Build a Fanatic Following
Standing in front of her shop, with her hands placed on her hips, her head cocked slightly downward and a tiny smile perched on her face, she looks confidently into the camera just before she says:
“I’m Patrice Banks, and this is my story.”
And as a member of the automotive repair community, Banks would also like to know: What is your story?
Telling “your story” to people is likely on the bottom of your task list each day. As a shop owner, you have to track KPIs; you have to update customers on their vehicles; you have to research the latest training and equipment to keep up with advancing vehicle technology. The day-to-day grind can, sometimes, feel like your story.
And if that’s the case, then Banks is here to tell you: Nobody wants to hear your story—and your shop will hurt because of it.
While that may sound harsh, ask yourself: Why did you get into automotive repair? Banks, owner of Girls Auto Clinic—which is primed to achieve an annual revenue of $750,000 in just its second year—got into the business to empower and educate women on car care, and she brazenly expresses her mission in the aforementioned video posted on her shop’s Facebook page. In fact, all throughout her exposure to the world—her social media, her shop’s website, her car care workshops, her appearance in Oprah’s magazine, her interview with NPR, her published book—that same message can be found. Banks, who quit her job as an engineer for DuPont in order to embrace her passion, has inspired a somewhat fanatic following in her Pennsylvania community to trust her businesses over anyone else.
And she made sure everyone heard her story.
“You need to be full time with your marketing,” she says “It's the future for any business. We have the technology to be able to reach our customers a lot easier at any moment. If you're not in, you're out.”
So what’s your story? How will you form a connection with your customers? How will you build your own fanatic following? Well, if you follow the plan laid out by the marketing experts featured in this story, you’ll not only get that story in front of your community, but you’ll also ensure it wins you lifelong customers.
Define Your Power Statement.
The first step is possibly the most daunting, intangible task. Because there isn’t any software or algorithm or service that can help you define the most crucial part of forging that deep connection with customers: your mission statement.
Instead, it requires some good old-fashioned networking, Eric Twiggs says.
“The whole networking aspect of building business is overlooked by shop owners,” says Twiggs, a coach for the Automotive Training Institute. “Quite often we’re looking to send a mailer out or do a social media post. But we reject this opportunity that’s right in front of us to foster relationships that can pay off in the long term.”
Specifically, Twiggs requests that you join local business networking groups and form partnerships with area business owners. But on a broader scale, the intention of Twiggs’ advice is to break shop owners out of their shells, to integrate them into their communities and force them to define exactly what their shop offers.
In other words, you’ll need to find your “power statement.”
When asked, “What do you do for a living?” Twiggs says most shop owners simply respond, “Oh, I own a shop.”
“But that type of statement doesn’t separate you from any other shop owner,” he says. “So the key to thrive … is to come up with a memorable statement that really separates you from the competition.”
The formula for that power statement? “We” plus “The problem my shop solves.” Thirty percent of the time, talk about the services you offer, and the benefits those services offer 70 percent of the time. In the end, all you need is a dozen or so words that succinctly outline that your shop is more than a shop—it’s a story your customer is part of.
Gauge Your Community.
Fatou Barry and Melissa Alam aren’t just robotically posting links and messages into Facebook at scheduled times each day—they are, as they put it, painting a “visual landscape” of Girls Auto Clinic.
“You need authentic voices with a brand,” Barry says. “It allows insight into who you actually are.”
What does your audience respond to? How do you speak to them? Those are questions the two co-founders of AB Media Group—which specializes in helping minority female business owners increase their brand presences in communities—asked when they were hired to run Girls Auto Clinic’s social media presence.
Banks hired the duo to free herself up for outside marketing ventures—such as the community events at which she gives speeches—but was sure to communicate her vision for the shop and her brand first. Outside of some traveling she performed for her book, this social media team makes up most of Girls Auto Clinic’s rather small marketing budget, as Banks doesn’t send out any mailers or perform advertising outside her website and social media accounts.
Barry and Alam first evaluated Banks’ Pennsylvania competitors to find which shops generated the most social media traffic and how those businesses framed their messages. With a humanistic approach trending well, they took Banks’ plight to empower women in the auto repair space and formed ideas for social media campaigns that would not only tell Banks’ story, but keep her mission consistently in front of the community, as well.
Barry and Alam had several conversations with Banks to find what posts she was comfortable with, to ensure nothing conflicted with her vision, her brand. From there, Barry and Alam created “content buckets”—essentially, a mass of ideas, from mission statements to hashtags to photos to videos, that collectively embrace Banks’ brand and tell her story each and every day.
Month by month, they track audience engagement with posts and learn what content works best on individual sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).
"We’re really just capturing her personality,” Barry continues. “We wanted to amplify that voice in the digital space by creating content.”
And that content you create is where you must get creative.
Tell Your Story.
Craig Noel sits in his shop, Sun Automotive, as he says, “I believe if you take care of your employees and your customers like your family, the rest will follow.”
In this promotional ad, the following scene features his daughter reaching out for a set of car keys. At the last second, Noel pulls away (to his daughter’s chagrin), only to smile and give her the keys as he pulls her in for a hug. In this moment, Noel reflects one of his shop’s main mission statements—which happens to be the next line in the video:
“I want your family as safe as my family. There’s no one that takes better care of their customers than Sun Automotive.”
It’s one thing to say your mission statement—it’s another scenario entirely to show your customers how much you believe in that statement by affectionately embracing your daughter. Noel, owner of three Sun Automotive locations in Oregon, strives to help people and sell service that “comes from the heart.”
It’s a simple message, and may even sound a bit generic. But, as Noel points out, nobody else in his market is selling this message—this story—quite as effectively as this TV advertisement (the audio from which is used for the shop’s radio advertisements).
“I want to get away from $29.95 oil changes and $79.95 flushes,” he says. “All of that is white noise to customers. They want a relationship.”
In the end—whether it’s comforting families or empowering women—forming that relationship takes a little creative juice. And to spark your creativity, here is an encompassing look at how Noel and Banks connect with customers in the digital space.
1. Put Yourself Out There
When it comes down to it, the most tried-and-true method for forming a connection with customers is unapologetically showcasing yourself to the public. Even if you’re not the biggest personality, eliminating any barriers by using the digital space to present photos or videos of yourself and your staff goes a long way, Barry and Alam say.
The co-founders of AB Media Group can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in high-quality photo and video camera equipment, and even invest in professionals to handle the photography and editing. A clear, crisp photo will likely help you stand out from competitors.
For an example, watch the advertisement Craig Noel uses (which proudly displays himself and his daughter) to make Sun Automotive appealing to families in his Oregon community at ratchetandwrench.com/SunAutomotiveAd.
2. Show Off Your Shop
In order to break the stigma that automotive repair facilities are conning customers, Banks wanted to create a comfortable space for her female demographic. Before anyone even walks into Girls Auto Clinic, they can expect a sophisticated setting that immediately differentiates itself from the average repair shop—including a beauty salon customers can enjoy while their vehicles are being worked on. It’s not a huge money maker (pulling in $50,000 annually), but Banks believes its appeal is a big reason she wins over her target demographic.
Noel had a similar mission when he took over Sun Automotive. He wanted to move away from the shop’s plain white, no-nonsense aesthetic and cater the environment to his targeted demographic.
“I envision myself as a customer, walking into each one of locations, and I’m blind,” he says. “What do I hear? What do I smell? Is the environment too chaotic? Is it relaxing? I want to make sure it’s pleasant while they’re sitting.”
3. Thank Your Customers
With a mission to form a personal connection over the digital sphere, Noel takes the time to not only create content that tells his story, but also thanks his customers for liking Sun Automotive’s Facebook page. It forms a relationship with the specific customer, while conveying the shop’s caring attitude to the larger audience as well.
4. Find Market Influencers
You can personally tell your story all you want. But the second someone else tells that story? And that someone else happens to be Oprah or NPR or Good Morning America? People will start to care about that story.
While those are extreme examples that worked for Banks and her shop, her video with the Modern Hero digital series on women in leadership roles doesn’t seem too unattainable by comparison.
“I had these big dreams of what I could do, and what I could accomplish, and I didn’t see people doing it,” Banks says in the video, just before she tells her story of growing up on welfare, studying hard, becoming an engineer, and then leaving her six-figure salary as an engineer to help women better understand their cars.
Watch the video at ratchetandwrench.com/ModernHero.
5. Be the Expert
It’s not uncommon for customers to feel as though they’re being taken advantage of, Noel says, which is why both he and Banks make a point of educating customers on their shops’ work.
Noel does it through informative online car care videos that take that additional step to ensure his shop has the best intentions at heart. Nearly each week on Facebook, you can find a Noel-narrated video featuring one of Sun Automotive’s technicians performing a simple task. In this video, Noel explains how diagnostic scans work, what they reveal, and how paying for them can actually save the customer money in the long run. While educating the customer is important, Noel’s bigger goal is to prove that his shop isn’t ripping you off, but instead performing a service that will keep you and your family safe.
And from the very beginning, Banks has amplified her message about empowering by hosting Girls Car Clinics, which are live workshop settings where women (and men, of course) are taught how to jumpstart batteries, change air filters and check tire pressures on their very own cars.
Check out the Noel’s diagnostic video at ratchetandwrench.com/SunAutomotiveDiagnostics.
6. Go #viral with Hashtags
“Beyonce has her ‘Beyhive,’ and Lady Gaga has her ‘Little Monsters,’” Banks says, “And I was like, ‘I need a name for these ladies that are following Girls Auto Clinic and feeling empowered.”
So, she crowdsourced on Facebook and asked for suggestions. As people left comments, the clear winner suddenly came through: shecanic. And after a little flare and branding, the #sheCANic hashtag—which quite literally combines “she” with “mechanic” in an effort to inspire confidence in women when addressing car troubles—became intertwined with every marketing effort Banks’ shop employed thereafter.
7. Offer Up Some Swag
When a Sun Automotive customer steps up to the counter to pay his or her bill, you’ll often find the shop accepts a unique form of currency. Emblazoned with a $20 symbol and a cartoonish depiction of Noel’s face, “Sun Bucks” are regularly handed out to customers—either at the shop or through direct mail campaigns—which they can use to pay for repairs.
However gimmicky it may seem, brandishing shop merchandise—aka “swag”—with your logo is one way of keeping your shop’s message in front of people at all times.
“It keeps everyone engaged throughout the year,” Noel says.
Banks took it to another level with her book, Girls Auto Clinic: Glove Box Guide, which helped gain her national exposure. In addition, the clothing her shop sells (including a red bandana labeled with the #sheCANic hashtag) carries her main mission statement with it.
8. Offer Words of Inspiration
Whether you’re quoting a notable philanthroper (left) or simply quoting your own inspirational message (right), sharing memes or statements that reflect your shop’s personal message to consumers are easy ways of fostering that connection via social media.
9. Keep with the Times
While Barry and Alam have a set schedule for Girls Auto Clinic posts, they also stress the importance of employing a day-to-day approach. You should not only react accordingly to which posts your customers respond to, but also periodically intertwine that message with the season, holidays and social movements that play off your brand.