Increasing car count and the bottom line isn’t as simple as throwing open your doors and installing a guy in a sandwich board out front with a sign that reads, “Quality Repair$ Today! Come In$ide!”
Car owners today need to establish trust, forge a relationship with a shop and see the value of that relationship through transparency of business, ease of access and quality of repairs. More repair orders and higher car count does not necessarily mean more profits (but it may mean more headaches when it’s time to analyze the ledger).
Your market is out there—you just have to find it. A little research is all it takes to find your customers—and that may yield a lot of business.
MARKETING PLAN 101
To set the tone for your marketing plan, consider the following:
- What is my competitive landscape?
- What can we improve upon?
- What are the competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?
- What problems can I resolve?
- What are our best opportunities for scale and/or market share?
- Which problems does the customer and/or industry face that I can resolve?
UNDERSTAND YOUR POSITION
Before taking a deep dive into marketing, you must understand your position within the existing auto repair market. Take note of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to optimize the best your business and the current environment has to offer, and mitigate the worst.
Begin by spelling out all your internal business strengths and weaknesses—your business may have the best technicians for miles, but not the best customer service. Also, consider the opportunities and threats you don’t have control over—you may have a classic car show held annually in your area that creates a business opportunity, but the poor economy is a serious threat to your local clientele.
Use your opportunities and strengths within the industry to guide your messaging and use as the pillars upon which you build your marketing strategy. Meanwhile, find ways to improve, work around, or avoid highlighting and implementing initiatives tied to the weaknesses of your business or the threats of your external environment.
OWN YOUR MARKETING
Many shop owners struggle with how to market their business effectively; many still only rely on word-of-mouth and deliberately choose not to invest in marketing because there’s no guarantee the time, effort and money will bring in more customers. The real issue, however, isn’t the marketing itself—the real issue is failing to properly understand the best tactics or marketing tools to drive the right results. To fix this mental roadblock, it begins the same way diagnosing a vehicle does— by looking within.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my marketing net as many new customers as I want?
- Does my marketing help retain as many existing customers as I want?
- Does my marketing help win back as many lost customers as I want?
If you answered “no” or “yes, but…” to any of the questions above, you’ve identified the marketing roadblock. Use those three questions to evaluate and diagnose the true marketing needs of your business. Many shop owners focus on just one of these questions, but a well-rounded approach will help you achieve your full potential through effective marketing.
Sometimes it’s easy to acquire tunnel vision in a small market or when you’re the top shop—when everyone looks like an ant from the mountaintop, what’s to worry about?
Quite a bit, it turns out. Competition keeps you sharp and hones your focus for every decision and client. If your average repair order (ARO) or car count is slipping, it could be because complacency in management is creating opportunities for your competition, and they’re taking advantage.
To do the same, study your competitors—those who offer the same offerings as you and appeal to the same customers. What are their strengths? What do they advertise? What is their clientele like? Find an opportunity to fill an advertising or repair space that they haven’t. If they’ve cornered the market in a certain segment, do not simply repeat their strategy; you’ll look unoriginal at best and like a market imposter at worst.
Competition makes you stronger and focusing on what sets you apart will cause clients to turn your way; for example, advertise your pickup and delivery services online when everyone else is using newspaper ads. When everyone’s flying a box kite, the dragon kite on the horizon is a lot more alluring.
Use the following checklist to ensure you understand your market.
__ Make a list of your shop’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
__ Make a list of your shop’s primary services, repairs and unique abilities, or offerings.
__ Make a list of several competitors’ primary services, repairs and/or unique abilities and offerings, as well as what and where they’re advertising.
__ Cross out all repeat items, then think about what you can add to your shop to further stand out from the crowd.
GO TO THE SOURCE
It’s easier to fish when you know where they are. In marketing and data terms, that means consulting the customers already patronizing your business before casting about for new ones, or viewing your community activities/philanthropy as further marketing opportunities. Understanding how and why clients choose to walk through your doors will help lead you to more like them. Why not ask them in an
email or optional over-the-counter survey? Also, your staff probably sees customers a lot more than you do, so be sure to ask for their input as well.
- How did your current customers initially hear about your shop?
- Which services are most popular?
- How often do they come in for repairs?
- What kind of vehicles do they bring in for repairs?
- What do they enjoy most about your shop?
- What would they like to see more of?
Consolidating the information you already have means you can look toward a more informed future. Look for similarities in their responses—a few outliers are OK over time, but if the majority of your questions yield similar answers, congratulations— your targeted marketing efforts are reaching your ideal customers. And now that you have them, be sure that they’re aware of ALL of your services — they may come to you for quality oil changes and be wholly unaware of your other key offerings, such as brake repair or premium exhaust repair capabilities.