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Identity Crisis

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Quality repairs, friendly and quick service—none of it really matters if you can’t get anyone through the doors to experience it, Scott Caster says.

Caster had owned Advanced Auto Center for nearly a decade and was growing tired of its respectable yet stagnant and underachieving sales. In a relatively crowded market in west Sacramento, Calif., Advanced Auto Center simply didn’t stand out from its competition; customers didn’t know what the shop had to offer, and, honestly, who could blame them?

“We were disjointed,” Caster says, referring to his business’s brand and image. “We had this red, white and blue building that just didn’t’ fit with the neighborhood at all.”

And the shop had a logo—checkered flags and all—that didn’t fit the business’s culture, or the services offered to customers.

“We looked like a performance shop or something,” Caster says. “That’s not what we were, or what we were trying to be. I think it gave off the wrong perception to people.

“I wanted people to see our name and think of quality, and think of a place that’s comfortable and welcoming. I wanted to find a way for people to view us as their trusted shop in the area.”

The Backstory

Caster was a cop for nearly 15 years before buying Advanced Auto in 2001. While in the force, he earned a bachelor’s degree in management.

“While I was in school, I realized I was getting pretty tired of being a cop,” he says. “I wanted to do something on my own and be my own boss.”

Caster had always had a passion for auto repair despite never having worked in the field. After months of deliberating, Caster and his wife, Jill, decided to open a shop. They looked into “somewhere between 30 and 50” businesses that were for sale in the area, and, eventually, they decided on Advanced Auto.

In a good neighborhood with plenty of quality customers, Advanced Auto was a stable, if not already successful, shop, operating with four employees—two technicians, a lube tech and a service advisor.

Caster could simply step in and operate the shop as a true manager, using his business knowledge gained from school.

The Problem

When the Casters purchased Advanced Auto, the shop didn’t have a logo or a website. What a customer could see from the street was all there was to the business: the American flag–themed paint job and the shop’s name in big block letters.

Caster knew he needed a better brand for his business, and at first he tried the do-it-yourself route. He tried to spruce up the shop’s logo by using a template that came with some design software he had. That’s where the checkered flags came in.

(1) “I thought it was better than nothing, but even then I still didn’t like it much,” he says.

He also had his tech-savvy service advisor at the time build the shop a website. It didn’t turn out well, and Caster then hired an outside firm to design a better one—one that cost him $20,000.

“It had all these bells and whistles and different things on it that they told me we needed,” he says. “It’s one of those things where I was out of my element a little and I just trusted the ‘expert’ on it and went with what they said. I guess I should’ve done more homework.”

The site, beyond being far too expensive, never generated much attention for the business.

“And part of the problem,” Caster says, “was that everything was so inconsistent. The building, the logo, the website—none of it matched. You couldn’t look at one and think of the other. There was no recognition to it.”

And that made marketing very difficult for the shop, Caster says. He wanted to grow the business. Nearly 10 years into ownership, Caster had Advanced Auto running smoothly, but it was still hitting roughly the same numbers as when he took over. Monthly car count was barely above 150, and through July of 2010, the shop had brought in just 264 new customers. The shop regularly did a little more than $600,000 in annual sales.

The Solution

Caster was in a tough spot: He was done throwing away money to try to fix the problem, but he also knew that he couldn’t attack the problem on his own.

“I knew what we needed to do, but I didn’t know how to do it,” he says. “You hear people talk about the importance of branding, but it’s always, ‘Well, great, but how do I do it?’”

Caster was at a trade show when he saw a presentation from Danny Sanchez of Autoshop Solutions.

“He had this one-hour block where he talked about branding; it was pretty amazing timing,” Caster says. “He talked about how branding is more than just having a logo—that logo has to be a part of everything in your business, from your sign to your uniforms to your website to your marketing, everything.”

The seminar encouraged Caster to reach out to Sanchez to work with Autoshop Solutions on fixing Advanced Auto’s branding issues. They worked together on creating a new logo and building a new, simpler website that would rein in the focus of the business.

(2) Caster wanted a logo that wasn’t an industry cliché, and one that didn’t confuse or turn off potential customers. “I always felt like that performance image of the flags wasn’t too friendly to a lot of customers, especially female customers,” he says.

SHARPER IMAGE: Caster wanted his new logo to embody the professional, comfortable and friendly reputation he built with his customers. The brand, Caster says, needed to help tell his shop’s story to customers, and let them know who he is and the value his business gives them.

After some back-and-forth work, Caster and the designers he worked with came up with a simple logo that featured the word “Advanced” in black-outlined, curvy, sans-serif white font over a yellow shield. The words “Auto Center” are in a smaller, black version of the font just below.

“It looks friendly, but it looks modern and professional,” Caster says. “I love it.”

It was also something that was clearly distinctive from the businesses in his area—auto-related or not.

And with the new logo in hand—and the newly finished website Autoshop Solutions created—Caster went about ingraining the logo into all aspects of his shop. He repainted the building himself—white walls with a black-and-yellow-stripe wrapping the facility. The doors are a matching yellow.

Inside the shop, he had the logo painted on the wall behind the counter, and continued the black-and-yellow stripes throughout the white walls of the waiting room and the shop floor.

Uniforms, business cards, and print marketing materials in the shop also had the new logo printed on them.

“It was a unified look,” Caster says, “so that when anyone sees our building, or they see our logo in an ad, or on a business card, it all brings up one image—our business.”

The Aftermath

Having already spent $20,000 on a previous website, Caster admits the services probably felt a whole lot cheaper to him than to others. Still, the logo design cost him $600, and the website was “a couple thousand” plus $99 per month for Autoshop Solutions to maintain and update it. What it brought his business, though, was immeasurable.

IN THE RIGHT HANDS: With the branding changes made, Caster, second from right, says the shop has seen an influx of work, enabling his skilled staff to retain customers through quality repairs. Photo by Stephan Coyle

(3)With the updated shop, logo and website all finished at the end of 2010, Caster began focusing on marketing his new brand. He upped his customer retention work with CustomerLink Systems and began using direct mail to reach current and potential customers.

In 2013, Caster had 552 new customers through the end of July, more than double the number he had through seven months of 2010. The shop now services just north of 220 vehicles per month, and Caster had to hire an additional technician. Sales are up more than 28 percent compared to 2011.

The Takeaway

The numbers are great, Caster says, but the real proof in the effect of his new branding efforts comes when he’s out in his community.

“I get people coming up to me at the grocery store recognizing me from my marketing and knowing what my shop is,” he says. “They can see a logo on my shirt and say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy who sends me all the mailers.’”

“It’s cool to hear; it’s great that people are recognizing my business now. We have that one, unified image now—a brand.”

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