Eight years into his career as the owner of a small windshield repair company, Ron Ipach had his biggest sales year ever—and raked in a whopping $13,000.
“And that was my best year,” he says now. “I knew what I was doing; I knew I was good at the repairs. So, I realized the problem wasn’t me being able to do a good repair; the problem was my ability to get customers.”
Ipach began focusing heavily on marketing, and in the next year, he averaged just over $13,000 each month.
“I learned back then that you can be the best at what you do, but if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business,” he says. “Based on that, I just kind of dove into marketing, head first into it.”
Over the next several years, Ipach became an industry leader in marketing with fellow repairers contacting him from across the country for marketing tips. Eventually, he parlayed those lessons he learned into his company CinRon Marketing Group, which now focuses primarily on the mechanical repair business, serving more than 5,000 shop owners through seminars, workshops and one-on-one consulting.
Ipach spoke with R+W about marketing in today’s industry and what shop owners need to do to be successful.
How have you seen the industry change as far as its marketing?
Fifteen years ago, cars weren’t made as well as they are today. So, it used to be as easy as hanging a shingle out and having somebody see your shop. Back then you had a really good chance of having decent success without any marketing.
The major shift is that cars are made better, so everything becomes more about maintenance than it is about repairs. You have to be a lot more proactive rather than reactive.
That’s my approach to the whole thing. There are two ways to market. One is to be reactive, where you just get your name out there, you hang the shingle, have a street sign, have a Yellow Page ad or a website or something like that. That’s reactive marketing, meaning that someone has to literally go searching for you. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to have the reactive marketing.
The difference, right now, is that you have to be proactive. It’s not enough just to be out there; you have to do something. In other words, you have to be proactive in going out and searching for that customer and bringing them to your shop. That’s done by figuring out who your best customer is and putting a message in front of them that they will see and respond to.
These days, you can’t afford to wait until someone finds you. You have to go out and find them and get the message in front of them so that you can get them into your shop with a good, qualified offer.
Do shops do a good job with that?
Oh, no. They’re horrible at it. And I want to be really frank about this. When I talk with somebody, I can be as touchy and feely as somebody wants, but the reality is that telling someone what they want to hear does them no good. The truth is that 95 percent of the auto repair shops, and this is a conservative estimate, don’t do any proactive marketing, and that might be more like 98 percent. In other words, they’re not going out and seeking anybody; they’re sitting around waiting for someone to see their ad or their website or to have a problem and need them.
That’s where their problem is, and that’s why so many people struggle with car count.
What are some of the biggest mistakes shops are making?
The biggest mistake is not focusing on marketing and not making that the dominant thing the shop owner does every day.
The shop owner, while they may be turning wrenches still, that’s not their number-one job. Their top job is getting customers, and they have to bring quality customers through the door.
So they’re not focusing on marketing every single day. They focus on all the other aspects of running a shop, and then they turn around and ask, ‘Well, why is no one here?’ It’s because they didn’t bother marketing and pay attention to that end of the business.
Marketing is where the money is made. Operations and procedures and management is all the stuff you need to get around, but you have to have a customer first. The biggest mistake they make is not putting a priority on marketing.
The second biggest mistake is they go looking around at what everyone else is doing and they just copy it. It’s what I call marketing incest, because they just keep copying the same mistake over and over, and sooner or later, everyone is stupid. It’s like real incest. That’s the problem they have: They don’t know if it’s working for someone else; they just see someone else doing it and think they need to, too.
Those are the reasons people get bad results and waste a lot of money on marketing, or why they think marketing doesn’t work for them. They are just flat out doing the wrong stuff.
Lastly, they just don’t stick with it. Let’s say their doing this marketing incest and they get a failure. Well, then they throw their hands up and say no marketing works for them. And they won’t try anything else. People expect that home run right out of the box, and if they don’t get it, they stop. But the problem continues and they still don’t have any customers.
What can shop owners do to avoid the mistakes?
The best thing to do is to get educated and find out how to market. The best thing they can do is seek out someone who really has no agenda, and isn’t trying to sell them a product. They need to know this is how you get a customer, this is the customer you need to target, and this is the message you need to target them. They need to know how to get a customer into their shops—that’s the number-one most important thing.
Then, my next piece of advice would be to pick the low-hanging fruit. There are three areas to get customers: One is your current customers; one is your past customers, the ones you haven’t seen for a while; and the last one is your new customers.
Well, everyone has it backwards. I’d say that 99 percent of shops are going after the wrong people: Everyone chases new customers to get someone new in their shop. All their advertising is going after that. Unfortunately, none of those people have a relationship with you, none of them trust you or know you at all, and you’re trying to get them in the shop for the very first time.
The low hanging fruit are the people you already have a connection with. They’re already someone who knows, loves and trusts you. You already know something about that customer. You know they have the money and are willing to spend the money.
I’d say that 99 percent of shops underutilize the best asset they have and that’s the list of their customers and their buying habits.
They just assume that if they do a good job repairing the car—give good service, clean the car, fix the problem right—they assume that the person is automatically going to come back the next time they need you.
That is dead wrong.
Let’s say a shop has 2,000 customers. Those people should be coming in, on average, about three or four times to your shop each year. I guarantee, for the shops not doing this, a lot of those customers are coming in just once or twice, and they’re going somewhere else in between. Now, if you market to them and get them up to that three or four visits a year, you just added 2,000 or more visits a year. That’s doubling your business without once looking for a new customer.
The best thing they can do is go through their database, develop a strong relationship with their own clientele, because that’s where the money is.
It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go get new customers. They need to do that, too, but they need to pick all that lower hanging fruit first, those people they have a relationship with.
What are the biggest challenges shop owners face?
Time and patience. A lot of guys, they’re pulled in so many directions that it makes it difficult for them to focus the time on marketing. Even if they know it’s the most important thing they’re doing and they know how to do it, they’re days are filled, they get back to the shop and get sucked into doing other things.
The big challenge to them is to create the time and focus on the time to only work on things that will make them the most money and focus on them first.
The second biggest challenge they have is the mindset. There’s that saying that success is 90 percent mental. Well, I think it’s even higher than that. What’s between someone’s ears is going to be directly related to what their success is.
Right now, everyone’s bitching about the economy. Obamacare this and Romney that, and everything’s uncertain. What happens is that everyone gets sucked into that mindset that they’re hopeless and they don’t know what’s going on, and that nobody has any money. If they believe that, they’re screwed. If they believe that, then everything is going to be a problem for them.
It’s just not true. You can’t have a wait-and-see, wait-for-it-to-turnaround attitude. The reality is that I have more clients doing better than they ever have in their entire life ever since the economy got bad. That’s because they focus on the right thing. When the market gets bad, you need to focus on the stuff that will make you money.
Where do you see the future of marketing in the industry going?
That’s a question I always love answering, and I give people what they think is going to be the wrong answer. The future is not online. The future is not offline. It’s not a either-or. The reality is that online marketing is a piece of the marketing puzzle. If you want to be successful marketing, you have to do it all.
Everyone gets excited over online marketing. Nobody I know in this industry is super successful doing only online marketing. It’s sexy because it’s cheap: You can send out an email and it doesn’t cost you anything. And for that reason, people stop doing the offline marketing. Cheap doesn’t make it good, and it doesn’t make it successful. What makes it successful is whether or not it actually works.
Right now, what works best is still the old, offline stuff—drop a letter in the mail. That’s still what works best.
But marketing is more than just doing one thing or another. The future is both online and offline; you have to do both. There is no excuse for not being online, and there’s no excuse for not being offline, also.
I never tell clients to do one or the other. That’s the wrong information, because you have to do both. Especially social media, it’s not going to make a ton of money for you, but you’re going to be able to start and keep up a wonderful relationship with your clientele. And that’s what you need to do. You’re in a relationship business, not just a one-hit wonder kind of thing.