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Creative Marketing to Attract New Customers

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SHOP STATS: Killian Automotive Location: Canton, Ga.  Owner: Tim Lanier  Average Monthly Car Count: 440  Staff Size: 17  Number of lifts: 16  Shop Size: 12,000 square feet  Annual Revenue: $2.4 million  

The way Tim Lanier looks at social media and marketing may be different than most. Instead of seeing it as a means to advertise sales and boost profits, the owner of Killian Automotive uses it to show off his employees, give customers a behind-the-scenes look, and spread its positive reputation in the community. He does so with the help of Angie King, the shop’s director of marketing and communications. Though they haven’t abandoned direct mail campaigns and follow-up calls for retaining current customers, Lanier and King’s main focus is attracting young, new faces, and social media has been their go-to way of doing so.


The Backstory

Before the pandemic, the shop’s marketing strategies were well planned out. Each December, Lanier and King sit down and review the current year, going over what worked, what didn’t, and the overall returns from their campaigns. From there, they fill up their marketing calendar for the next year, breaking it down week by week.

“You need to have a calendar laid out on when you are going to do the mailings, or whatever it is you’re doing. Have a schedule set and stick to it,” Lanier says. “If you look at your whole year and go back and watch how your shop has done, you’ll start seeing some holes, and you’ll want to fill those holes during the slow times.”

The Problem

Usually, the shop doesn’t have a problem with acquiring new customers through marketing efforts—on average, 63 walk through the door each month. But when COVID-19 hit in March, acquiring new customers was at a standstill. It was the same for other businesses, too, especially restaurants, hit hard by stay-at-home orders. While looking for ways to help their own business get back on its feet, other businesses in the community were on Lanier’s and King’s minds, too.

“We wanted to find a way to help out in the community,” Lanier says. “Everyone was worried during that time, and we knew we were going to double down on our marketing and spend more than we usually do.”

The Solution

The shop came across an idea that another shop from its Elite Pro Service group was carrying out. Bryan Kauffeld, owner of Ulmer’s Auto Care in Cincinnati, Ohio, had the idea to partner with local restaurants to drum them up some business, alongside some for his shop, too. His idea? “Distance Socially, Eat Locally.” Customers who spent $250 or more at the shop would receive a $25 gift card to a local restaurant. Lanier and King thought it was a brilliant idea, and decided to carry out the same thing in their own town, 441 miles away.

King called restaurants, finding six that were willing to participate. While Lanier went out to bring each restaurant a check and pick up gift cards, 90 in all, King was busy working on the design for 5.5-by-8-inch cards the restaurants would put in to-go orders, advertising the repair shop and its campaign.

“We would get new customers from them, which puts a little money in their pockets, and customers would usually spend more than the $25 [at each restaurant],” Lanier says.

King posted about the campaign on Google My Business, blending the promotion in with the four or five other campaigns the shop runs at any given time. She also plastered it loud and proud on Facebook, where she usually runs one or two campaigns at a time. Throughout the Distance Socially, Eat Locally campaign, Lanier stopped by a few of the restaurants now and then to snap a picture with the owners, give them a shoutout on Facebook, and tag them in the post.

The Aftermath

The 90 giftcards went fast. Within four weeks, all had been given away to customers who spent $250 or more at the shop. While Killian Automotive spent more money during the month of May on its marketing budget—$2,250 on the gift cards alone—Lanier and King were confident it would pay off and would achieve their overall goal of attracting new customers to their shop, ones they intended to retain long-term.

“There’s more money involved with a customer acquisition,”  Lanier says. “We knew if we put ourselves out there more than anyone else has, we’d come out stronger.”

Just how much stronger? While the shop’s usual customer acquisition was 63 per month over the past three years, in the midst of the pandemic, the month of June was higher than it’s ever been, with 91 new customers. 

The Takeaway

Though the campaign took off based on some quick thinking, it was made possible because it fit within the marketing plan the shop already had in place. However, he says the content with which you fill your calendar can’t be just anything; it needs to have a purpose.

“You have to know what you’re doing and that the money you are spending is creating results,” Lanier says. “The only way to know is to track how your shop performs, week by week, and compare to how it’s performed in the past.”

This is especially important when attempting to attract new customers. If you’re marketing to retain, customers already know who you are. With acquiring new customers, they don’t know anything about you other than what they see on the outside. Lanier says that’s why the shop focuses on smiling faces, maintaining a clean facility, and differentiating themselves from the competition with the value they bring to the table.

“You really want to focus on who you are more than you would for retention,” Lanier says.

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