Yoswick --- Low-cost Ways for Shops to Keep Out Front in a Down Economy

Yoswick --- Low-cost Ways for Shops to Keep Out Front in a Down Economy

If there’s anything positive about an economic downturn like the country is experiencing right now, it could be that for the business owner, it certainly focuses the mind. Extraneous (even if valuable) activities often get set aside as such core fundamentals as getting work to the door take precedent.

Here are some low-cost, high-impact marketing ideas that shops around the country are using to keep collision-damaged vehicles rolling in. Some of these ideas may be more effective in some markets more than others. But even an idea designed for a community with a population of 15,000 could possibly be altered to work in a metropolitan area (and vice versa)—or may just help spark a related idea that will work for your shop.

Dinner on the shop. One shop owner is trying to spend a bigger portion of his marketing budget during the tough economic times in his small community to directly help local families and other community businesses. At least once a week when he’s out eating in a local restaurant, the shop is picking up the dinner tab for one or more other couples or families elsewhere in the restaurant.

“It’s not a big expense, and I figure every time I’m doing it, at the very least three I’m touching three households: the people whose dinner I’m buying, the waitress who tells them, and the owner of the restaurant,” the shop owner said. “And you know those people are telling others about it. That can have an impact in a town this size.”

The paid dinner tab comes with one of the shop’s business cards that says, “We hope you won’t need us, but if you do…”

The shop owner said after several months, it’s become something a group of local restaurant owners are talking to him about helping promote (he decided to keep the money local by buying dinners only in local restaurants, not national chains). One family wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to thank him. He said he feels much better about spending the money this way rather than buying advertising. And, most importantly, he can track at least several jobs that have come into the shop as a result.

“It’s not a lot, but I’m also not spending a lot,” the shop owner said. “And I think it’s only going to build as I keep doing this.”

Happy birthday to you. Robert “BJ” Bjorneby says that he first put his best low-cost marketing tool to work back in the mid-1970s, the last time a gas crisis seriously cut into people’s driving habits and “you could have played football on the street” in front of his shop near Seattle. He invested in a reader board he still uses near the street in front of his shop on which he displays birthday greetings to local residents and customers and other “fun stuff.”

“It’s become real well-known and it works,” Bjorneby said.

Happy birthday, dear BMW. Similarly, real estate agents, investment advisors and insurance agents have for years used birthday cards as an annual way of keeping in touch with clients. Mike Anderson of Wagonworks Collision Center in Alexandria, Virg., has put his own twist on the idea by sending birthday cards to his customer’s cars.

The shop notes the production month and year of customers’ cars, and each month sends a “birthday” postcard to all customers whose cars “were born” in that month of the year. The card invites the customer to schedule a free wash, vacuum and 12-point inspection of the vehicle.

Anderson said the program keeps his name in front of customers in a unique way, and gets many customers to come back into the shop, helping keep Wagonworks “top of mind.” It also gives the shop a chance to reinspect its own work. But perhaps most valuably, Anderson’s customer service team is well-trained to look for opportunities to up-sell a customer, and getting customers back in “between collisions” is a chance to look for minor damage or other opportunities for the shop to be of service to its customers.

(Another shop with good drive-by traffic holds a “free community carwash” at the shop once a quarter, holding signs—that include the shop’s name—out front to direct drivers into its parking lot. Shop employees and their families are asked to volunteer to help for a few hours —the shop buys lunch—and the shop accepts donations from drivers for a non-profit group, which also results in some positive publicity. Customers can get a tour of the shop while they wait, and the shop looks for damage or other possible work on the vehicles it washes.)

Your vehicle as billboard. Anderson jokes that he removed all the signage for his shop from his vehicle when another driver called the shop to complain how one of its employees was driving—and Anderson realized they were calling about him.

But other shops owners see their company vehicle as the perfect “rolling advertisement” for their shop. Painted lettering, magnetic signage, window decals or license plate frames can put your shop name in front of others on the road.

You can also make that message stand out a little more by wrapping your entire vehicle in a pre-printed decal promoting your shop. Signsource USA in Pompano Beach, FL, is among the companies offering this service, which can average about $3,500 per vehicle (depending on required design work, vehicle style, etc.). For ideas, you can visit that company’s website (www.wrapyourcar.com).

Look for free publicity. Yes, Craig Camacho is marketing director for the eight-location Keenan Auto Body organization based in the Philadelphia area. But he didn’t really do anything any shop couldn’t have done when he arranged earlier this year for a reporter from the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia to visit a Keenan shop to try her hand at automotive welding and painting with the help of Keenan technicians. The reporter does a regular “Take this job…” segment on the station’s morning newscast, and Camacho just called in to suggest “collision repair technician” as a job she may want to feature. The segment on the reporter’s visit to the shop aired in March, providing a virtually no-cost television promotion for Keenan.

Tough times force some businesses to make cuts where they can, and marketing is sometimes one of the budget lines that (often foolishly) gets cut. That makes this an ideal time to beat out competitors by keeping your name out there—often in ways that don’t have to cost a fortune.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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