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Friday, 05 December 2014 00:00

Commercial Customers -- A Reliable Business Source

Written by Tom Franklin

Although there are still many more independent shops than franchise and multiple operator shops, many of the best DRPs and dealership deals often go to the well-funded group shops. This trend may increase, as vehicle manufacturers require expensive equipment, tooling and certification to work on their vehicles. To carve out a successful niche for an independent shop, in the past I've suggested a variety of options. One that I think gets too little attention is the commercial vehicle market.

In the past I've assisted three different shops that at least partly specialized in commercial vehicles. One focused on government and police vehicles. Another put in an oversize frame machine and an expanded spray booth to accommodate slightly larger delivery trucks, and a third shop, a GM dealership shop, focused on companies with Chevrolet and GM business vehicles. All three enjoyed above average profits on their commercial business.

When I inquired about the pros and cons of this business, I learned that many small businesses prefer not to place minor damage claims with their insurance companies. They'd rather self-pay the repairs. Also since small dents and dings were a regular occurrence with some companies, the shop would provide a monthly billing statement and enjoy a steady stream of income.

The shop owner who provided much of its commercial business to the local police department, quickly learned that he would get more of that business if he also provided minor engine maintenance, lubrication and brakes and times. One single dedicated bay sufficed for that business, which also turned out to be quite profitable. This added service also got him into other commercial accounts.

Plunging into the world of commercial accounts requires a very different method of marketing from normal insured and dealership vehicle promotions. Marketing to this world is more similar to that of many other services. Since most areas have a multitude of small and medium business with anywhere from a couple of vehicles to an entire fleet (one pest control company had over 200 vehicles), building a database of prospects can be a first step. For example, lists of appliance repair companies, air conditioning and heating companies, plumbers, electricians, and handyman and painting service companies can be purchased from a list company or built from on-line listings.

The following four steps might be one way to develop opportunities to meet with prospective commercial account principals. It assumes you have a competent phone solicitation person who can modify the script to fit the conversation as he or she goes along.

      1. Exploratory phone call:

Could I please speak to your (delivery) vehicle maintenance manager. (If not in) Can I leave a message? What is his/her name, please? May I also send a note? What is the exact spelling of his/her name? Do I have the correct address? (If none, get mailing address. (If provided by outside source, ask for company that provides delivery vehicles)

      2. To vehicle manager:

Hello. I noticed that your company has company-owned vehicles. Do you do your own maintenance? (If so) Do you also repair damage to vehicle if they get in an accident or pick up minor dents or dings? (Usually they say NO) We would like to do some minor repair on one of your vehicles to show you the quality and speed of our work. (If large vehicles, indicate if we have an oversize frame machine and expanded spray booth to accommodate oversize vehicles).

(If not doing their own maintenance) I assume, then, that you're using an outside company to do your maintenance? (Usually YES) How many vehicles do you have? Would you consider an alternate outside service, if just for emergencies, when you need very fast service -- or just to try an alternate source?

(IF not at this time) May I send you some information about our company?

       3. Follow up the call by sending a letter and some literature.

After a while, when you're sure your letter has arrived, call again to see if he or she got it. Check again for an opportunity to perform some minor service to demonstrate what our shop can do -- or to meet with the appropriate person.

       4. Continue to send an update every month.
Call again in a couple of months. Continue until they begin to respond positively and are willing to come in for at least a minor repair. Eventually this will work with many of them.

Soliciting commercial business is very different from the usual collision repair marketing. Speed of repair is of the greatest importance. The company wants to get a disabled vehicle back on the road as soon as possible. If you can prove your shop can be the fastest, you're likely to get the business.

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