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Saturday, 31 December 2005 17:00

Looking ahead helps develop marketing strategies

Written by Tom Franklin

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. 

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Perhaps the most obvious is the chess master who (1) draws on a recall of thousands of games played in the past, (2) observes every piece on the board in the present, comparing its position to all of the other pieces, (3) sees the future in every piece, recognizing opportunities or consequences in every potential move, and (4) boldly takes action and makes the move that is strategically most advantageous.

The deciding factor, however, is how close to correct he or she is in "seeing the future" in the move. The success of the poker player also depends on "seeing the future" in the moves of the other players. And key players on the basketball court or football field must correctly anticipate the moves of specific players on the opposing team to prevent that team from scoring, or to open a path for their own team to score. In every case, the ability to "see future moves" accurately can determine winning or losing.

How can a shop owner increase the odds of winning, of being significantly more profitable in the coming year? How can he or she "see the future" to grasp opportunities to win, or head off consequences that could result in loss? A workable answer to these questions may determine how well his or her shop performs in 2006!

Anticipating driver's habits

Fuel costs and people's incomes in 2006 may determine whether they will fix damaged vehicles or take the money and run. What can a shop owner do to increase the chances that drivers will choose to fix their cars? Obviously offsetting some of the cost could make the difference with potential self-pay customers. Some shops have arranged time-pay plans with finance companies like Home Finance, or just arranged to take a broader range of credit cards. And, of course, many shops lighten the customer's load by providing a rental car and/or free towing.

An innovative move by one shop owner I met involved offering a rebate for referrals. I questioned the legality of this strategy, but he assured me his lawyer said it was legal if the rebate was given for a specific service or value provided. I still think it may not be legal in many states, but the rebate strategy is now used by many businesses and may have some legal application in a body shop.

Changes in vehicle construction

There can be little doubt that vehicle manufacturers will be using more light weight metals and plastics to cut fuel consumption in vehicles. As these new methods of vehicle construction come about, shops will require new skills in working with aluminum, magnesium, and the structures of hybrid vehicles. This may open the door to more profitable relationships with some dealerships who will be willing to outsource collision repairs to shops with technicians certified to work with these new materials and structures.

I know of several shops that have obtained more business from Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar dealers because of having workers skilled in the use of Celette frame machines, aluminum welding, and more. Getting the jump on these new skills may be one key to "seeing the future" and profiting from it.

Anticipating insurance changes

Insurance companies have experienced huge losses due to natural disasters this past year. Most shops have experienced their efforts to cut costs by refusing to pay for certain operations and trying to minimize claims costs. One strategy has been to contract with multi-shop consolidators and franchises where they can negotiate lower prices for volume referrals. This strategy backfired in 2005, when consolidator M-2 went bankrupt with vehicles locked inside of fenced and guarded closed shops.


Might it now be possible that, although some will continue to prefer multi-shop operations and risk losses like M-2, others might recognize the value in dealing with smaller, superior independent craftsmen, and shift referrals to more personal, customer-oriented shops? If so, it may be productive to begin a promotional campaign to try for insurance referral business that may have seemed impossible to get just a few months ago.

It still pays to stay in touch and keep dripping information on DRP coordinators (if you really want a DRP relationship). As I've said many times, these relationships are like marriages. Many end in divorce and, if you're the one suitor who has been patiently making a proposal every month or so, you may become the new preferred shop.

Capitalizing on the internet

This past year millions more people purchased home computers and got online. Many shops have a rudimentary website, but make very little use of it. More and more people are looking to major search engines to obtain every kind of information imaginable.

This new hunger for information may open new doors for you, the knowledgeable shop owner. Car owners have many questions about vehicle repairs: Can minor windshield damage be repaired without replacing the windshield? Can small dents, dings and scratches be repaired inexpensively? Will it cost more to have a custom color paint job?

As a long-term professional, you have all of the answers. These inquirers just need to know you are the best local resource for those answers. You can answer them through a website, e-mail, or special "800 collision answer-man" number. If you can afford radio or TV time, that's great! If not, some inexpensive classified ads may capture their attention.

Strategically located bus benches or billboards could also prompt some inquiries, but you might be able to inexpensively accomplish the same thing with a big banner in front of your shop if you have the right kind of location. In my area, a 3' x 10' banner costs just a bit more than a hundred dollars. Be sure to include your web address (and possibly an 800 number) on every sign and ad.

Overcoming the steering problem

Nearly every shop owner I speak to, regardless of what part of the country he or she inhabits, tells me they lose jobs because of insurance company steering. Some say their former customers have been so dissatisfied with the insurance company's selected shop, they actually come back. Is there a way to "see the future" and head off that steering situation so your customer remains loyal to your shop?

The key here is to build a deeper relationship with your customer. A visit once every three or four years isn't enough to create a solid enough bond to withstand insurance pressure. It may not always be profitable to perform minor repairs on windshields, paintless dent repairs, accessory installations, pinstriping, or graphics, but these miscellaneous services give the customer reasons to come back again and again. After many satisfactory visits, experiencing your superior workmanship and customer service, you can be sure your customer will be far less susceptible to insurance pressure.

See the future and profit from it

So the new year is upon us once again. With the new year, many of us make resolutions that this year will be different. We hope that those resolutions we've made several years in a row that somehow never got done, will miraculously be accomplished this year.

One way to increase your chances of keeping your resolutions is to take the time to be like a chess master: (1) Take a look at the thousands of repairs you've made and the relationships you've built in the past; (2) Take an in-depth look at how you might capitalize on both past and present relationships more in the present; (3) See the future in every relationship by recognizing opportunities or consequences in each one; and (4) boldly take action and make the moves that will prove to be most strategically advantageous this year!

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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