Tuesday, 31 July 2007 10:00

Riding the winds of change: making new technology work for your shop

Written by Tom Franklin

“Fly upon the wings of the wind.” Psalms 18:10

In the early 1990s I went to work selling software for CCC Information Systems. I had been in marketing and sales most of my life, but I had never seen a product sell like CCC’s computerized estimating software. Shop owners practically lined up to buy CCC’s “Ezest” product. Mitchell and ADP also got in the game and enjoyed bountiful sales. What was the secret to their success?

CCC had the good fortune of having purchased the rights to a computerized estimating system at the exact moment that PCs (personal computers) were becoming a necessary fixture for nearly every business. In fact, body shops were a bit late in buying PCs and using computer software to run their businesses. To a large degree, change was being forced on shops by insurance companies. They were beginning to demand computerized estimate printouts. All CCC and CCC’s competitors had to do was “ride the winds of that change.”

Many companies benefitted from changes forced on shops by the government regulations, competition and insurance companies. They had to buy frame machines to replace floor pull systems. Paint spray booths were required to meet OSHA and EPA standards. Even now, many shops are having to purchase resistance spot welders to stay competitive. And the companies that manufacture and/or sell this equipment are all benefitting from these forced changes. They’re riding the “winds of change” all the way to the bank.

The big question is how can shop owners also enjoy “riding the winds of change?”

Technology gives shops a “leg up”

One big change at the moment is the shift from solvent to waterborne paints. Ultimately all shops will have to make the change, but is there a way a shop can “ride the wind of this change” right now? A simple rule that governs how much a company will benefit from change is how quickly they grasp it!

Many shop owners will assume the attitude that, “if everyone has to do it, there’s no point in rushing it.” This is a deadly attitude that will make this shop owner miss out on a “ride the wind” opportunity. What they have missed is that the public doesn’t know what’s happening! The shop owner who quickly announces he or she will be the first to use environmentally beneficial waterborne paint in the shop, will have a distinct marketing advantage.

In their 1993, classic book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” authors Al Ries and Jack Trout list the NUMBER ONE RULE as “The Law of Leadership.” They say, “It’s better to be first than it is to be better.” They note that the first in any category will be the one that comes to mind: Xerox for copies; Hertz for car rental; Coca-Cola for colas. If you succeed in claiming the “environmental waterborne edge” first, you may be able to keep that mantle long after everyone else has the capability too.


Specialization pays off

In a couple of areas near me, there are only two shops that have Celette frame machines and personnel certified by BMW for the kind of aluminum welding and frame pulls needed for BMW (and other) repairs. I was surprised to learn that some of their business comes from competing shops who get jobs requiring that equipment and personnel but then must outsource it to the shops that have what is needed to do the jobs.

I’m sure that going in these shop owners wondered if they would ever recover the huge investment needed to purchase this special equipment and to get trained technicians. But both have told me they have recovered their investment many times over and the demand for these special services has grown steadily.

Another shop that succeeded in getting insurance business that I would never have thought would go their way did it by providing another kind of special service: This insurance company always had a large number of totals due to weather that led to huge wrecks. This shop went out and leased a large parking area (at considerable expense) and approached the insurance company by emphasizing their ability to store all of the totals. As we have seen, changes in vehicle construction have led to an increase in totals. This shop successfully rode that “wind of change.”

More changes coming

Change could be called the middle name of youth. Each new generation seeks to set itself apart from the last by embracing radical changes: strange haircuts; tattooed bodies; gold rings through the nose, eyebrow and more. Another new trend is intense customization of vehicles. One shop I know does $20,000 a month in performance modifications and graphics. Highly profitable graphics alone – like flames and stripes – accounts for about half of those sales and may be the easiest to deliver.

I’ve spoken to a couple of shop owners about the ease of marketing these services, but I hear objections like: “There’s serious liability in jazzing up cars for high performance.” Maybe they hadn’t noticed that there’s serious liability in repairing frames and a lot of other body damage. That’s why shops carry liability insurance. And, sure, it may be difficult to find a competent graphics guy who will turn out consistently good work. It may even be worth while to train someone – or yourself.

As one bumper sticker puts it, “Change is inevitable -- except from a vending machine.” The key is to recognize a coming change in time to “ride the winds of that change” all the way to the bank!

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, “Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops,” “Tom Franklin’s Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops,” and “Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth.” 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.