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Wednesday, 03 December 2014 00:00

Autobody Associations: A Good Source of Marketing Info

Written by Tom Franklin

Recently I had the pleasure of being the only reporter at a local autobody association chapter meeting. This was an especially interesting meeting focusing on the new Ford F150 truck and its aluminum body. There was a great panel of industry experts whose comments could significantly impact the success of a shop trying to perform more competitively and profitably. So I was troubled when one member of the panel asked how many shop owners were present and only about six or seven raised their hands. This was a room containing an audience of more than one hundred people. One would think that at least a quarter of the attendees would be major shop decision-makers. But I shouldn't have been surprised. I've heard the same question at numerous meetings with the same low decision-maker count.

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The last few meetings I've attended focused on elements that will determine the survival and success of most collision repair shops. The focus on new vehicle designs, materials, reparability and management processes prepares shop owners and managers for a business future that may be extremely challenging. That same focus tells these owners and managers what messages they need to get out to current and prospective customers to keep vehicles coming into their shops. This particular meeting provided ammunition for a marketing attack based on the hazards of dealing with aluminum and potential dangers for vehicle owners if they choose an ill-informed and ill-equipped shop to do their repairs. That message is appropriate for nearly every potential customer, whether an individual vehicle owner, fleet manager, dealership principal, or insurance DRP.

The message I've heard in many association meetings this and last year is that technology will now be driving the emphasis in shop marketing. That same message says that collision repair professionals can now command a new, higher level of respect. The days of thinking of a body shop as a place where low-paid workers pound dents out of fenders and massage damaged metal back into place has come to an end. Vehicle manufacturers have raised the bar and a typical shop today must have certified technicians and costly equipment to work on computerized vehicles, dangerous electrical and hybrid systems and exotic metal and carbon fiber bodies. Websites and other media that emphasize the old systems and equipment are missing the marketing boat. The time has come to seize this higher level of respect for the complicated new practice of restoring these complex vehicles to pre-accident condition.

A much earlier meeting about this time of year was addressed by a V.P. from SEMA. This was when NACE abandoned Las Vegas to host the NACE show in a different city. The executive talked about the new benefits that can come from a collision shop attendance at and participation in a SEMA show in Las Vegas. The SEMA people were doing all possible to make the show informative and of value to collision repair attendees. Although the V.P. focused on amenities and conveniences for shop owners and managers, there were numerous references to new products and processes collision shop marketers could add to their repertoire of products and services. I attended SEMA that year and saw first hand what he meant. One lady from a local shop was at the show and she noted that her shop could immediately profit from providing customers with alarm systems, child restraints, pet restraints, backing-up lights and cameras, specialty wheels and more. She saw a way to attract new customers and enjoy greater profits.

While these were autobody association meetings that could aid marketing efforts, I think the best meetings focused on providing what is most needed for effective marketing: MONEY! Business analysts generally say about seven percent of gross should be put into sales and marketing. I've seen only a few shops that begin to approach that figure. Serious efforts to generate new customers can cost serious money. Two recent autobody association meetings I attended focused mainly on how to negotiate effectively and how to get paid for the many repairs and operations some insurance adjusters like to weasel out of. The information at just one of these meetings could have paid for some very high quality on-line marketing and also a live gal or guy in the field bringing in business!

The complaint I've heard most frequently about association meetings was that there were uninformative programs and a tendency to be no more than a place to come to eat, drink and complain. What I've observed at these highly productive meetings is that there is a core group of members who want to use this irreplaceable forum to bring in speakers and panels with truly valuable information. Association members who complain about a declining volume of business and lower profits have failed to seize the opportunity to get these highly desirable presenters in front of their chapter. All it takes is someone willing to make the calls and arrange the time and place.

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