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.
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.
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.
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.
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.