Monday, 30 September 2002 17:00

The great American body shop

The autobody business has changed dramatically the last few years. Consolidators are now even moving into smaller communities that few would have ever expected just a few years ago when they started in major metropolitan areas. Insurance companies are getting more and more aggressive in their efforts to control claims costs and repair facilities -- even to the point of getting into the autobody business themselves! 

Monday, 30 September 2002 17:00

To make it big you have to be discovered

Written by Tom Franklin

I live in Los Angeles, California, often called LA-LA-LAND, the city of fantasies and dreams. Each year hundreds of beautiful young ladies and handsome men descend on this city, hoping to become stars. Many of them wind up waiting tables while they're waiting to be "discovered." After all, Fabian was "discovered" sitting on a door stoop. Elvis Presley was "discovered" by the Colonel. Many such stars are "discovered" by some enterprising promoter who sees a potential money-making machine for himself if they succeed. But even to be "discovered," the hopeful "stars" have to put themselves in some situation where they'll be seen, even if it's only waiting tables in some classy restaurant. 

Friday, 31 January 2003 17:00

Limited growth? What to do about it!

Almost every shop owner I speak to tells me he or she wants more business. But when we start talking about business growth, I begin to hear reluctances. Too much growth means hiring more people, which means more paper work, more reports to the government, more insurance, and on and on. It also means more capital investment to cover additional equipment and to cover accounts receivable during the interval between the time parts are purchased and checks arrive for completed jobs. Everyone wants to grow in profitability, but very few want to face the costs and pains of growth. 

Saturday, 31 May 2003 17:00

Getting power to persist and grow

"Power" is a peculiar word, having both negative and positive implications. The first definition in the dictionary is simply "the ability or capacity to act or perform effectively." Hopefully your estimator possesses selling power. The most common definition that comes to mind when hearing the word is "strength or force exerted or capable of being exerted" -- military power, political power, or financial power. Similarly we may think of the meaning: "a person, group or nation having great influence or control over others." 

I recently did a seminar for the Nebraska Autobody Association during their "Collision Day" event in Lincoln, Nebraska. Located, as I am, in one of the most populous cities in the world - with arguably the most cars (since we have just now begun a rapid transit system) - I wasn't prepared to address so many shop owners in such lightly populated areas, with so few vehicles to repair. Strategies which work well in a densely populated area like Los Angeles seem not to have much value for shop owners in these small, rural communities. 

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on "Funding Risk." Most shop owners want to grow their business, but in today's economy, it seems a bigger concern is simply not going backwards -- growing smaller. Taking risks to grow seem doubly dangerous when just surviving is difficult. Nevertheless, it is vital to keep growing, and finding the resources to grow may be easier than you imagined. 

Thursday, 31 July 2003 17:00

Profit centers — confusing or vital?

While doing a marketing analysis for Phil Horn at Village Auto Body Works in Westbury, New York, I was surprised to learn that mechanical work was preferred to body work in Horn's area. After all, in California very few body shops have a full-fledged mechanical shop because that service is considered to be relatively unprofitable. 

Sunday, 31 August 2003 17:00

Address your burn out by setting new goals

Written by Tom Franklin
"If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else."

                                                                        - Yogi Berra

Friday, 31 October 2003 17:00

Why thank you works so well

Written by Tom Franklin
"The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

         -William James

Sunday, 30 November 2003 17:00

Failing to get a response can cost you

Written by Tom Franklin

I recently stopped by a shop that was caught in an awkward dilemma. A customer's car had been completely repaired and repainted - at least so it seemed.

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 17:00

Re-structuring for renewal

Nature provides us with many wondrous examples of renewal. The snake sheds his skin and appears with a new one. The caterpillar morphs into a colorful butterfly. In fact most of the cells of the human body are gradually replaced over a period of about seven years. As we once again move into a new year, perhaps it's time to renew and re-create a powerful forward thrust to gain new or better or more profitable business.
Saturday, 31 January 2004 17:00

Dare to double your business in 2004!

"In the long run, men hit only what they aim at."

                 -Henry David Thoreau, 1854                                   

We recently had an unpleasant experience with a service provider. It wasn't that his work was bad. He was a good craftsman, with state-of-the-art tools and equipment. The quality of his work was good, but he lacked the most important quality we all look for when we choose someone to serve us: trust. 

Reactive (adj.): Tending to be responsive or to react to a stimulus; characterized by reaction. 

Wednesday, 30 June 2004 17:00

Start marketing early and follow through

From time to time, a client calls me to say business is way down. He needs to do some powerful marketing and sales right away! This is already a silly request because, in general, marketing efforts take time to develop and to realize a result. The best time to market is when you don't really need the business. By the time you're desperate for more business, it's usually too late.

Toward the end of 1980, I picked up a book entitled "The Luck Factor" by Max Gunther. In his book, Gunther tells the stories of some of the world's luckiest people, along with the stories of some of the unluckiest people. What I found most interesting was his observation that the luckiest people he wrote about all shared five very specific traits and patterns of behavior that contributed to their "luck." These traits were conspicuously missing in the lives of the unlucky people. 

Charlie arrives at the shop an hour before opening time as usual. It seems impossible to get a day's work done between the 8:00 a.m. opening time and the 6:00 p.m. closing time. He rarely gets out of the shop before 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. And this is during a relatively slow period. What is it that is killing his time (and his family life)? 

During the many years I have consulted with body shops, I've noticed one major difference between the most successful and those that are just getting by. The best shops always have at least one outstanding estimator that I would rate as an "Olympic-class" salesperson. 

What do automotive service buyers think of their local collision repair shop - compared to other automotive services? They probably see their mechanic as the expert who fixes their engine, maintains brakes, suspension, oil, lubrication, and more. And they may have an expert who repairs and maintains their transmission. So what expertise do they attribute to collision repair shop people? Are we fixed in their minds as only being capable of pounding out dents, replacing body panels and straightening frames or unibodies? If so, we may be losing a large piece of the market. 

Monday, 28 February 2005 17:00

Be a big DRIP-er to get more business

Written by Tom Franklin

Most business people know it is necessary to promote their business to make themselves known widely and to bring in a steady flow of new customers. What no one seems to know is how much to promote. I've found most business owners are shocked to find out what kind of volume of promotion may be needed to generate a result. How much is it necessary to promote? Enough to get the job done! 

For the past three years I've watched one shop employ a "goodwill ambassador" who makes the rounds once a month, calling on agents, some DRP directors, dealership managers, fleet managers and more. This "ambassador" delivers to each target person, a newsletter, a pen and/or pad, and sometimes candy, pastry, a plant or other special item. The newsletter delivers the "sales pitch" so the messenger doesn't have to. 

People generally hate surprises - probably because many surprises are unpleasant. People hate to be surprised to find out they won't get their car back on time, or that they will have to put out additional cash to get their job done. We all hate to be surprised by a bigger tax bill than we expected, or by an assessment that's going to cost us dearly. 

"Without promotion, something terrible happens: NOTHING!"

                                                                                    - P.T. Barnum

More and more these days, I hear shop owners and managers say that they feel they're losing control over their business. Reports on insurance company manipulation, worker's comp costs, parts price increases, mandatory equipment and facility costs and more, communicate the fact that making a decent profit in the body shop business gets harder every day. What can a shop owner or manager do to gain more control over his or her own business in order to increase profits? 

"The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer."
                                                                        -- World War II U.S. Army slogan

Saturday, 30 April 2005 17:00

DRIP via database hit lists can be key to more business

Written by Tom Franklin

This is the third in a series of articles focusing on what I call the "DRIP" marketing system - "Delivering Repetitive Information Persistently." If you missed either of the first two articles, "Be a Big "DRIP"er to Get More Business," or "The Goodwill Ambassador - Key to Inexpensive Marketing," contact me for reprints. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2005 17:00

Creating a profitable event

Most shop owners try to get on referral programs that will bring in a steady flow of business. These might be insurance direct repair programs, drive-in programs, fleet management company programs, or contracts with government, institutional or commercial vehicle departments. In just about every case, the problem is the same: how to get the decision-maker to look at your shop or to send someone to look at your shop. 

Recently I spoke with a shop owner who gave me the same line I've heard dozens of times: "To do well in the body shop business, you need insurance DRP (Direct Repair) status with several companies. Otherwise you'll never make it!" 

Most summers, I hear a common line in many body shops. 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." 

During the past dozen or so years that I have assisted body shops with marketing, when I speak to a potential new client I often hear the same complaint: "I've spent a lot of money on fancy literature and photos and sent packages to many insurance companies, agents and other potential sources of business, and haven't gotten a darned thing!" 

These days hardly anyone escapes receiving reams of junk mail every day. If you're like me, you throw many pieces of mail into the round file without even opening the envelope. But there is one kind of promotional mail you almost can't avoid glancing at: the glossy color postcard. 

In the May issue of Fast Company magazine, an article entitled "Change or Die!" provided insight into just how much people will resist change. The author notes that for a few weeks after a heart attack and by-pass surgery, patients are scared enough to make life-style changes they are told are necessary to avoid a fatal attack. But within weeks, nearly 90% have not changed and have returned to the aspects of their life-styles that led to the heart attack. 

Monday, 05 February 2007 15:45

Body shop doc: The new professional

Quite a while back the Autobody News often carried an article about a character called “Doctor Dent,” by Dave Truslow, Jr. Unfortunately Dave is no longer contributing his fine articles, but perhaps he was looking perceptively into the future when he called his character “Doctor.”

What could you get for your physical body parts if they were sold one-by-one? $25,000? May-be. How does that compare to the price of a car today? There’s a good chance that the car you are driving is worth more than you are.

Wednesday, 30 November 2005 17:00

Body shop marketing can be a numbers game

Many years ago a Russian named Pavlov established the laws of reward and punishment. Basically he proved that whatever you reward, you get more of, and what you punish, you get less of. Welfare societies have demonstrated that when we reward waste and inactivity, we get a lot more of it. In business, it would seem, when we reward new and repeat business referrals we should get a lot more of them. But how much is "a lot," and how far can we go with it? 

As we come rolling into a new year, it seems a question on the mind of every shop owner, large and small, is "What do I have to do to make this a significantly more profitable year?" I've noticed that there are similarities be-tween superior performance in various games and sports and superior profitability in a body shop. The superior basketball or football player and the superior poker or chess player have winning characteristics that, in a shop owner, could also result in superior performance and profitability. 

Over the past dozen years or so, I've been in every imaginable style of shop. It's been surprising to me to see how many different ways shop owners and managers find to build their business and keep growing.

I was recently assisting a shop with marketing and I noticed a peculiarity about this shop that I thought might be true of many others as well. This facility is located approximately in the middle of several very different types of residents and businesses. In one direction, potential customers are primarily Asian and very family-oriented. 

Many of the body shops I have called upon are located in neighborhoods that have slid downscale over the years. In these areas, most of the people who come in for autobody repair travel quite a distance. They are old customers who keep coming back or those sent to the shop through an insurance or other referral program. 

Many times over the years, I've written about the power of trust. Most shop owners already know that customer trust is a major key to continuing business from that customer. 

Over the years, I've provided numerous shop owners and managers with marketing strategies and procedures that they agreed would increase their business significantly. The only problem was they somehow couldn?t find time to put the strategies and procedures into practice. Running a body shop is a demanding activity. 

Successful shops step outside the existing business model to develop processes that improve productivity and profitability. Don Long's approach to productivity and profitability at Keyes Collision Center in Van Nuys, California, is an example of how the team concept can be enhanced to improve shop efficiency. 

Collision repair facilities in several provinces in Canada, enjoy profits that U.S. shops are missing out on. They have been recycling non-deployed OEM air bags since the first installations fifteen years ago. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, approved their use in 2002. Hundreds of non-deployed OEM air bags have been tested in Canada and the U.S. by credible organizations over the years with no problems and no reported failures of air bag modules themselves.

"If you keep on growing, you will always be out of your comfort zone." - Modern Proverb

Many shop owners have told me this has been an unusually difficult year. The last few years home owners have been on a re-financing spree and were able to spend some of the proceeds of their accumulated equity. Now that interest rates are up along with adjustable mortgage rate increases, that additional cash is no longer finding its way into the economy. It seems more accident victims are taking the money and running rather than using it to fix their vehicles. Along with all of this, higher gas prices are causing many people to drive less, and perhaps to have fewer accidents.

Holidays can be a difficult time for the body shop business. Happy shoppers are focusing on spending their money for sweaters, ties, toys and other gifts - not auto body repairs. Unfortunately for many of them, more than 20 percent of fender-benders and banged-up bumpers occur in shopping area parking lots.

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