Running a Shop Columnists

Stokes: Staying on Brand

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Focus on marketing to build your brand

You’ve had a blowout spring, and it’s been crazy busy going into the summer. It’s easy to get excited and to go wherever you think the market’s pulling you. But in this business climate, we need to choose where our business is going—not wherever the wind takes us.

Work is coming from everywhere. Everybody wants us, everybody needs us. But what we don’t realize is the market is slowly catching up. You see it in supply chains, you see it in inventory. Having an arrogant attitude that everybody needs us going into summer can lead to inadequate preparation.

If you have not been preparing for summer, you could get caught with your pants down if the market shifts. You’ll find yourself in a position where you’re not prepared for a downturn; you’ve not been marketing enough, you’ve not been hiring enough. You’re going to feel any type of ripple in the market, and that could be a slowdown or it could be your shop getting busier, and if you aren’t working on it in advance trying to find people, you’ll find yourself unprepared in the busiest time of the year.

Sticking To Your Focus

If your focus is diesel trucks, make sure you stay on brand and focus on diesel trucks. If your focus is Japanese cars, stay on brand and focus on Japanese cars. Whatever your focus is, do more of it. People will bang on your door wanting you to work on European cars if all you work on is trucks, or if you work on European cars, banging on your door asking you to work on American cars. But right now, we need to stay focused.

We can start by understanding what causes our business to do well and what’s causing it not to do well. If we come to the realization we’re in the wrong market and we need to switch from American cars to European or Japanese cars, that’s fine. But once we make that choice, we have to commit. It’s easy to look at a busy week and say, “I have a lot of Hondas or BMWs coming in, that means this is the new direction I should go.” Or, if the local Ford dealer loses a couple of technicians for about a month-and-a-half and all of a sudden you have more Fords and think, “Oh, I’m supposed to be working on Fords.” You’re basing your family’s future on one dealership’s bad couple of weeks, which made you busy and sent you down the wrong path.

It’s easy to make that call if you’re scared; if your business did horribly during the pandemic, and then suddenly your business has blown up on the backside of the pandemic. You’ll get busy and stop making decisions for yourself and start letting the wind take you wherever it wants. Staying on brand requires planning and making the decision to not let fear or the market push you around.

Honoring the Brand’s Culture

Staying on brand is everything down to your culture, your decisions, your marketing, and every small business decision you’re known for. Your brand is the rumor on the street about you—which boils down to a short phrase: “He’s expensive,” “She’s really cheap,” “He’s good at what he does,” or “She’s a ripoff.” When you stop to think about it, small businesses can’t afford to work on branding. We have to focus on direct response marketing. Marketing done over and over becomes healthy branding. And there’s a rule in marketing that every time you put out anything to your customers, there must always be an offer. So, if you have Google Ads, Google AdWords, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, radio ads, cable TV ads, and direct mail ads, all of that combined will lead to great offers being put out there all the time.

A good offer looks like this: a great oil change postcard focused on the brand of car you service. Your website and all digital, video, or audio messaging should be around your service focus, too. If not, it would be the equivalent of going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, and she served dinner from Cracker Barrel. It’s not on brand for grandma, right? Everything must be on-brand; it must be aligned and parallel. So, now that you have an offer, the next issue is how do we get free branding? We’re not like Coca-Cola; we can’t afford to have our name on a billboard. We’re not like Chick-fil-A, Walmart, and those places. Our branding is a byproduct of our offers.

Branding Made Simple

When your logo is at the top left of our mailer, at the top left of your website, on a digital ad, or on some TV or radio presentation, when people hear that over and over your brand is going to have power and authority in the subject matter you keep attaching to it until eventually, when they hear your name, they think, “Oh, they do this.”

On a shop level, maybe you’re not going to be the frilly shop with lots of extra snacks and drinks, but you have a reputation for having the cleanest shop. It doesn’t take any money to be clean. Maybe you are the luxury shop, that’s fine. That’s your brand—own it, work it, and stay on target.

Brands get blown around when there’s not a leader at the helm. You may not even realize it, but your business never becomes known for anything when you don’t stay focused. This makes all marketing hard. The way you do branding in auto repair when you’re small is by consistently doing the same things. Consistently saying yes to the same types of cars, giving the same types of offers to our customers that we know work, and giving the same level of service in our shop with the same type of experience. Do this day in and day out until you’re successful and you’ll see the power of brand.

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