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Converting Data into Dollars

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When he’s mentoring clients as president of Repair Shop Coach and CinRon Marketing Group, Ron Ipach keeps an arsenal of anecdotes at the ready. Here’s one of the marketing expert’s more memorable tales, from roughly a decade ago in Florida: 

“I had a former business partner that had a big fire in his shop,” Ipach recalls. “Because he had his database stored off-site ... he was able to contact his database by phone, by email, and by mail, to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re still in business, and we’ve pitched a tent out in the parking lot.’ They pulled all the tools they could out, and they were still in business.” 

Moral of the story: An in-depth customer database is indispensable. Over his career, Ipach has discovered that it’s 14 times cheaper to get a recent customer to give you repeat business than trying to lure a new customer. Thus, it only makes sense to maintain a thorough database to market to existing customers. 

Dan Dumbauld, owner and president of The Auto Shop Inc. in Phoenix, has worked in auto repair since 1979. As such, the industry veteran appreciates the immense convenience provided by modern management-system software. Dumbauld also appreciates the immense value of the expansive customer data available these days, and being able to quickly access information about warranties, or deferred work. 

“If you complete all the fields,” Dumbauld says, “it’s unlimited what you can do—that’s the biggest wrench in your toolbox, is your database.”  

That begs a question, though: How exactly can a shop owner build an ideal, comprehensive customer database within his or her management system? The aforementioned industry veterans have plenty of thoughts on the matter. 


Aquiring Customer Information

Shops need to collect customer information like home addresses, phone numbers, and email. Most management systems—like those offered by Mitchell 1, Auto Shop Writer and the like—practically collect that info for shops, due to modern ease of use.

However, there are other key pieces of information shops should get, but often neglect. Home phone numbers, for example, are still worth collecting, even in the digital age, “Because there’s voice-blast marketing you can do,” Ipach notes. 

Additionally, knowing a customer’s place of work, or their spouse’s name, can also aid marketing efforts. 

Of course, gleaning this information from customers can occasionally be tricky, especially as consumers grow more and more wary of modern issues like identity theft. Here are Ipach’s tips for overcoming such customer hesitancy: 

1. Require the information. 

“When you go see a doctor, when you go in to see your dentist, what’s the first thing they do when you walk in?” Ipach asks. “They hand you that clipboard and say, ‘We’re updating our information, please fill this out.’ Even if you protest and say nothing’s changed, you still sit down and do it, right? Well, if you would treat your database the exact same way, [it would work].” 

2. Offer a bribe. 

“If you have a customer-service representative, offer some sort of an offer, or a friendly bribe, to get them to fill it out,” Ipach says. “Say: ‘We’re updating our database, please fill this out. And, if you fill everything out, we’ll give you $10 off today’s service.’” 

3. Incentivize employees. 

“Your employee has got to understand the importance of building that database,” Ipach says. “And the future health of the business is going to rely on the data that they’re able to collect. So, if that’s what it’s going to take, [give] them a couple bucks for every [form] that’s filled out fully.”


When to Input

Management systems offer undeniable value to shops, but that doesn’t stop employees from occasionally griping about how long it can take to input customer information. Yet, that’s a battle that’s worth fighting with your staff, Dumbauld contends.

“Get through that process on everything with the customer at the counter,” Dumbauld suggests. “All the fields.

“Fill in the the blanks and you’re done forever. You don’t have to make calls and get this info and look stupid when they come in again.” 

Inputting customer data within at least 24 hours of the experience with a shop can save businesses countless inefficiencies later. 



  • Cell phone number
  • Home phone number
  • Best daytime phone number
  • Email address 
  • Place of employment 
  • Spouse’s name 
  • Kids’ names 
  • Alma mater 
  • Hobbies 
  • How they found your shop


Utilizing It Later

A solid customer database can be a cure-all for a shop’s marketing efforts down the line. Ipach has seen evidence of this for the better part of two decades while working with Repair Shop Coach. 

“I’ve banged my head against the wall,” Ipach notes, “telling my clients it’s important to collect cell phone numbers, so you can do text-message marketing. Because it’s the quickest, easiest, fastest way to get the phone to ring. … Ninety-five percent of texts will be read within three minutes, and there is a 99 percent open rate.” 

An expansive customer database can also help a shop focus its marketing efforts efficiently. Email blasts, thank-you cards, and reminders can be fired off to customers with relative ease, for example. Even seemingly trivial client information can be useful.

 “If you have 500 people that like golf, you can surround golf in your marketing,” Dumbauld notes. “If their kids go to [Arizona State University], we can work with that school in their name. … If you know about the customer, you build a better relationship.” 

“If somebody responds to a specific coupon,” Ipach notes, “if you keep track of that in your database, it’s going to be valuable information later on, because you’ll know how they respond. Other people only respond via text, other people only respond if you pick up the phone and call them. And, if you keep track of that—how people respond—you’re targeting them using the media that they’re most likely to respond to.” 

The value in being able to utilize a thorough customer database simply can’t be overstated. No elaborate anecdote is needed to illustrate that—just cold, hard facts. 

“We have seen as much as 10 times more response when marketing to a customer database,” Ipach notes, “versus marketing to non-customers using the exact same campaign.”

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