The fact is that marketing a body shop is a very specialized activity. Anyone going out and trying to talk effectively about a shop without ever having worked in one is doomed to failure. Collision repair is a highly specialized activity. I always compare it to the work of a surgeon. People only go to a surgeon when they need an operation. People generally only come to a body shop after an accident or body damage. Imagine a non-doctor going out and trying to sell surgery to the general public. Unless he was selling cosmetic surgery to celebrities, it would be laughable.
Recently one shop I work with occasionally hired its fourth lady in a row to help with the marketing. None of the previous ones had any experience in the collision industry. This one had worked with an insurance agent, and at least she had some idea of the claims process and the relative quality of some of the body shops in the area. I could see that there was some hope that she would actually be able to help the shop increase business.
I took a look at what previous ladies had attempted. There had been some good initiatives but no follow-through. If this lady stayed long enough to get some of these marketing actions completed, progress would be made. There was a cabinet filled with brochures that hadn't been distributed, and some plastic display holders to place the brochures on other business's counters but nothing had been done with them. In fact there was a car wash across the street that was a natural for referrals. All she had to do was arrange a simple exchange of promotional display items. I was pleased to find out soon that she had done it and had made similar arrangements with some other businesses in the area. This is marketing 101, but I'm stunned at how few shops do it.
The shop had some direct repair relationships that didn't use agents. A next step was getting a list of their claim offices, finding out the names of key people there, and arranging a monthly mailing to keep them informed of customer satisfaction statements and other positive news. Regular monthly letters to direct repair prospects was another simple task she could carry out.
This shop owner wasn't very interested in getting commercial business, but a person at another local shop who was helping with some of the marketing made an effort in that direction. He got out into the neighborhood to talk to businesses where there might be delivery or other commercial vehicles, to try to actually sell them on bringing vehicles to the shop. Here we see a selling activity that would probably work. This was not a professional salesperson, but someone who could answer real questions about repairs, how long they would take, probable costs and possible discounts. With an experiential understanding of the collision repair process, it actually is possible to sell someone on coming to a shop for repairs.
The best inside marketing people I have seen were not professional marketers at all. They did know where their shop's business was coming from and who would be likely to become customers. They used simple techniques like making phone calls to local businesses, putting out brochures in local businesses, keeping in touch with prior customers by periodically sending postcards, greeting cards, coupons and whatever else would remind them the shop was still there and would welcome their business. They took a bit of time to get involved in a few community activities, like car shows, school activities, and safe driving programs where their shop would get some exposure.
Those shop owners seeking insurance direct repair program business will have a tougher time of it, but they might be able to find someone who has the ear of insurance executives. Many of the deals I've observed were acquired because of personal relationships, but there is no simple formula to arrange that. Next best is simply staying in touch with prospective customers, sending regular letters to also keep them informed of customer satisfaction statements and other positive news.
I know of a few shops that can afford to employ a full-time person to carry out these tasks, but many others simply utilize someone in the shop for a few hours a week to keep promotional information going out. In general, the amount of business coming into a shop is proportional to the amount of positive information that is going out about the shop. The best of that is probably word-of-mouth, but any increase in positive communication going out is better than none. Getting the job done doesn't have to be costly, but it does have to be consistent. A dedicated person who is consistent may be the best salesperson of all for a shop.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.