Sales+Marketing Shop Customers Operations

Marketing Outside the Box

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Marketing Outside the Box
Building a big return with minimal marketing investments.

Sunny McWilliams’ marketing efforts started four years ago with a piece of paper and a bag of candy—a simple gift she delivered to her fleet customers.

Now, it’s evolved to where fleet customers of Clearwater, Fla.-based Peterson Auto & Truck are so accustomed to the gesture that they’ll call her up if they didn’t get their monthly bag of treats, or if they ran out too quickly.

“The No. 1 complaint is that the contents don’t last long enough,” says McWilliams, director of operations at Peterson.

It’s just one of the many gestures McWilliams uses as an in-house fleet recruitment program, which she has grown significantly over the years.

In his nomination, owner Kevin Peterson wrote, “Her outside-the-box tactics have opened my eyes to the fact that we do not need to spend thousands of dollars on marketing. Simply a personalized touch and creating the ‘wow’ factor for our customers is worth a million bucks.”

And it’s certainly worked, as McWilliams’ fleet sales have doubled over the last year, bringing with it $160,000 in fleet sales, and bumping shop revenue to over $1 million. Here’s how she builds relationships with her shop’s customer base.

Be Authentic.

McWilliams says she has created a personable fleet packet that covers everything the company should expect with Peterson’s services.

And, of course, she takes her candy dish filled with high-quality desserts and uses it as a talking point to get to know her customer base. Once per month, she drops off a bag of candy to refill the dish and reconnect with her customers. Next thing you know, she says, they know to contact her and they move forward with business plans.

She used this tactic to win over Empath Health, a huge company in the state of Florida that is now one of the shop’s biggest clients.

Give creative awards and gifts.

Aside from her efforts with fleet services, McWilliams has other tactics for customers who walk into the shop. She communicates with customers through MyShopManager, a program that follows up appointments with emails and text messaging services.

Every time a customer gets his or her vehicle serviced, they get a toy monkey that hangs from a rearview mirror, which has proven popular. There’s an extended variety of other goodies within the shop to keep customers coming back.

“We’ve got a wheel that our customers will spin on their way out,” McWilliams says. “Sometimes they lose, sometimes they get an oil change, sometimes they get a gift for their car.”

She says these gifts are actually a lot cheaper than having printouts and flyers made, and costs about $1 per gift.

Becoming a part of the community.

Another important way to market to her customer base, McWilliams says, is to get her company out in the community and build ties with other businesses. She’s partnered with other major vendors—including Advance Auto Parts and Ford’s Motorcraft—to help sponsor these events.

Earlier this year, the shop put on a Halloween event, where 25,000 families came out to play games and collect candy. Advance Auto donated 20 bins of seat covers, car cleaners, floor mats, hats and banners to give away to parents. McWilliams sent a flyer out to nearby vendors, and they donated all the candy for the event. With all of the sponsors on board, her cost out of pocket for the event was $0.

The shop also partook in an event with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, where they built a huge gift basket with help from vendors. They were able to raffle that off and earn money for the program. All these efforts in the community have helped build a close rapport with her customers with minimal monetary investment.

“Really it’s just involvement within the community, building that word-of-mouth,” McWilliams says. “We’re putting in a small investment and getting a very large return.”

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