show to be "discovered"

For the price of some barbeque, some clean-up and a little preparation, you can put on your own show. At most trade shows and expositions you will collect a lot of cards. Following up with phone calls or mailing your newsletter or brochure can be an effective way to reinforce their earlier contact with you at the show, but an even better way is to invite them to come to your shop.

In my comprehensive book, "Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," I provide a complete checklist for putting on your own event. After you've built a mailing list of local agents, DRP coordinators, dealership principals, large fleet managers and company owners who have small fleets, you should be ready to invite them to see your shop. Not everyone will come, but for those who do, you can provide a shop tour and perhaps show a video tape of your people in action.

As more and more neighborhoods acquire an ethnic mix, you may live in an area where many residents speak a foreign language. If so, chances are the agents, dealers and fleet owners also speak local foreign languages. In promoting your event, you may want to have translated a separate promotion where you emphasize personnel you have on hand who speak their language. You may even want to provide special ethnic food for those prospects.

A possible substitute for an actual shop tour is a virtual shop tour via the internet. If you haven't already learned about AutoWatch by SeeProgress, Inc., call Dave Henderson at 877-977-6473 and tell him I referred you. SeeProgress will put together a website and virtual shop tour for you that any prospect can watch on his or her own computer. Consider also having that translated if you serve one or more ethnic markets. You may be "discovered" by an entirely new market you've been missing.

What it takes to be "discovered"

To be "discovered" you have to seem to be UNIQUE. Why do I say "seem to be?" As the old proverb says, "there's nothing new under the sun." But you can seem to be UNIQUE in your own corner of the world. When your competitors are out there calling on the same agents, DRP coordinators, dealership principals, large fleet managers and small fleet owners that you are, you have to stand out in the crowd to be "discovered." What do you do better than all or most of them?

Do you have the fastest cycle time? The longest working hours? The latest fast equipment like ProSpot's new 2000hz welder? Do you have CSI ratings right out the top? Do your service writers speak several languages? Do you offer special services like sun roofs, spray-on bedliners, or styling products? When you offer some unique service or product, once you're "discovered," you also begin to get great word-of-mouth promotion as people tell their friends.

Don't sit and wait to be "discovered"

You may not be old enough to recall the story about the singer, Fabian, being discovered sitting on a door stoop, but you can be sure it isn't likely to happen again. In any shopping area, where stores and restaurants depend on walk-in trade, you're certain to see constant turn-over when they go out of business and are replaced by the next hopeful establishment. Those who last don't just sit there and wait for the walk-in trade. The restaurants that are still there 15 and 20 years later do catering or get out and promote parties and events that keep them going year after year. I've noticed that even the owners of dry cleaners that survive get out and solicit business from local hotels, stores and studios.

Once you begin to put yourself in these many places where you and your business will be noticed, you may be amazed to find you've been "discovered" by prospective customers you would never have guessed would be coming your way. And you may also have more fun in the process.


Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years. His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.