Before Bob Cooper can begin to talk about what makes a brand “great,” he has to back up and address one simple fact: Most shop owners can’t even define “brand.”
“They think it’s a logo, or an advertisement, or a color scheme,” the president of Elite says. “They don’t look at their shop as its own breathing entity. They think, ‘It’s my business, and when I’m gone, it goes away.’
“Well, it doesn’t. They don't understand they’re a small part of something much bigger—they’re part of a culture.”
Whether you realize it or not, your shop has a culture, Cooper says. If you’ve had a hand in shaping that culture? Then you’ve built a brand.
But if you cannot succinctly define your culture? Then you haven’t conveyed your goals and principles to your team, which means you have no control over how your employees carry themselves at work, and thus no control over your shop’s public perception.
So, to bring it back around to Cooper’s first point: Your logo isn’t a brand—you are the brand. You set the tone each day, and the culture you form shapes the perceived brand. And if you can nail that down? Cooper says everyone will believe in you, and your business will thrive.
Here are five questions to ask yourself in determining and executing your shop’s brand:
1) “Have I defined my mission statement?”
Building your brand starts with clerical work, Cooper says. You need to physically write down what you’re trying to accomplish with your business.
However, before you can brainstorm goals and form a mission statement, Cooper says you must start with your own core beliefs.
“If they don’t put their core beliefs down first, they might set goals that are contrary to those core beliefs,” he says. “You have to start with: ‘Who are you as a person? And what is this being you’re going to create? What is the culture going to be?’”
Once you’ve identified what drives you in life, then narrow down how your business can carry out those core beliefs, Cooper says.
Ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with my business? What gets me excited to come into work each day? What are the main goals everyone can get behind?
Write down those goals, and let them form your mission statement—a succinct, digestible sentence that encapsulates the image consumers will have of your shop. This mission statement represents, fundamentally, your “brand.”
“It’s not some cheesy statement,” Cooper says. “It must represent your mission to deliver the highest level of auto repair to customers.”
2) “Does my team know my mission statement?”
Next is communicating that mission statement to your team. If they don’t have a mission to follow, Cooper says, then they won’t carry themselves in a uniform manner each day.
Cooper recommends hosting regular meetings—weekly, if possible—and discussing the goals and mission statement you’ve written out. Continually build on those discussions and how the team can improve the shop’s brand. Make it clear everyone should contribute to the discussion.
“Once a week, at meetings, we have a discussion about principles,” Cooper says of his Elite team. “I give everyone who works with me books, like Ethics 101 and Attitude 101. Everyone is part of a continuing learning process.”
Keep the mission in front of your team at all times, recite it at team meetings, and post it on your website and business cards—even paint it on your walls.
And, most importantly: Your team should see you embodying that mission statement in the way you carry yourself each day.
3) “Have I hired the right people?”
Cooper says it’s a huge mistake shop owners consistently make—you need to hire for attitude and not just aptitude. That’s the only way your team will embody your shop’s brand.
“Instead of trying to train people to be compassionate, we need to hire people that are compassionate,” he says. “You can’t teach ethics. You can’t teach culture. And you can’t teach compassion.”
Cooper says the interview process should determine how the job candidate will fit into your culture. State your mission statement and goals during the interview, and observe how they react. Are they excited? Inquisitive? Stone-faced? That will tell you a lot.
When all’s said and done, has this person acted in line with your culture? Your team? Have their references reflected that as well?
4) “Does my shop environment represent my brand?”
Creating a logo is undoubtedly important for conveying a brand—but it’s not the first step, Cooper says.
“I get really twisted out of shape when branding companies go to an auto repair shop and say, ‘Let us create a logo for you,’” Cooper says. “I just roll my eyes at that. How do you create a logo when you don’t even know what their company is about?”
No, your brand starts with something much more important: When a customer walks into your shop, will they be able to see your brand?
There’s one way to ensure that—and it’s almost too obvious, Cooper says.
“If you walk into an auto repair shop, what you need to see is two or so service advisors that really share your culture,” he says, “and then behind them—in big, huge, blazing letters—needs to be a mission statement that really speaks to the culture of the company.
“Everything else from that point forward is secondary—all the advertising pieces you create, the logo, all the colors you take on. And that all has to be synchronic with who you are and your mission.”
5) “Does the public recognize my brand?”
All of the hours and time and energy spent crafting your brand are for naught if customers fail to even recognize it, Cooper says.
Luckily, there are ways of checking.
The main way of telling is through online reviews. When customers choose your shop, Cooper says it isn’t just because you have numerous five-star ratings—it’s because there is a consistent theme within those reviews.
“Nobody cares about artificial reviews. They care about what the common message is,” he says. “If the first review says, ‘The car was done on time and I'm really happy.’ And the next review says, ‘Their prices are really great.’ And the next review says, ‘They were open on Saturdays, which is great for me.’ Well, those are all great, feel-good reviews, but there's no common message there.
“This means you have an inconsistent brand. You need to find a way to have customers understand your brand at every touch point. Then it winds up in reviews, and your reviews state how you really care about people.”
Cooper also recommends surveying customers about what they perceive your brand to be. You can even hire brand consultants to come in and give expert opinions—any way you can ensure your brand is being communicated effectively will help drive business, he says.