Monday, 28 February 2005 17:00

Take proactive steps to stand out from the crowd

Written by Tom Franklin

"Without promotion, something terrible happens: NOTHING!"

                                                                                    - P.T. Barnum

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The word, "promotion," comes from the word "promote," and means: "to raise to a higher position, rank, or class." A second meaning is: "to further the progress or growth of." In marketing, it has come to mean: "to try to sell or popularize by publicity." A wise shop owner will want to "promote" his or her shop in every sense of the word.

P.T. Barnum, famous for the "Barnum & Bailey Circuses," was known as the "prince of promotion." He attracted people to his circuses with bizarre attractions like the bearded lady, two-headed animals, the tattooed lady, giants, midgets, and more.

Many years later, used car salesman Cal Worthington borrowed a page from P.T. Barnum and captured attention with outrageous advertisements. He featured his dog, Spot, only Spot was never a dog. It was always a gorilla, an alligator, an elephant - anything but a dog. Like P.T. Barnum, Cal discovered the public is always attracted to the unusual and the bizarre.

What does all of this have to do with body shop marketing? If nothing else, it says, "If you just do the usual and the ordinary, that's all you'll ever get." And that may be good enough for many shop owners, but I've found that most have a strong desire to go beyond the usual. To do that, their marketing will also have to go beyond the usual.

What are some of the unusual things you can do without coming across as completely crazy?

Waiting vs. Reaching

Waiting and reaching are two distinctly different approaches to marketing. Many shop owners rely on the "waiting" approach. They run media ads, put up signs, maybe buy ad space on bus benches and buses, in car washes and donut shops. They try to get referrals from agents, adjusters, towing companies, and insurance companies. And then they wait for the business to come in.

Then there are the shops that use the "reaching" approach. The owner, or his or her representative, gets out of the shop and onto the street to make sales calls on agents, dealerships, companies with fleets, insurance executives, and neighborhood businesses to get them to send business into the shop.

The marketing-savvy shop owner uses both the waiting and reaching approaches. P.T. Barnum was a master of both approaches. He ran ads, put up posters everywhere, and had side-shows on the midway all around the circus, to draw people in to the Big Top. But after that was done, he didn't just sit back and wait for the business to come in. He also reached out for the business. He put on parades, showed off his attractions in the town square, and had people out handing out fliers all over town.

Is it possible for just a body shop to generate that kind of excitement to bring prospective customers into the shop? It's not likely that most shop owners would even want that much attention. But even half of that much attention could flood a shop with new prospects.

Become a center of attention

Most of us learned the lesson back in school that it is not wise to be the center of attention. That's a good way to wind up in the principal's office on detention. But when it comes to business, being the center of attention is the best place to be. The trouble is, when there are dozens of competing body shops around, how do you get to be the center of attention?

One way to do it is to become known as a "source." People's attention naturally gravitates to a source. The sun is the source of heat and light. When it breaks through the clouds on a cold and rainy day, no one fails to notice it. Checks generally arrive by mail, and even though the mailman isn't really the source of the checks, his or her arrival is never missed by a shop owner eager to look through the mail to see if some checks have arrived. And for the hungry worker, a break-time or dinnertime bell is always noticed.

There are many ways you can become a "source" and therefore a center of attention in your community. It's likely that many of you have sponsored a little league team, a runner in a marathon, a race car driver, or maybe even a "shop day" at a local high school. But were you effective at getting media coverage for your shop? Did you send out press releases and contact your local papers, radio and TV stations?

Contributing to benefits for young people is a sure way to get press and media coverage. And there is a major benefit to be had from getting involved with the schools. One shop owner in my area set up an award fund to give a prize for the winner of an annual essay contest. He also contributed some free body work on the school's van to ensure the cooperation of the school administrators. It's a private school so the children's parents are affluent and most own high-end cars, so he gets spin-off business in that direction. The shop owner gets a write-up in the school paper every year, along with coverage in the local newspaper. He says he's been surprised at how much business has come from this simple award program.


Become a source of information

One of the best ways to become a center of attention is to become a source of information. One shop group in my area set up an "800 Collision" phone hot line. Calls were directed by zip code to the shop closest to them. Although the hot line offered information on what to do when an accident occurs, it could have gone a step further and provided safe driving messages to broaden the hot line's general appeal. Promoted at that level, with press releases and other reaches to the media, the hot line could have generated press coverage.

A focus on safe driving tips is like a dentist giving patients information on the care of their teeth. Those patients will still be coming in for fillings and dental work, just like drivers will still get in accidents no matter how safe their driving may be. The difference is in the public's perception. They see that the dentist is expressing concern for their dental health, even though he or she is being paid for dental repairs. Promotion emphasizing driving safety and collision prevention casts you in the role of the good guy who cares, even though everyone knows you only get paid for collision repairs.

Turn your peculiarities into an asset

In my area, many shop owners come from other countries and English is their second language. Some are self-conscious about their accent. Other owners seem to be self-conscious about other peculiarities and so are reluctant to reach out. P.T. Barnum used "peculiarities" to attract business. The fat lady, the bearded lady, the tattooed lady, were all attractions because of their strangeness. Jimmy Durante parlayed his unusually large nose into an asset and became "The Schnozz." Kojak became famous as the bald-headed cop. Some stars emphasize a British accent. Any peculiarity can be used to attract attention. Antique cars and other unusual vehicles attract attention. Use what you know.

The key to effective promotion is to find an unusual way to attract attention to your shop and then to reach out to make sure your promotional efforts bring the crowds into your own version of The Big Top.

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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