Implementing a Community Outreach Program

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Community outreach goes hand-in-hand with business success. It creates opportunities for shop operators to show support for their local market, create emotional connections with community members, and associate their brand with positive experiences. The combination of those factors strengthens business name recognition, the customer base, and revenue, says Servando Orozco, owner of Orozco’s Auto Service, a three-shop operation in California.

Orozco discusses how he created a community outreach program around oil changes, and how the effort has delivered long-term value to the shop.

I’ve found community outreach and involvement to be one of the biggest factors that can be directly attributed to our business success. Roughly 50 percent of my total marketing budget is reserved for community involvement, which has allowed me to meet many people in the market in a meaningful way.

There is one program in particular that I launched four years ago that has delivered highly positive results. It’s called “Change Your Oil, Change a Life.” Through this program, I partnered with the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center to give away a free oil change to every community member who donated blood. The first program ran for nine months. I now run the program annually for a two-month period.

The program has been a huge success. We performed 300 oil changes the first year, which means we generated 300 blood donations for the hospital. Of course, giving away that many oil changes was a substantial investment. At about $35 each, it was an investment of roughly $10,500 overall. But that investment definitely proved to pay off, and was ultimately a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term benefits we received.

The most significant benefit was name recognition. Our company name is now plastered all over the hospital—elevators, hallways and waiting areas. Literally hundreds of people are exposed to the brand name every day. That ongoing brand promotion is invaluable; I can’t buy that anywhere else.

We also generated some revenue from the effort. People were attracted to the shop for the free oil change, but many bought something else, too. We sold about $40,000 worth of additional repairs to the oil change customers. That’s an average sale of more than $133 per person, and a profitable return on the financial investment.

This has proven to be a cost-effective marketing strategy. Many of those oil changes were performed for first-time customers. Although donating a $35 oil change sounds like a huge investment, it’s actually cheaper compared to other marketing efforts I engage in. With more traditional marketing methods, I’ve calculated that I pay about $100 for every new customer I obtain. That’s far more expensive than the cost of an oil change. So I don’t mind giving away those types of services. I’ll do it all day long.

Any shop operator can easily replicate this program. Here are a few tips to make it happen:

Identify an organization. This event could be carried out in support of any organization; it doesn’t have to be a hospital. Identify local schools, foundations or other charitable causes that are important to your target customers.

Meet with the decision-makers. Most community and charitable organizations are happy to partner with businesses that can offer value. I simply scheduled an in-person meeting with the blood center executives and explained how I could help increase their rate of donations. They were more than willing to participate.

Be sincere. Charitable organizations don’t care about your underlying business objectives. When attempting to partner with them, don’t focus the conversation on what you’re hoping to get out of it. Only discuss your passion for the organization and how you’re able to benefit them. This has to come from the heart to be successful. You’ve got to be genuine and sincere about your desire to help.

Require proof. Customers who come in for the oil change should demonstrate proof that they actually made the donation. I provided the hospital with oil change certificates that were distributed to every donor.

Establish a limit. Limit the number of free oil changes to prevent customers from taking advantage of the offering. We limited it to one per customer.

Require appointments. Depending on the level of response, your biggest challenge could be serving all of the oil changes. You have limited technician resources, and obviously have certain capacity on the number of oil changes that can be performed each day. Requiring appointments is key.

You have to look at community-based efforts from a big picture standpoint. Many shop operators don’t see value in it because it’s tough to see immediate, measurable results. You just have to stick with it, and you will undoubtedly see value over time.

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