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Thursday, 30 November 2006 17:00

Getting some additional green to beat holiday blues

Written by Tom Franklin

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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Many of these previously happy shoppers may emerge from their shopping spree to find their personal chariot inflicted with enough nasty damage to spoil their holiday high. Sadly, many of them will opt to wait until after the holidays to get the damage fixed (if at all).

So what can you do to get your share of repair dollars during this distracted season, so you can beat your holiday blues? Believe it or not, this can be a time when your customers will really appreciate a little attention from you. And they may reciprocate by bringing you some business.

Holiday greetings plus

I've found that many shops only mail to their prior customers once a year (if that). The holiday greeting card is a simple way to let prior customers know you're still there - and still interested in getting their business. Almost certainly you have received solicitations from companies seeking to sell you holiday cards with your company name and greeting printed on them. Generally these cards have a message like, "We Appreciate Your Business." This is all well and good, but not likely to motivate anyone to come in for a repair unless they already planned to do so. You need more if you want to get any kind of return for your mailing.

You could enclose a coupon for $50 or $100 toward their (or their family's) next repair over $500 or $1,000. This might motivate someone desperate for a cheaper repair, but not likely to create any mass rush into your shop. You could offer a free paintless dent repair check-up (less than 10% of those check-ups turn out to be appropriate for a PDR, so you have a chance to upsell a standard repair and refinish).

You could also offer a holiday car wash or detail. But unless you want to tie up your detail department with a bunch of freebies, you'll need to make the offer conditional on some kind of profitable transaction for the shop. The problem is most shops just focus on collision repair. If most of your prior customers haven't had a recent accident, what could you offer to sell them that would get them to come in?


Accessory sales again

At the November Specialty Equip-ment Marketers' Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas for those who make and sell aftermarket accessories for cars and trucks, it was reported that the aftermarket business generated $34 billion in retail sales in the U.S. in 2006. This was up nine percent over 2005, and an increase over the average year-over-year increase of eight percent for the past decade. One local body shop manager in my area said he averages $25,000 a month in graphics and accessory sales.

These numbers have become possible because consumers used to only accessorize second or third-hand vehicles. Now many more new and recent car buyers want to customize their vehicles. Auto manufacturers, seeing a potentially significant add-on parts market, are beginning to place more focus on selling highly profitable accessories.

For example, Mazda has created a line of Mazdaspeed aftermarket parts, and a Retail Revolution showroom theme. These are meant to appeal to younger, digital-savvy buyers who might be inclined to make their ride look like a Mazda in video games. At SEMA, Kia announced it will expand its line of aftermarket accessories with add-ons like cold-air intakes and short-throw shifters for its Rio and Spectra cars.

According to SEMA reports, sport compact brands like Scion are the fastest growing segment of this market - not surprising, given the market's appeal to customizing-crazy gen-Y consumers. Compacts constitute about $5 billion in aftermarket accessories sales, but the lion's share of the accessorizing business is trucks and SUVs, roughly 30 percent of the market.

What's in it for you?

The beauty of this interest in accessorizing is that many of the products require professional installation. Spoilers, power running boards, flares, bed-liners, and more are generally simple for shop technicians to install - and may not be that hard for a sharp estimator to sell (might even suggest it as a holiday gift). An astute shop owner should probably be talking to local accessory shops about handling many of their product installations.

The Rule-of-Three is still a solid guide for building long-term repeat business: When a customer comes to your shop three times and is happy with the service each time, that customer will almost certainly become your customer for life (unless you screw up one of those times). But without wishing every customer to have three accidents to come back those three times, what can you do to promote those three visits?

With more than three thousand accessories listed in SEMA's guide to the trade show, I can't imagine that you would have trouble finding a half-dozen desirable (and profitable) accessory products to sell (or suggest as gifts to give) to your current and prior customers. You might even offer a drawing for a few of them for customers who did come into the shop during the holiday season. Now your holiday greeting card has a chance to bring some real green into your shop during the season, and that would really help you beat the holiday blues!

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.


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