Thursday, 28 February 2002 09:00

Everyone is slow is no excuse

Written by Tom Franklin

Around the holidays, I hear a common refrain in many body shops, and it's not a Christmas carol. You ask "How's business?" and the shop owner says, "It' s slow, but I hear everyone's slow." It's been said that "misery loves company." I could just hear this shop owner calling his buddy who owns a shop across town: "Yeah, it's slow over here, but I hear everyone's slow." 

Maybe it's been a dry season. Perhaps fewer people are driving and the number of accidents are down for this time of year. But is it true that "every one's slow?" Not a chance! Another shop less than a mile away is swamped with work. And a shop further down the way turns away work they don't feel will be profitable enough. These shops are definitely not slow!
Who's slow?

So what kind of shops are slow? As I've attempted to help a variety of shops with their marketing, I've seen a pattern that prevents many shops from realizing their full potential. Generally the shop has the space, equipment, body men and painters to accomodate more work, but the work coming in is sporadic - up and down. They need a more consistent flow of work to survive well. What are they doing wrong?

The problem is in the office and in their marketing in the broadest sense. First, the shop usually has no DRP relationships - not even State Farm which almost anyone can get if they fulfill the criteria list. I'm not suggesting a shop must have a DRP relationship to do well, but being a Service First shop indicates that the shop has all of the basics. It also provides a ready-made marketing program in calling on State Farm agents who have been instructed to only refer work to Service First facilities. It says at-a-glance, "this is a qualified shop where you can be certain to get professional treatment."

Second, while the criterion list does not specify a need for a receptionist in the office, I've observed that shops without a competent live person to answer the phone all of the time (instead of an answering machine or service to pick up calls) often find it difficult to even get on the Service First program. No insurance company wants their insureds to contact a shop they've referred and get an answering machine or a body man who speaks little English. It gives the insurance company a bad image.

The shops that are slow seldom have a professional office structure in place, with a friendly, well-spoken person always there to answer the phone and receive customers and prospective customers. The owner hasn't accepted the fact that in today's competitive business environment, it's necessary to operate and look like a real business.

Biting the image bullet
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? It's always a difficult choice to invest in an office person before there is sufficient business to pay the extra load. On the other hand, business that may have been lost because of a poor phone response or poor reception, could now be captured and probably pay for that additional expense.

One objection I've heard to hiring a full-time office person is there isn 't enough work to keep him or her busy. Once again, this is a fallacy. The shop owner hasn't considered the value of having someone in the office to send out follow-up and thank-you cards or letters (or e-mails today). The office person could also be able to make collection calls and notify customers, rental car companies and insurance personnel of scheduling delays. With a little training, most competent office workers should be able to do much of the invoice compilation work necessary for doing supplements. And with a little more training, that same person should be able to master Quickbooks or a management system and really make a difference.

Any shop owner who thinks he or she can't afford a good office person has simply not considered the many ways this person can generate income and inc rease profits to cover his or her salary. But more importantly, having a consistent, pleasant, competent person to answer the phone and greet customers who come in is one of the best marketing investments a shop owner can make.


The "everyone's slow" generality

The "everyone's slow" disease isn't limited to small shops with a poor office structure. I've also heard this comment from owners of well-structured, substantial shops. In these cases, I believe the owner has fallen victim to the "unsupported generality" fallacy.

Compared to much of the rest of the world, life in the United States is remarkably consistent. We find McDonald's and mini-malls and gas stations that look much the same in just about every corner of the country. Our laws are fairly uniform. We have the same kind of stop lights at intersections all over. After more than 200 years, we've created a country and an immediate world that most of us seem to agree is a desirable reality.

Our view of what constitutes "reality" can be shattered when we read and see what life consists of in places like Afghanistan. I recently read that the currency there is called "Afghans" and there are four different versions of the "Afghan," all having different values. We take for granted the wonderful convenience of our dollar being worth pretty much the same all over the country.

It all comes down to agreement. Whatever we agree on, whether through laws or through social customs, becomes the reality we live with. If a shop owner agrees that "everyone's slow," to some degree he helps to create that reality. He would be better off talking to someone who reminded him that there are hundreds of accidents every day, and if he gets out and markets his shop effectively, he'll get his fair share.

Tom Franklin has been in sales and marketing for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops, and "The Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops." His marketing company now provides on-line consulting and integrated marketing solutions 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.