Bill Hill, owner of Mighty Auto Pro in Medina, Ohio, describes his shuttle service, which he’s had since 2008, as a “rolling billboard.”
“It’s got all of our shop’s information on it, and customers see it all the time,” Hill says. “So we make sure to have fun with it.”
In a similar fashion, Jeff Bain, owner of Branson, Mo.–based Any BODY’s Garage, says that his shuttle, which he’s had for seven years, is an extension of his shop’s brand. Many shops in the Branson area will give its customers a ride, but don’t have a dedicated shuttle vehicle, which Bain uses to his advantage.
Not only is your shuttle an effective way to transport your customers in a pinch, it’s also a key way to advertise your shop’s personality and services.
The key to building an effective shuttle program, Bain says, is to not do things halfway. It’s important to invest in a nice van, and he says it can cost upward of $2,500 to professionally wrap it.
Since the vehicle is essentially a reflection of your shop, Bain says it’s important to get the design done professionally. He says it’s also important to research car seat laws and consider getting a good car seat for any customers with children.
Hill’s newest van required an investment of $10,000 for the vehicle, and roughly $2,000 for the decals and wrapping. Both shop owners took the cost out of their marketing budget.
After making the initial investment, the two shop owners detail three keys in making a shuttle service a strong reflection of your shop’s brand.
Find a safe, personable driver.
Hill says it’s important for your designated shuttle driver to be an experienced driver, and somebody who makes your customers feel safe.
John Sobolewski, Mighty Auto Pro’s shuttle driver for the past six years and a former Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award winner, fits that mold perfectly, according to Hill. Sobolewski has lived in the area for most of his life, so he knows it well and has plenty of stories he can tell customers. Hill says he’s also a great communicator, and is very patient with any kids riding in the shuttle.
Sobolewski is in the prime of his years, and Hill says he may retire in the near future. Hill says that when the time comes for them to find a replacement, they’ll try to find somebody comparable in age and attitude, that can attempt to fill his role as a full-time worker.
Right now, Bain does the majority of shuttle driving at Any BODY’s Garage. But if you’re looking for a driver, Bain says it’s important to find somebody personable, intelligent and completely sold on your business.
“It can be a part-time gig, and it could even be one of your best customers,” Bain says. “Whoever it is, they have to be a happy, charismatic person.”
Both shop owners say that the shuttle experience is a key way to get to know your customer base, especially if they’re a first-time customer. Most likely, your customer doesn’t want to be there as they’re facing a broken car and a major expense, so it’s important to focus their mind elsewhere. The ride gives you an opportunity to talk about what vehicles they have, how long they’ve been in the area, and the types of services they or their friends may be looking for.
Do regular maintenance.
Along with a good driver, you need to make sure your car is in good working order and has a clean interior and exterior. Keep it washed regularly, and do your best to make sure there’s no trash or dirt inside the vehicle.
Additionally, if your car or van has a check engine light on, or other major issues, it will reflect poorly on the services of your own shop. Hill says he checks his vehicle consistently to make sure everything is up to par.
“The first week of every month, we bring it in and do a complete maintenance check,” Hill says. “We make sure everything is working, and the lights on it are fine. We do oil changes every 3,000 miles, along with a 67-point vehicle inspection.”
Focus on design … and have fun with it!
Since your van is essentially a “rolling billboard,” it’s important to use your shuttle’s design to advertise any and all services your shop offers. Both shop owners say they make sure to include taglines and important info about their shop and shuttle services on the van itself.
With Any BODY’s Garage, Bain says there’s often a misinterpretation that his shop is solely a body shop, as opposed to being a full service destination. Therefore in designing the shuttle, he made sure to include the phrases “full service automotive” and “repair specialist” on the sides. The shuttle also includes a phone number and the shop’s website.
Mighty Auto Pro designed theirs similarly, with a website, phone number, the shop’s AAA and BBB affiliations, and “free shuttle service” listed on the sides.
The shop also holds themes depending on the season, and the van changes along with these. For instance, he’ll have bunny ears on it for Easter, hearts for Valentine’s Day and flags on the windows for the Fourth of July.
Advertise your shuttle services.
In Branson, Bain says there’s a poor public transportation system and no other shops offer shuttle services. So he made sure to advertise the service as much as possible at his shop, such as through radio ads to get a leg up on the shuttleless competition. Still, he says, many customers are unaware of the services, so he tries to advertise it to his customers as often as possible once they’re in the shop.
“You can tell when you’re offering services today and the person hesitates, you remind them of the shuttle service,” Bain says. “It’s a great closing tool for the initial inspection.”
Hill says he also advertises Mighty Auto Pro’s shuttle as often as possible to make sure customers are aware of the service.
“We advertise it on every piece of literature that goes out there: direct mail, social media, email contacts,” Hill says. “When somebody’s calling to schedule an appointment, one of the first questions we’ll ask them is if they need a shuttle.”
The shop also likes to keep the shuttle as busy as possible, so it’s constantly “on the go” throughout the community, even when it isn’t transporting customers. For example, one recent Thanksgiving, a local restaurant borrowed it to deliver Thanksgiving meals to homebound people.