Sales+Marketing

Growing Your Business

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I’ve been marketing auto repair shops for more than two decades and while I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go, I remain convinced that there is no single magic bullet that will allow you to reach every potential customer.

The truth is, people are going to find you in different ways, so it’s difficult to limit yourself to just one marketing channel. For example, social media efforts could help you pull in younger customers, but families might learn about you through your sponsorship of a youth sports team. The key is to determine who your core audiences are and the best way to reach them.

Finding that winning combination of marketing tactics might take some trial and error. Here’s a look at the various tools I use, a mix of old and new methods, which keep my customer count high and provide a tremendous amount of bang for the buck.

• Direct mail: Direct mail is the workhorse of my marketing strategy and is the single best way I’ve found to lure new customers to my shops. The advantages of direct mail are numerous. Direct mail allows me to target by income, neighborhood or other key demographics, is better read than mass mailing offers (the read rates on postcards is 56 percent, according to industry surveys) and is more cost effective than other more widely used advertising mediums. The cost per lead for direct mail is $51.40, according to the Direct Marketing Association – less than that of a print advertisement or a telemarketing campaign. The other big benefit of direct mail is the ability to track calls generated by a campaign. Mudlick Mail, the company I use for all my direct mail needs, also offers a unique campaign tracking service, database matching. The proprietary service gives insights on where customers are coming from, campaign response rates and the return on investment.

• Custom gift cards: Custom gift cards are a great way to entice existing customers back into the shop. The plastic card mailers can be tailored to feature an appealing offer based on buyer profiles within your customer database. I usually offer $25 off and mail twice a year to customers within my database that have visited within the last two years. I also use a “We Miss You” card featuring a similar offer that also goes to existing customers. While the custom gift cards cost more than a traditional postcard mailer, the response rate on the marketing tactic has been huge. I’ve found that the cards have provided a big incentive for customers to seek our services and address repairs or maintenance issues that they may have delayed or forgotten about.

• Email Marketing: I’ve never been a huge fan of email newsletters, however, sending an email to promote a seasonal offer or special event can be a good way to supplement your other marketing efforts and stay front of mind. I only send out emails once a month and try to tie the offers I feature to the weather or other seasonal events. For example, I’ll send out an email at the beginning of the summer offering free A/C checks or a winterizing package in the fall. These emails go to customers in our database and reinforce the messages they saw when they received our postcards earlier in the month.

Five pack of oil changes: Everyone knows you don’t make money on oil changes. The point of offering a five-pack is to maintain a long term relationship with a customer. If you do the math, it will likely take a customer two-and-a-half years to redeem those oil changes, which means that you’ll be their first choice for auto repair if any issues arise during that period. We pitch our package (which includes five oil changes for the price of three) to anyone who comes in for an oil change and make the offer good for any of the cars in their household. Because the package provides a good value for customers, it gives us more opportunity to upsell, while also allowing us access to other cars that may require service.

Key Tags: Key tags are another easy way to encourage repeat visits. At my shops, we put tags on every car as a tracking mechanism, but also to remind customers about our services. Every key tag is branded with our logo and when the customer presents the key tag during service, they get $10 off, as well as emergency roadside assistance. The key tags are just 10 cents a piece, providing a cost effective way to build loyalty.

Using this combination of marketing tactics has allowed me to not only acquire new customers in my target areas, but also retain existing customers. Addressing both acquisition and retention, is key to any marketing effort since you’re bound to have a certain amount of attrition each year. If you’re reluctant to adopt all of these tactics at once, I recommend starting with direct mail, supplementing with custom gift cards and incorporating the email campaigns once a month. If you stay consistent with this approach, car count won’t be a problem.


With more than 20 years of automotive repair business experience, Greg is one of the most successful operators in the industry. He owns and operates 35 automotive repair shops with annual sales in excess of $50 million!

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