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Monday, 05 February 2007 15:45

Body shop doc: The new professional

Written by Tom Franklin

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.

What do you pay your doctor for a medical checkup or specific diagnosis when one of your own body parts is apparently a little bent out of shape? You can bet he doesn’t examine you for $35 an hour, or even $60 an hour. So what is your time really worth when you’re diagnosing what needs to be done to repair a car that can cost in excess of $50,000?

 If you’re a state-of-the-art collision repair professional, you have tools to micro-measure frame alignment, paint color, parts replacement and restoration cost. A medical doctor gets his M.D. in about 12 years. How long has it taken you to acquire your present degree of expertise? If you have been mastering this profession for eight, 10, 12 years or more, and you are being trusted to diagnose and repair auto bodies worth more in dollars and cents than a human body, should your time be worth any less than a medical doctor?

Positioning yourself as a professional

Unfortunately, most professions are priced more by precedent, situation and tradition than by objective value. Why can some lawyers, ball players and actors command fees of millions of dollars when there may be many others with comparable skills making much less? Smart lawyers seek out high-profile cases like the O.J. Simpson trial. Ball players and actors with talent may be discovered by the right talent scout or agent and parleyed into big money. Might it be possible for you to do the same within your own profession?

In California, the Auto Club now offers a diagnostic service for members who are looking for a good used car to buy. For a small fee, they can bring in a car they are considering and have it tested for mechanical soundness. It is unlikely, however, that the body will be tested for previous accidents, frame distortion or misalignment. This requires the equipment and expertise of an auto body professional. Consider creating an “Auto Body Diagnostic Center” as part of your shop’s services. The small fee charged for the service could be credited toward repairs needed, if any.

 I have often noted that body shops, whose business generally only comes when people have accidents, need to offer more general services to acquaint people with their shop long before these people actually have an accident. The diagnostic service could accomplish that goal. Consider an advertisement that might read:
 “If you are in the market for a used car, don’t risk getting a vehicle that has been in an accident and repaired poorly. Let us verify the condition of the car's body before you buy. We’ll guarantee our diagnosis. That’s more than most medical doctors will do.”

“DOC,” the showman

 In the early years of our country, when the West was first being settled, there were few doctors to go around. In remote communities, people often had to rely on traveling patent medicine sellers, who came around hawking various remedies and concoctions that they sold right from their wagon. Probably the only claim to professionalism most of them had was to be found in their name: They usually referred to themselves as “Doc.” A typical product might be called “Old Doc Jones’ Famous Foot Remedy.”

 Their success generally had little to do with the effectiveness of their products. It mostly had to do with the quality of their showmanship. Unfortunately the body shop “doctor” of today may have to learn to imitate some of that “showmanship” to survive.

“Event strategy”

 In a book entitled “Life is a Contact Sport” by Ken Kragen & Jefferson Graham (Wm. Morrow & Co.-N.Y., 1994), Kragen tells how he used his “event strategy” to catapult clients like the Smothers Brothers, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood to greater and greater fame. He did this by focusing on what he calls “a series of higher and higher plateaus, making upward jumps based on concentrating several events in a very short period of time.”

 By using this “event strategy,” incorporating a display of professionalism and showmanship, a body shop owner should be able to “catapult” his or her own business to greater and greater heights of success and profitability.

Using events to capture customer and insurance attention

When Ken Kragen started managing the Smothers Brothers, he was fortunate enough to get them into a Pontiac commercial, the Gary Moore Show, the Ed Sullivan Show and a Judy Garland variety series all within a period of a few weeks. Kragen tells us the impact was awesome; their next 50 concerts were sold out. After that, he always tried to gang up a series of three or more events in the shortest period of time he could. How could a body shop plan a series of at least three powerful events to dramatically capture the attention of prospective customers and insurance claims managers?

Perhaps we should start by asking, “What is an event?” The dictionary tells us it is “an occurrence — especially one of some significance.” Kragen says an event must be special or unique, and capture people’s imagination. A while back I wrote about one shop manager who volunteered his shop as a polling place for election day, but he went much farther than that. He put up big red, white and blue decorations and flags and hired a model dressed in an Uncle Sam outfit to show anyone who might be interested around the shop. He turned this voluntary service into a marketing event by adding a touch of showmanship.

The “Open House” event

 If you have ever thrown a party at your house, you know how much work can go into cleaning things up and dressing up the house to look its very best. Putting on an event is a lot of work, but it is also an excellent way to motivate yourself and your crew to put forth that extra effort needed to move your shop’s appearance up from “good” to “excellent.”

 Recently I have spoken to a number of shop owners who complained that, although they have gotten on to several small insurance company lists as “customer care centers” or “DRPs,” they have not gotten any work to speak of out of these relationships. After hearing this several times, I realized that these shop owners thought that once they got on the list, their marketing job was over. Now all they had to do was sit back and wait for the work to come in. Unfortunately in today’s competitive world, it is never that easy. Getting on the list is only the beginning; now the real marketing work begins. For a shop to become something other than a name on a list, it must be seen as having some special quality that makes it stand out from the other names on the list. The most effective way to do this is to employ “showmanship.”

A shop should have an “open house” at least a couple of times a year to update insurance people, previous customers and prospective customers on facility, equipment and personnel improvements. Any painting, remodeling, equipment purchase or upgrade in personnel can provide a reason for an open house event. The only costs to putting on such an event would be mailing the invitations, providing refreshments and putting in the time to fix-up and decorate the shop. The returns on a regularly staged event like this could be far more than you might imagine.

The educational event

 The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) sent out a copy of a news release a while back that reported on some findings of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). This excellent report provided detailed stories of insurance fraud, vehicle theft and carjacking. It also provided valuable tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of these crimes. Car owners need this kind of information to protect themselves. People look to professionals to provide them with information that will lower their degree of risk. Medical professionals provide disease prevention information. Wouldn't it be logical for “collision docs” to provide information on avoiding fraud, theft and even accidents?

 Consider offering your facility for a neighborhood “auto security seminar.” If you don’t feel up to teaching it yourself, this might be a good time to get in touch with some of the insurance professionals you need to get to know better. Invite them to come and speak at your facility. Begin to think of your facility as a resource for more than just repairing wrecked cars. Well-publicized educational events call attention to your facility and your professionalism (if you handle it right). Don’t underestimate the power of putting on this kind of event!

The “Award Event”

 Everybody loves recognition. Wouldn’t you love to be given an award for being the “Best Body Shop of the Year,” or “Top Collision Repair Facility in the County?” Award plaques and trophies look great on your wall and call a prospective customer’s attention to recognition of your shop as a “quality facility.” And the organization or agency that gives out the award is, at the same time, establishing itself as an authority capable of judging the worthiness of the recipient of the awards.

Why not also establish yourself as an authority — a giver of awards?

What kind of award could you give? First ask, what relationship do I want to make stronger? If you wish to build insurance relationships, what kind of award might you make to an insurance executive? Perhaps you might want to join together with several other body shops in recognizing your mutually favorite property claims manager, adjuster or dispatcher. If you get work from some agent on a regular basis, you might want to dream up an “insurance agent of the year” award.

An easier direction to take is to build community recognition by giving an award to a deserving student or young person in the community. The award could include some scholarship money. Consider doing a little homework at a local high school or junior college. Perhaps you could do a survey to find out what kids are considering going into the auto repair industry (or even insurance industry). You might ask teachers to fill out a profile on the students with an interest in your industry and, on the basis of those profiles, select a deserving student for an “industry awareness” award.

Turning an event into income

 As always, the key to turning an event into increased revenue is to:

1. Get publicity for the event in the local newspapers. If you need help creating a press release, I have a sample template in my book, “Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops.”
2. Do a mailing to all of your past customers and prospects and insurance executives that you know or would like to know. On the invitation make it known that the invitee can bring along some friends.
3. Always provide refreshments: wine-tasting, snacks and coffee, soft drinks, etc.
4. Have gracious greeters with clearly visible name badges assigned to get attendees to sign a logbook, to show people around, to make them comfortable and to introduce them to key people present at the event. You may also wish to provide people with name badges showing their status or company so prospective business contacts can easily be recognized.
5. Preferably have a photographer on hand to capture photos so you can maximize the marketing benefits with follow-up mailings and perhaps some additional press releases.
6. Use the sign-in logbook to generate a follow-up mailing of thank-you cards. If you have another event planned for a couple of months down the line, you might use the thank-you note to invite attendees to your next event.
7. If you managed to get some really high-powered prospect to turn up at your event, don't miss out on calling the next day to ask for feedback on the event, your facility and any suggestions he or she might offer. This tells the V.I.P. that you really value his or her ideas and opinions. That should give you a much higher profile on his or her list of shops.

 It’s time to maximize your professional worth

 If showmanship can bring some lawyers, ball players, actors and other performers millions of dollars in revenue,  perhaps it’s time for you to begin maximizing the revenue your professional expertise could command. Ken Kragen’s event strategy also launched “Hands Across America,” “U.S.A. for Africa,” and the song “We Are the World.” These have made him one of the most sought after professional managers in the U.S. His event strategy could work for you too. When a Yellow Pages ad can cost $500 a month and rarely bring in a customer, for less than the cost of two or three month’s advertising you can put on an event.

One last tip: Ken has found that five or six events stretched out several months apart do not have the impact that three closely scheduled events can create. If you are planning some marketing event initiatives during the next year, you should seriously consider timing them so they have a powerful one-two-three punch effect.

Now, with this valuable new strategic information, when you look in the mirror perhaps you will see a brand-new image: a showmanship-smart body shop “Doc!”

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 email: tbfranklin@aol.com.

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