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Marketing for the Slow Season

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As with any business, shops can hit sales peaks and valleys as the year progresses. But how does a repair facility level out its business and make sure it operates at ideal levels? One solution: marketing.

Brian Walker is the co-owner of 5 Stone Media LLC, a marketing consulting firm based in Louisiana. A former owner of an award-winning repair shop in North Carolina, Walker shared some marketing tips with Ratchet+Wrench on how shops can speed up their slow seasons.

One of the biggest mistakes that shop owners make is that often they are reactive instead of proactive. When times get slow, they stop spending the money on advertising and marketing, which is the absolute worst time to do that.

That should be the opposite; that’s the time when you should be spending the most on marketing and advertising.

The main objective is to stay on track with the numbers you need to hit. It’s not necessarily to turn one of the slow parts of the year into a good part of the year. It’s just to keep it within your goals. That’s the idea the whole time: to stay on track, and to build marketing strategies that do that.

The first step is to know your numbers. In automotive repairs, you only have a certain amount of resources—you have a certain amount of technicians with a certain amount of bays to work on repairs.

That’s not going to fluctuate throughout the year. You can’t afford to make one time of the year a busy time and another not so busy, because then you either get guys standing around not doing anything or they’re overloaded with work and making mistakes.

So, you need to track the business in your shop throughout the entire year and set goals for what you want each and every month to be like. Once you see certain months that aren’t meeting those goals, you can start to formulate a plan.

The second step is to develop a marketing calendar. This is based off your data. It’s something that is ongoing and updated as you go.

For instance, we were in Raleigh, N.C., and every summer, when the state fair rolled around, our business would go down. We got killed by that our first year, and we planned for it the next.

Holiday seasons, tax season, back-to-school—you’re going to notice trends with your business. There are going to be specific events that are creating your lower numbers. We record all of this in our marketing calendar for the year. Some of it could be month-long slow periods; some are just two weeks or so. Either way, you need to have it tracked.

The next step is formulating a plan around those slow-season events. For instance, we knew the state fair really hurt us the first year we were open. So, we came up with a plan that, if someone brought their car in during the fair, they got free tickets and a free ride to the fair. It kept our business at the level we wanted and they’d get free tickets out of it.

A month is about as far in advance as you’re going to be able to put out a marketing piece. In the summertime, it’s pretty hard to market for winterizing your car and things like that. You might be able to plant the seed, but people aren’t really going to be thinking about it at that time. You can’t go too far in advance, but you can’t wait too long to where you start to hit that slow spot, after it’s already slow. A month is just about right.

One last thing we always did was to have a slow-day plan in place. If we came in and we just happened to be slow, we would have a plan. We would have something in place to do on those days.

Sometimes, it would be an email-marketing piece that would go out immediately. That’s something that can hit someone’s inbox within 10 minutes to let them know about a special for that day. We would also call up the towing companies we had relationships with and let them know that we had immediate availability for working on their cars. Those things help a lot, too.

That’s something you don’t want to be thinking about on that day. It’s just something where if I come in and we have no business, we would have a plan, which would then go into effect.

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