Thursday, 31 January 2008 09:00

The Challenge of Enticing Customers to Return to Your Shop Three Times

Written by Tom Franklin

I recently wrote an article berating shop owners who wasted marketing money on ineffective advertising (which is most of it). I pointed out that few people who have recently been in an accident will look to an ad to find a shop for repairs.


But is there a right time for a shop to advertise? Absolutely, and this may be one of them. Recently newspaper articles and news programs have advised car owners – and especially SUV owners – to be alert to the possibility that they may become a victim of expensive, platinum-laced, catalytic converter theft.


High clearance sports utility vehicles and trucks are often the target of thieves who can remove a converter with a 14-millimeter socket wrench in about 90 seconds. Generally platinum is more valuable than gold. Scrap metal dealers will pay $50 or more for the contents of a typical converter, no questions asked since converters carry no identifying marks. Replacing the unit can cost the vehicle owner $1,000 or more.

Police say the best precaution is parking the vehicle in a garage, but not everyone has that option. The next best safeguard, they say, is welding the converter to the body of the vehicle, making it much more difficult and time-consuming to remove. And who is more qualified to perform the welding operation than your friendly neighborhood body shop? But why bother advertising a simple welding operation that may net only $1000 plus parts?

The rule-of-three again
It may be time to reconsider the old “rule-of-three,” demonstrated when a customer comes back three times for some sort of service and is satisfied with the result. Generally, after three such contacts, he or she becomes a “customer-for-life,” barring any unforeseen difficulties. So is there a way to get a customer to come back three times without hoping he or she has another accident? And better yet, what about getting that customer to come in the first time without having an accident?

I hear shop owners around the country complaining that business is down. New tail lights and other safety measures have reduced accidents, total losses have reduced repair opportunities, and now the price of gas is causing many drivers to drive less, again reducing the possibility of an accident and collision repair. Isn’t it time shop owners decided to reinvent their identity to include a broader range of revenue possibilities?

Some shops reach further
There is a shop in Illinois that specialized in refinishing boats and other marine vehicles. A shop in Northern California horse country specializes in repairing and refinishing horse trailers. I walked into one shop, a while back, where they had filing cabinets drying in the spray booth. When one kind of business dropped, these owners found another way to keep personnel busy and cash coming in.


The general perception of the auto body industry is one-dimensional. Even the name “Collision Center” implies just one activity. And yet every worthwhile shop has some of the finest welding equipment available, computerized measuring capable of measurements down to the millimeter, and the very best of environmentally-contained paint booths. These elements alone qualify most every shop for a much wider variety of services. All that is needed is a shop owner really capable of thinking outside of the box.


Beyond the platinum opportunityThe “rule-of-three” can be a catalyst for imagining new ways to bring prospective customers in that first time and two more times as well. Safety concerns can open an excellent new avenue for revenue for body shops. This may sound contrary to a shop’s business purpose, but the public may be attracted by a promotion that advertises your shop as a “Collision Prevention Center.”


For example, glare can be a source of accidents. Window tinting may not be the most profitable activity, but it can bring in new potential customers for that first of three times, and familiarize them with your location and the services you offer. You may even find some takers for a windshield exchange program.

Many accidents can occur because of faulty brakes, tires and perhaps steering or wheel alignment problems. Fear is a great motivation to take action. Many people are driving around with dented fenders, bumpers and more. A little education may be appropriate on how even a minor impact might make a vehicle unsafe to drive long distances. “Is your car really safe enough to carry your children to school?” might be an appropriate ad for a back-to-school promotional push.

Most people only think of a body shop as a place to fix dents and repair a vehicle after an accident. Few people realize how many shops have alignment equipment and are fully capable of handling a wide variety of mechanical problems.


Ultimately, however, the best approach may appeal to the ego of those who have purchased unbelievably expensive high-end vehicles. Cosmetic appearance may be supreme for these car owners. Even minor rock and sand damage to the hood, windshield and bumper may annoy owners like these. Specializing in clear bra sales and installations for these prospective customers will bring them in for that first visit if advertised effectively.

Seize the day!
Opportunities drift by most of us from time to time. Those who succeed best are the ones who recognize and act on an opportunity when they see it. It may not seem that a thief crawling under vehicles to dismantle platinum-laced catalytic converters represents a significant opportunity, but there is only one way to find out.


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.