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Monday, 30 September 2002 17:00

The great American body shop

Written by Tom Franklin

The autobody business has changed dramatically the last few years. Consolidators are now even moving into smaller communities that few would have ever expected just a few years ago when they started in major metropolitan areas. Insurance companies are getting more and more aggressive in their efforts to control claims costs and repair facilities -- even to the point of getting into the autobody business themselves! 

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In the midst of all of this change, while competition is heating up and repair dollars are harder to capture, the shop owner and manager is forced to spend a greater amount of time and money on basic marketing just to keep his or her shop afloat. Only there isn't enough time in the day to both manage the day-to-day activities of a body shop and also have time to go out and effectively market and sell the shop.

Some shop owners set out to find a skilled marketing person to perform this task for them. A few find this rare bird. Most never do, and so they make a half-hearted effort to sell and market their own shop. But half-measures are never enough, and so they fail to be effective. Eventually they may lose out to the consolidator or competitor with big bucks who can afford endless trial and error efforts until something works.

Multiplying your marketing power

Is there an alternative to this sad scenario? Yes, but it is necessary to apply some fundamental principles. It is also necessary to approach marketing for what it is: a highly specialized task, just as demanding of skill and expertise as perfectly straightening and painting a car so that it is thoroughly restored to its original state.

You're starting out with some very definite limitations:

• Limited time to market

• Limited money to market

• A need to squeeze maximum value out of every dollar and every minute spent on marketing.

There are three major approaches you can take to this problem:

• Maximize and multiply the power of your own resources.

• Link yourself to a bigger marketing machine or power source.

• Create your own multi-dimensional leveraged power source.

All three of these approaches call for using systems, tricks and tools that somehow make you more effective than occasionally going out and calling on a prospect here and there, one at a time. Somehow you must multiply and clone yourself and your marketing efforts.

Creating a marketing machine

Because you have limited time, first you have to multiply your time to gain a time advantage. In the world of physical efforts, we've created "machines" to perform large amounts of work that we, as individuals, couldn't do during our limited human lifetimes. Machines put up buildings, bridges, highways and cities that we could never have built without them. So might it not also be possible to create a body shop "marketing machine?"

Because you probably have limited funds to spend on marketing, you have to maximize the efficiency of the funds that you do spend. Efficiency is defined as: "The ratio of effective or useful output to the total input in any system -- especially the ratio of the energy delivered by a machine to the energy supplied for its operation."

If you are to create an effective "marketing machine," the output of the "machine" must be significantly greater than the amount of time, effort and/or money you put into creating and operating the machine.

The machine defined

To create an effective "marketing machine," first let's look at the definitions of "Machine:"

• Any system, usually of rigid bodies, formed and connected to alter, transmit and direct applied forces in a predetermined manner to accomplish a specific objective, such as the performance of useful work.

• A simple device, such as a lever, pulley, or inclined plane, that alters the magnitude or direction or both, of an applied force (also called a "simple machine").

• Any such system or device, together with its power source and auxiliary equipment, for example an automobile, aircraft or jackhammer.

• Any system or device, such as an electronic computer, that performs or assists in the performance of a human task.

From this we can see we need (1) a specific objective and (2) a system for getting there. Plus (3) our system must "alter, transmit and direct" our applied force (in the form of time, money and effort) so that it is "magnified" or "redirected" to perform or assist in the performance of our marketing tasks.


The great machines
The pulley

Definition: "A simple machine used to change the direction and point of application of a pulling force -- especially for lifting weight -- consisting essentially of a wheel with a grooved rim in which a pulled rope or chain is run."

I like to quote an old merchant's proverb: "On the door to success is written push and pull." The "pulley" was created to multiply the energy or effort applied to pulling or lifting a heavy weight.

Any shop owner who has gone out to market his or her shop, may have returned after that first effort with a feeling of having carried a very "heavy weight." It is not an easy transition to make, going from the familiar activity of autobody repair where a solid effort results in an obvious change in the appearance of the vehicle, to the unfamiliar activity of marketing where you seldom see any immediate result from your efforts. You may feel you're pushing against a nearly unmovable weight.

The old school of selling was trying to push a prospect into buying a service or product. Sales and marketing efforts based on push alone seldom work. Since you've certainly been on the receiving end of many sales presentations, you're probably like most people who hate a "pushy" salesperson.

The alternative to an emphasis on sales push, is to add marketing pull to the equation. If you're a DRP shop for an insurance company, you've enjoyed the benefit of insurance company pull, when they direct the insured to take his or her car to your shop. Some shop owners may also have pull with local government or utility motor pools. That pull gets cars or trucks directed to the shop door. Once there, you have an easier task using sales push to keep the vehicle in your shop.

Marketing "pull" can only be achieved by gaining the support and assistance of others in sending work to your shop, but it doesn't have to be limited to insurance or fleet management companies. You can develop "pull" or "clout" in many organizations by donating time, money or services. This is the equivalent of applying force on the rope of a pulley to multiply your input to get a greater output.

If you contribute long enough, eventually you will find people in that organization making an effort to send business in your direction. One shop owner created an award to be presented for outstanding academic work by students in a local parochial school. The nuns at that school were so pleased by the shop owner's interest in motivating students to excel, that they took every opportunity to refer people and to send work to that owner's shop. If you can develop that kind of dedication to returning favors to you, you will have created a "marketing pulley machine" that focuses the "direction and point of application of a pulling force" to pull new paint and repair business into your shop.

The wheel & axle

Definition: "A mechanical device, analogous to the lever, consisting of two coaxial wheels of different diameter conjoined so that the effort, applied by a cord to the larger wheel in the form of a torque, is transmitted as an action by a cord around the circumference of the smaller, yielding a mechanical advantage to the ratio of the diameters of the wheels."

In marketing terms, we could be talking about your own "wheels" or sphere of influence, the circumference of your immediate business environment. To gain a "mechanical marketing advantage," you need to influence a larger sphere, a larger circumference, a larger business environment. How can you accomplish this multiplication of your marketing efforts?

First you need to identify the larger "wheels" or circles where you can make a multiplied marketing impact. One shop owner told me he takes his laptop computer to a nearby university parking lot and writes estimates on minor damage he sees on BMWs and other high-end cars. He leaves the estimate with a note inviting the car owner to his shop. He claims he gets a few car owners to come to his shop every month that way.

Another owner told me putting anything under a windshield wiper will get tossed away, so he writes a brief estimate on the back of his business card. He's created a small form on the card to show the amount it would take to fix a hood, a fender, a door, etc. When someone comes in as a result of the business card, he says he can often sell repairs on any additional damage there is on the car. These owners attract new business by widening their "circumference" of reaching out.

Other shops have extended their marketing circumference by locating estimating centers in dealerships, or by putting an estimating computer in a "mobile estimating van." Or by simply renting a small space in a highly visible area where people could bring their cars for estimates only. Afterwards the cars are taken to the body shop for repairs and returned to be picked up by the customer at the estimating center.

The success of this space expansion strategy depends on (1) finding a central location that has the potential to command the attention of a majority of the drivers in the targeted neighborhood, and (2) coming up with a powerfully eye-catching sign, image or building that is certain to draw in many new prospects. Handled effectively, this circle-building strategy can create an awesome marketing machine!


The inclined plane
Definition: "A simple machine used to raise or lower a load by rolling or sliding on a plane inclined to the horizontal."

The major advantage of an inclined plane, is the possibility of gradually raising a very heavy load, even if in only very small increments. One ingredient needed to make this approach effective is to continue to apply the effort without stopping or allowing the possibility of the weight sliding back.

This points up one of the great weaknesses of many shops' marketing efforts. They are sporadic rather than continuous. A costly marketing effort is launched but if there is no immediate inflow of new business, enthusiasm for the project dwindles and the project is abandoned. In mechanical terms this is "backsliding." Later, if the effort is resumed, any earlier momentum is lost. The project must start again from scratch.

An "inclined plane" approach to marketing requires a long-term commitment to sustain an effort long enough to see a solid result. One reason for this is the short attention span of most readers, TV viewers and radio listeners. Most people only notice an ad for a few short moments before turning their attention to something else. That's why most advertisers rely on repetitive ads gradually getting through to prospective customers.

The mechanical power of repetitive suggestion

Of all the great, gradual American marketing machines, the most powerful by far is the repetitive suggestion machine. TV ads, radio ads, on-hold ads, e-mail ads, print ads and direct mail all rely on the power of the repeated message. The belief is that if you hear or see the same message over and over enough times, you will eventually begin to believe it.

Whether or not that is completely true, it is true enough to put it to some practical use in your own marketing. If you have a phone on-hold message, or you send out an occasional mailer, or you do some occasional advertising on TV, radio or in print, if you get the same message across over and over, you are almost certain to get some business from all of this marketing activity.

But how much business will you get? Will it cost you more than you make? Is there a "mechanical advantage?" Is there a way to increase your return from a repetitive message? The answer is definitely Yes!

The single focus repetitive message

The key to having an effective repetitive message is focusing on one narrow advantage and running it right into the ground! "Avis tries harder." "Albertson's is YOUR store!" You have to have one single message to make a repetitive suggestion stick and begin to produce results. You can't say, "Joe's Body Shop does the best body work, paint job, frame work, mechanical work, etc.,etc., etc." and have it register on a prospective customer's unconscious mind. You need a well-focused one-liner:

- "Sam's Collision Center guarantees complete safety after repair."

- "Come to Fred's for the finest auto paint finish in the city."

- "Richard's Auto Body restores you car like-new -- guaranteed!"

- "Carl's body shop guarantees no hassle with insurance, repairs or refinishing."

These are some quick, off-the-top-of-the-head suggestions, but I hope you get the idea. The KEY idea is a single-sentence statement that can be grasped quickly and reinforced by repetition. If it can be sung in a jingle, that's even better.

That one single point must be hammered home over and over again to create a lasting impression and to gradually begin to yield marketing results "on an inclined plane." Once set into motion, this gradual promotional effort can run like a finely tuned engine and generate numerous new customers over a long period of time.

The lever
A lever is the simplest of machines, consisting essentially of a rigid bar or rod designed to pivot on a fixed point called a "fulcrum." The effect of a leveraged force is in direct proportion to the distance of the lever from the fulcrum. A one-pound force two feet from a fulcrum has a turning effect of two "foot-pounds." A one-pound force is multiplied to be able to lift two pounds. By moving the force further from the fulcrum, the force is multiplied even further.

Anyone who has ever worked in an autobody collision repair facility and straightened a fender, bumper or frame is familiar with leverage. The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough and a prop strong enough and I will single-handedly move the world."

Leverage has come to mean "a positional advantage that multiplies power." A $10,000 down payment may allow you to control a $100,000 piece of real estate. You have "leveraged" or multiplied the power of your $10,000 by a factor of ten. Finding ways to leverage or multiply the force of your marketing dollar may be less obvious. To bring about a major positive change in the amount (or quality) of business coming into your shop, you'll have to "leverage" your marketing power.

• Communication: If you must speak to one person for one hour to bring one car into your shop and you have only two hours a week to devote to marketing, you can bring in only eight cars each month. To reach further, you have to multiply your marketing power. By speaking to a group or putting your message in an ad, article, flyer or media commercial you instantly multiply the number of people you can reach with the same communication.

• Finances: One way to leverage finances is to use "O.P.M." - "other people's money." If you're putting in new equipment, you may be able to be a "showcase" for the equipment vendor and get them to provide "co-op advertising." Another way to multiply your promotional message inexpensively is to work out exchanges with complementary businesses like mechanical or radiator shops. You put flyers and cards in their shops and they have cards and flyers in yours.

• Corporate accounts: When you're out making a sales "PUSH," you multiply your sales power when you find customers with multiple vehicles. You may already be calling on dealerships, freight companies and government agencies. Try scanning the index of the business yellow pages for other corporate account possibiities. You may find one your competition has never considered approaching.

• Direct repair referral: Many shops rely on DRP "pull" status with insurance companies, adjusting companies, franchises and fleet accounts. If you're going out to market your shop to obtain this status, don't underestimate the multiplied message power of "Chinese Water Torture." Keep "dripping" your message on your DRP target with an updated profile of your shop every month or so.


• People power: Sales people in most industries automatically ask every new customer for a referral to any friend, business associate or family member who may also be interested in buying the product. How often do you ask customers who bring in their cars for a referral to the company they work for or other people they know or do business with? Companies like Amway use network marketing because they know every new sales rep. has at least 100 friends or family members who might become that person's instant customers. Try thinking of more ways to leverage the marketing power of every new business contact or relationship. Imagine every new customer sending you five more new customers, each of whom then send you five more, etc. etc.!

• Multiply personnel power: All too often workers are seen as having only one function in a business when their contribution might actually be multiplied many times. Given the chance, many non-sales workers become excellent incidental sales people. Try offering an incentive bonus or even percentage commission to any employee who gets someone to come in to get autobody repairs. You might be surprised how many people are motivated by "finder's fees." And don't stop at employees. Anyone who comes into your shop might potentially be a sales person for you if the price is right!

• Leverage your community involvement: No man is an island. Every business is part of a larger business community. Every business with a vehicle is a potential customer for you or one of your competitors at some time. If you have built a relationship with the other businesses and organizations in your community, there is a fair chance your shop will be chosen when that time comes. Everyone socializes once in a while. Why not leverage continually growing social relationships into business relationships? Every contribution to your community will generally come back to you many times over.

The computer
Definition: "A device that computes--especially an electronic machine that performs high-speed mathematical or logical calculations or that assembles, stores, correlates, or otherwise processes and prints information derived from coded data in accordance with a predetermined program."

Your computer can be your most powerful marketing machine of all. Four marketing and sales management programs have been rated the best by several computer magazines. These are MAXIMIZER, GOLD MINE, OUTLOOK and ACT! When a new customer or prospect is typed into the database, it is possible to immediately send any pre-designed letter, e-mail or postcard, and to schedule the next communication so that you are reminded in a few days, a week or a month or more later.

Many sales and marketing efforts fail from a lack of a "mechanized" consistent follow-up. It is no longer necessary to rely on your calendar, your secretary or your wife to remind you when you must send out the next communication. I have chosen MAXIMIZER because of a few features that I particularly like. MAXIMIZER reminds you when it's time to send out your next letter, e-mail or postcard, and, if you have taken the time to record all of your calls and other communications, it reminds you of any bits of information you have accumulated to facilitate your sale to this person.

Three timely, well-designed communications can have an amazing impact on a potential client or customer. The computer makes it possible to deliver these communications consistently and at the best possible time, thus leveraging the limited time you have to devote to marketing.

Linking yourself to existing marketing machines

These suggestions, if diligently applied, could result in some amazing marketing successes, but only a few readers of this article will really apply the ideas and carry them through to a result. Most shop owners have difficulty separating themselves out from body shop responsibilities so that they can go out and focus 100% on marketing and selling their services.

One young man said he simply can't go out and market his shop. He needs to be there all of the time to supervise things and make certain they go right. First he must ask himself, if he doesn't bring in more business, will it matter if workers don't perform perfectly? There may not be any jobs at all for them to do. Bringing in business is a higher priority than supervising workers. If they need that much supervision, he needs to hire more reliable help. Marketing a business is a leader's number one responsibility.

For people who simply cannot get out and do their own marketing, one possible alternative is to Link one's shop to a larger, existing marketing machine. Many paint companies now provide programs like PPG's CertifiedFirst. Some franchises provide similar advantages to consolidators without forcing you to give up ownership. Many offer some degree of marketing as part of their program. Even doing the Dale Carnegie course or Toastmasters can open up a world of new contacts and may put you in contact with someone who would be excellent to do your marketing.

Your own "great American marketing machine"

By now, perhaps you have developed (1) a specific objective, and (2) a system for getting there which will "alter, transmit and direct" your applied force (in the form of time, money and effort) so that it is "magnified" or "redirected" to "perform or assist in the performance" of your marketing tasks.

If so, you may have constructed the beginning of a "great American marketing machine" that may:

• Maximize and multiply the power of your own resources,

• Link you to a bigger marketing machine or power source, and/or

• Create your own multi-dimensional leveraged power source.

You're on the way to creating an effective "marketing machine," where the output of the "machine" can be significantly greater than the amount of time, effort and/or money you put into operating the machine, and you may have even overcome the problems of limited time to market and limited money to market your shop. With those limitations out of your way, there is little else that can stop you from creating the successful, growing business you have envisioned.

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:


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