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SHOP STATS: Nathan's Automotive  Location: Noble, Okla.  Operator: Nathan and Tessa Gwin  Average Monthly Car Count: 246   Staff Size: 9  Shop Size: 5,250 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: $1 million  

After a 16-year postseason drought, the entire city of Noble, Okla., had its eye on its high school football team’s postseason game against Woodward High School in 2019—not to mention, the rest of the Sooner State, as the game was broadcast across Oklahoma. The upcoming playoff game (which Noble High School went on to win) was all anyone in the town could talk about for weeks prior. It was the event of the season. 

And, who was front and center throughout the entire game? 

Nathan’s Automotive. 

With the auto repair shop as a sponsor for the football team and its exciting run to the playoffs, its logo was featured on the scoreboard and its name is announced during every home game. That type of exposure is priceless. 

Well, almost

The business only spends 1 percent of its budget on marketing and advertising and still hits $1 million in revenue. Nathan’s Automotive has found that the best way to reach its customers is not a traditional approach to marketing, but rather getting out and interacting with the community. 

“Eighty percent of our business is from the Noble community. We are not just tied with the school, but with the police department, the city, the fire department—it’s the whole municipal entity,” Tessa Gwin, owner of Nathan’s Automotive, says. “It’s generations of people that come here.”

“As time has gone on, it’s like getting a great steak at a steakhouse—you’re going to want to go tell someone about it,” Nathan Gwin, owner of Nathan’s Automotive, says.

Nathan and Tessa detail how their approaches to getting their name out there has led to success and helped make a difference in the community.

Hit the Ground Running

When both Nathan and Tessa Gwin were faced with unemployment after moving back to their hometown roots from Texas, they decided to start their own auto repair shop business, officially opening the two-bay shop in 2000. Both Nathan and Tessa were new to the business-owning game. The only knowledge they had in their back pockets was Nathan’s experience as a technician and Tessa’s experience in the banking industry. As entrepreneurs, neither of them knew how to run a business.

“We were young; we didn’t have a clue,” Tessa says. “We did what we knew.”

They went door-to-door all over Noble to pass out flyers that Tessa made on her home computer that announced the shop’s opening. They even paid a neighbor boy to pass out and post flyers around town. All of that leg work paid off—customers started coming in.  

After their initial efforts, they began creating relationships with community members in town. Nathan and Tessa went down to the police station to get to know the officers and drop off donuts at City Hall, for example. To this day, the police officers and other town officials are still loyal customers.

“We didn’t really have Facebook or anything like that back then,” Tessa says. “We wanted to get out there in the community and that’s how we knew how to do it.”

Support through Sponsorship 

A couple of years into their new operation, the Noble School District reached out to the auto repair shop about sponsoring one of their events. With Nathan’s side of the family all being teachers, they were happy to help and saw it as a great opportunity to further get their name out into the community.

“It was a great place to put a name on,” Tessa says.

Through this sponsorship came another opportunity after that, and another one, and another one, and another one—you get the point. The repair shop has helped donate supplies, host auto repair workshops for students, and sponsor sporting events. Recently, the repair shop also started a program with the school district called Auto Repair for Bears (the school’s mascot is the Bears). For every invoice dropped into the box in the lobby, the auto repair shop will donate five percent of that bill back to the school. 

The auto repair shop is now one of the top-five businesses the school goes to for sponsorships. They’ve helped the shop build a close relationship with the school district, and now, sponsorship opportunities like these come straight to their door. 

“We wouldn’t be the business we are today if we didn’t have these groups to depend on,” Tessa says. “I think your bread and butter are the people right down the street from you.”

From all of the sponsorships they’ve been a part of, Tessa says 50 percent of their customer base comes from connections with the school alone—faculty, parents, and students included. 

“The parents see that we support their kids and the kids eventually grow up and have their own cars to fix,” Tessa says. “It’s a cycle.”

Get People Talking 

Nathan and Tessa took it upon themselves to capitalize on their sponsorships. Soon, the business started slapping their name and logo on everything they could. The auto repair shop can be found on banners for school fundraisers, the scoreboard in the school’s gymnasium, the deck mat of the school’s newly-built baseball field, and even on t-shirts that are thrown into the stands at the high school football games—you name it, Nathan’s Automotive is on it.

“We just put our name on everything and anything the school and students are doing,” Tessa says.

Whenever they sponsor something for the community, the same advertising tactics hold true. While supporting the school is the shop’s main focus, they also aren’t shy to lend an extra hand in sponsoring other events in town. For example, when the fire department has its annual cookout, the repair shop gives them coupons to raffle off for free oil changes or gives them free cups with the shop’s logo on it. And when the holidays roll around, you can find the repair shop’s logo stamped on their float in the annual Christmas parade. 

The shop also puts on events of its own. Back in December, the shop hosted its first-ever Day of Service, where people in the community could nominate an individual or family in need for free auto repairs before the holiday season. The town’s local news station, FOX 25, even did a story on it, which helped get the word out to communities beyond just Noble.

“When you do stuff like that, people talk about it,” Tessa says. “It’s not traditional advertising, but, to us, it is advertising. I don’t know any better advertising than that.”

Add a Personal Touch 

Not all of the advertising the shop does is through sponsorships and events. That being said, it’s still not “traditional” advertising in the form of mailers. Rather than in-your-face-marketing, the Gwins provide valuable information for customers. 

To promote their services and specials, the shop sends out monthly e-newsletters through an email marketing service. Tessa is able to customize email templates and have them sent to the shop’s email contacts. Back in the fall, Tessa titled September’s newsletter “Hello Autumn”and talked about how it was the time to start preparing for winter, showcasing a coolant flush special going on in the shop. Sending these newsletters helps the shop further interact with customers to get them in the door.

And when a customer is due for a service, Tessa sends out a handwritten postcard to add a personalized touch. When a customer comes in for a service—let’s say an oil change—the shop logs when the customer would be due for the next one and sends out a card at that time. Sending these reminders is just another way to interact and keep the shop top-of-mind; from new customers that walk in the door to the same customers they’ve done business with since the beginning.

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