Considering the Co-brand
SHOP STATS: Pro Automotive Services Location: Wood River, Ill. Operators: Mike and Jennifer Baggett Average Monthly Car Count: ~160 Staff Size: 8 Annual Revenue: ~$1.1 million
SHOP STATS: Fifth Gear Automotive Location: Lewisville, Texas Operators: Rick Jordan, Bill Bernick, Ricky Jordan Average Monthly Car Count: ~350 Staff Size: 22 Annual Revenue: $3.89 million
Visit most auto repair shops and you’re bound to spy some sort of brand-name or logo inside or out.
From fully branded front-and-center digital displays to minimal window clings, most independent shops have vendors and suppliers they’re proud to work with and promote as a part of their shop’s quality service.
Whether they’ll commit to a full brand alignment—sporting a branded awning or the signature stripes of a top corporate enterprise—is another story altogether.
These days vendors and suppliers of all shapes and sizes are offering independent shops a variety of partnership options, often with ways to customize the vendor’s level of support and the shop’s core commitments.
The influx gives owners more avenues to team up with established brands, but having so many options can muddy the waters and make it harder for shops to determine if the co-brand concept is right for them.
For more insight, Ratchet+Wrench checked in with two top shops for the key considerations that have helped them find the best fit for their businesses.
Identify top priorities.
No two partnerships are the same, just as each repair shop is sure to have its own unique set of goals and needs. And those core priorities for the business can be the defining factor.
For Mike and Jennifer Baggett, owners of Pro Automotive Services in Wood River, Ill., a nationwide warranty was the initial draw, but access to an ever-expanding range of resources was the reason to stay.
Mike Baggett was looking for a way to offer the amenity to his customers, considering programs with suppliers like Midas and Meineke, before ultimately choosing to co-brand with NAPA Auto Parts in 2003. In the years since, the Baggetts have taken full advantage of tools and programs like shop management software system NAPA TRACS, a NAPA partnership with AutoVitals for digital vehicle inspections, NAPA Service Assistant, and NAPA Autotech for industry education and training.
“We’re a smaller shop with a small team, and to have that network we can rely on helps us keep up with the day to day and ahead of the curve on industry trends,” says Jennifer. “I just don’t know how we’d navigate and keep up with everything that’s changing in the industry and find time to service the cars.”
And for the team at Fifth Gear Automotive in Lewisville, Texas, deciding against co-branding programs has been steered by a focus on keeping the business nimble and ready to pivot, choosing vendors, tools, and services that will work best for the shop and its customers a la carte.
The shop’s built strongconnections with the suppliers it uses regularly, but, “we’re fairly fluid in our relationships with vendors and we don’t want to get locked into anything,” says marketing director John Miller.
“If we can find something new that’s going to work best for a particular customer, we want the freedom to do that,” he say. “I know some partnerships offer better discounts and rebates and not every co-brand program requires you to go to them for everything, but for us that legwork to stay on top of the market is what keeps us sharp.”
Hone your shop identity.
Strike a balance
As a NAPA Auto Care Center, the Baggetts find the name brand recognition in their partnership to be an asset in bringing in new customers and boosting customer confidence overall.
“Our shop isn’t relevant anywhere else in the country, but when you align with a consistent, stable brand, it gives you that instant loyalty,” says Mike. “It takes down a lot of barriers.”
Pro Automotive sports NAPA’s signature blue and yellow awning, branded lobby signage and includes the company’s logo on various marketing pieces, but Jennifer says the team is strategic in its promotion.
“You have to make sure your identity isn’t lost in the mix,” she says. Customers occasionally inquire about the partnership, “but we make sure to put Pro Automotive front and center. We’re not going to put the NAPA logo on something unless it makes sense and we’re intentional when we’re interacting with customers or out participating in the community so that people know us as the family at Pro Automotive.”
“When you co-brand, you’re sharing your billboard with somebody else,” says Miller. “And after working to build a strong identity in our community for 17 years, we just don’t want to share.”
When it comes to building the shop’s brand recognition, the Fifth Gear team has focused its efforts on a deep commitment to community engagement with participation in chambers of commerce, local business associations, community events, school booster clubs, rotary clubs, and shop-hosted giveback and appreciation programs for teachers, first responders and hometown heroes.
“We know that even if you co-brand, you still need to be out there telling your story and connecting face to face, so we’ve opted to cut out any confusion and keep that identity clear,” Miller says. “When we’re building these relationships, there’s no question as to who we are.”
Evaluate your expertise.
Take it Outside
In their day-to-day marketing efforts, the Baggetts have tapped outside experts to boost the shop’s content strategies with the help of some of NAPA’s heavily vetted endorsed vendors.
After connecting with auto-focused social media and marketing firms Repair Shop of Tomorrow and Optimize Social Media (OSM) through NAPA programs, Pro Automotive now builds the shop’s marketing strategies with help from web and social media pros. And while the companies do help to roll in occasional NAPA promotions, Jennifer oversees and approves the shop’s final marketing decisions.
“If there’s something we don’t like, they’ll create something else so we can build in what works for us with the help of people who actually know what they’re doing,” she says.
Keep it in-house
At the time, Fifth Gear bucked an industry trend when the shop brought its marketing support in-house six years ago and hired Miller as its marketing director in 2017.
These days more and more shops are starting to follow suit.
“Whether you hire a consultant or have a dedicated staff member managing your marketing, to create a marketing strategy that’s any good you’re going to have to commit time and money,” says Miller. “It’s just too complex now to have your general manager or receptionist take it on as an afterthought.”
With Miller working inside the shop with Fifth Gear’s team each day, he’s able to carry the team’s character and core goals through the shop’s campaigns and strategies.
“Having that role covered by a professional in-house brings a level of control and familiarity that we’ve seen bring in results,” says Miller. “It might not be doable for every shop, but for Fifth Gear it’s made the most sense and brought the most value.”