Monday, 02 June 2008 03:29

Cranking Out Estimates to Employ as a Marketing Tool

Written by Tom Franklin

The past few years have been fairly good for most of my body shop clients. In fact, business has been so good it’s been difficult to get some shop owners and managers to get serious about marketing initiatives. They may get interested in an idea for a short time, but as soon as business picks up, that interest disappears. 

    Now conditions have changed. The nation has just about fallen into a recession and business is off significantly for many shops. Suddenly I am approached with requests for “instant marketing results.” But even if there is a big push now, it will take a while to see results.There is one approach that has a chance of seeing faster results, however, and it’s an approach that calls for a new way of looking at estimates as sales tools.

Sales 101
Most sales jobs involve making sales proposals. Typically, a paint, parts or equipment sales representative may expect to make a dozen or more sales proposals before he or she closes even one sale. In the body shop, the estimate is the sales proposal. But because of DRP steering, dealership referrals, and other sources that bring business effortlessly to the shop, estimates are often considered more of a formality. The estimate may get approved as is, or an adjuster may demand a few changes, but except for a few customer-pay situations, the sales role of the estimate and the estimator is secondary.
    But seriously slow times call for changing that point of view. When business is down, it’s time for the sales side of estimating to move way up! It’s time to crank out as many estimates (proposals) as possible! But if insurance or someone else isn’t bringing cars to the shop, how can the estimator write all of those proposed estimates?

Working the service drive
I’ve been startled to learn that some shops that are “authorized repair facilities” for a dealership don’t put an estimator on that dealership’s service drive every morning when cars are coming in for service. This is almost criminal negligence!
    Every car that comes in for a tune-up, oil change or brake job should get a quick inspection and brief preliminary estimate of repairs for dings, dents, and scratches by an estimator from the shop. One shop I visited had a rolling cart with a laptop and battery-powered portable printer on it so an instant estimate could be handed to the prospective customer.
    The best part of this is a seasoned estimator isn’t required. Most of the estimates will be superficial and noted as only approximations. An invitation is offered to come to the shop for a more thorough estimate at no charge. Here the target is volume. Many of the estimates may be ignored or tossed in the trash, so the key is cranking out as many estimates as possible every morning.


    The percentages will pay off if enough proposals are made, just as in every sales situation. Not every shop has a relationship with a dealership, but what about other local mechanical shops that do a good volume of vehicle maintenance business? It’s likely the mechanical shop owner will want a percentage of the profits the body shop enjoys from estimates written on his or her service drive, but that percentage is likely to be a lot less that the concessions most insurance DRPs require!
    When collision repair business is down, it’s time to get out on the street writing estimates (proposals) anywhere and everywhere.

The Good, Bad and Ugly

Once the pleasant people – like dealership principals and mechanical shop owners – have been contacted and hopefully contracted, the next opportunities for estimate writing are not nearly as pleasant. Parking lot attendants are famous for dinging and denting vehicles, but I’ve found parking lot owners a tough sell.
    Nevertheless, parking lots are a great place to write estimates (proposals). College parking lots, mall parking lots, airport parking lots, and even grocery store parking lots have plenty of damaged vehicles to write up. The estimate should be small, written on the back of the shop’s business card and placed by the driver’s side door keyhole.
    While helping one shop locate some prospects, I came across a valet parking service called “Valettes.” This service primarily parked cars at celebrity parties and was operated by a lady who was obviously an ex-showgirl or model. All of her parking attendants were lovely 20-something aspiring models or actresses.
    Unfortunately their parking skills were as unbelievably bad as their looks were good. They almost damaged more cars than they parked. On the plus side, this lady charged premium prices for parking! But on the minus side, no insurance company would cover her parking damages, so she had to self-pay all of the repairs. Needless to say, she always negotiated the lowest rate she could find.
    But when business is seriously slow, any business is better than no business.

Last Ditch Proposals

At the beginning of this article, I warned you that these suggestions are for major slow times and possibly even a recession. When all else fails, there are always damaged vehicles on the street, but no shop owner wants to send his or her estimators out writing random estimates on the street. So I have a radical proposal: Put anyone who can write the simplest of estimates on the street on straight commission. Retired shop or insurance personnel, even technicians. What can you lose? Put a unique code number for each of them on the business cards you give them to write estimates and turn them loose.
    The amount of new business coming into your shop will be directly proportional to the number of estimates written, so the volume of estimates will determine the quantity of jobs. But the quantity of estimate writers out on the street, on the service drives, and in the parking lots may also determine the volume of estimates written. It’s the numbers that count.
    When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and this approach is just about as tough as it gets!