Staying Busy with Targeted Marketing
How does your business handle seasonal slowdowns?
If you’re George Brodin, owner of Leadfoot Linda’s Garage and Tire in Avon, Colo., you pull out a well-worn playbook full of creative marketing ideas to immediately supercharge sales.
Next? Buy six-dozen donuts, grab a box of calendars and hit the pavement.
The idea of delivering donuts and logoed calendars to various businesses in the area was spurred by another member of Brodin’s Management Success! networking group, a body shop owner who distributed his homemade fudge throughout the community as a folksy form of grassroots marketing.
Shaking hands, kissing babies, handing out goodies and thanking other businesses for their referrals is one of many innovative marketing tactics employed by the enthusiastic owner of this 10-bay shop—a gentleman so gung-ho about his business that he once retired, only to form plans to start a new, larger auto repair shop 10 days later.
Brodin’s friendly demeanor, donations to the community, random acts of generosity and the shop’s catchy radio jingle are all fixtures in the greater Avon area, a mountain valley 15 minutes west of the famed Vail Mountain Resort.
As business in this vacation-packed hollow is inherently seasonal, Brodin, 61, has employed a wide range of traditional and nontraditional marketing efforts to keep this $1.8-million-a-year shop firing on all cylinders throughout the year.
Linda the Leadfoot
After three years in college pursuing an English degree, Brodin landed at an auto repair business in Vail, a venture that was ultimately a bad fit. In 1984, he bought a two-bay gas and service station, a shop he ran for 28 years until it was purchased by Vail Resorts at a healthy markup.
Brodin took the money and ran—but only for 10 days when, as he explains it, his wife tired of his “open agenda.” Rather than planning a vacation, Brodin dreamed up a larger standalone auto repair business. It came as a surprise to his wife, Linda, that he named the shop Leadfoot Linda’s, a nickname her father gave her when she learned to drive.
“I thought, if you’re going to get under my skin and take me out of retirement, I’m going to get under your skin a little bit,” he says of the new business name. “She’s warmed up to it.”
To accompany the playful name, Brodin bought the rights to a shapely cartoon in a jumpsuit sitting on the hood of a Cadillac. She has become the iconic logo for Leadfoot Linda’s.
Located in the shadow of the Eagle Valley, Avon is an area packed with young professionals and outdoor junkies—many seasonal residents. Brodin says a shop of this scale (6,000 square feet and 10 bays) was needed there since he moved to town in the late 1970s. Before Leadfoot Linda’s, Brodin says many residents drove to neighboring towns for service.
Going back to his first shop, Brodin has worked to build trust with his clientele and deliver a level of convenience—courtesy shuttle and all—that was previously unavailable in this town of 6,300. His efforts paid off in a thriving shop with an average monthly car count of 405 and $1.8 million in revenue last year.
With a local economy influenced by what’s happening on the mountain, and one that inevitably slows down around the holidays and spring’s “mud season,” Leadfoot Linda’s has employed a wide-ranging marketing plan comprising 3 percent of the shop’s annual budget, a total of more than $35,000 per year.
“You have to remain in the marketplace and in the minds of the customers, so in order to hold your market position, marketing is part of what you need to do—it’s very critical,” Brodin says. “You could see a 20–30 percent drop in sales pretty quickly by taking your eye off the ball on your marketing.”
Seeing any decline in sales, Brodin is quick to load up boxes of donuts and Linda’s calendars to distribute at local businesses, sometimes even other shops.
Thinking deeply about his strategy, Brodin says the gesture creates an emotional vacuum where recipients are encouraged to metaphorically reach back toward the shop, whether that’s bringing their own cars in or recommending the shop to family or friends.
Calls at the shop often begin before he even returns to the shop with crumb-filled, empty donut boxes.
Beyond donuts, Leadfoot Linda’s markets through community donations, print advertising, radio spots with a custom-made jingle, and event sponsorships, including the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, which Brodin says is an opportunity to get in front of affluent customers, one goal of the shop’s marketing spend. Funding local school events or paying for employees to take college courses are subtle ways Brodin plants seeds of goodwill in the community.
All combined, its marketing complements the seasons to keep residents prepared for the changing, sometimes challenging driving conditions of the area. Promotions include a $25 discount as part of a personalized holiday letter, a no-taxes-charged special during tax time, a fall-color special and others throughout the year.
“We want to see a car three or four times a year, and we try to structure the special towards what’s happening with the cars,” he says. “In the summer, we’re going to run an air conditioning special. [Before] winter, we’re checking defrosters, heating systems, wipers. We get 300 inches of snow a year here, so we want to make sure that those systems are up and running.”
The company is working to begin tracking the success of its various ad campaigns, and also compile a marketing playbook containing time-tested, ready-made seasonal promotions to deploy whenever sales lag.
Planning the Next Phase
George’s equally enthusiastic son, Kenny, has worked his way up to shop foreman/general manager since joining the business when it opened in 2007. He had just graduated from WyoTech with an Applied Service Technology degree and has plans to take over the operation within five years.
He’s currently working to learn more of the auto repair business with hands-on experience and training through Management Success!, something both Brodins feel has been instrumental in their personal growth.
The duo recently unveiled designs to purchase and renovate their building, an ambitious goal that will require ramping up sales to raise the required funds.
“I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning and thought, ‘You know what we need here? We need a goal that we can all reach towards. That’s what we’re missing,’” the elder Brodin says. “We’re sitting in the building that I’d like to own that I’m renting now. So I stood up, greeted everybody [at the shop], looked around the room and said, ‘Today we’re going to talk about setting goals and reaching for something.’”
They hope to radically transform the building with a second-level mezzanine to bring customers out of the elements when they drop off their cars, and create additional service bays and a car wash.
George estimates accumulating the money for a downpayment will take three years, hopefully by increasing in sales through grassroots and traditional marketing. To get the staff in on the effort, he’s crafting a plan to reward them with bonuses at various milestones.
“We’re going to get there, it’s going to take a little longer, but we’re going to share as we go,” he says. “It’s going to require more marketing, and it’s going to require more community participation. Every one of these guys has to be helping with the marketing. They’ve got kids in schools, wives and girlfriends, and they’re out in the community—they need to turn up the heat.”
Transitioning to Gen 2
Reflecting on a successful career with decades to go, Kenny attributes their success to good customer relations, a positive image and honest repairs.
“We are probably the most expensive [shop] in the valley, but we’re probably also the busiest, because we’re friendly and easy to come to,” he says.
As he learns more about the business, Kenny’s role as shop foreman and general manager involves about 10 percent wrenching and 90 percent management, what he calls a “different kind of fixing.”
“Every once in a while, I get nervous [when] I see that when my dad’s not here, not doing the books and the back-office stuff,” he says. “There are days that it seems overwhelming, but you step back and say, ‘I can handle this. Why not?’”
With massive expansion plans on the burner, George is still working on helping his son learn as he considers a second, longer retirement—even if he’s not sure what that will mean for him.
“It’s fun to run a business. I’ve been here 30, almost 40 years, met my wife, married her, raised three kids,” Brodin says. “Kenny’s my baby. He’s 26, and we’re working on the power transfer for him to take over. I guess I’m going to catch fish in Lake Powell.”