Making yourself stand out

Jan. 1, 2020
Though marketing options out there are boundless with ever increasing numbers of smart, capable and relevant players vying for your business, marketing remains a big challenge for most of us in the tire and automotive repair worlds.

Though marketing options out there are boundless with ever increasing numbers of smart, capable and relevant players vying for your business, marketing remains a big challenge for most of us in the tire and automotive repair worlds. Unlike 10 or 20 years ago where marketing relied on direct mail and print advertising, today’s tools are smart, adaptable and precise yet still provide no guarantee of success.

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While you were working to change and adapt to these new marketing tools and realities, so was your competition. Getting that customer in your door remains a major challenge for all of us. The trick with marketing is that you actually have to do it to get a return or to see an improvement in your car count. For a great many of us of the automotive world, marketing is ineffective because we don’t do it or do it poorly.

In the big picture, I would strongly recommend any shop owner establish a strong relationship with a marketing professional. Though I am in awe and supportive of the many great marketing companies out there like Mudlick Mail and Demand Force, both of which are automotive experts, there are a great many things we can do ourselves that allow us to go further with those marketing dollars and that can easily be incorporated into our normal daily, weekly and monthly process.

Where to Start 
I recently ran into a small, home grown idea that just proves the demand for service is out there and the sheer effectiveness deserves a prominent place on your marketing calendar twice a year. It is quite simply providing a free radio reset when we switch to and switch from Daylight Savings Time. Who can keep up with how to reset the clock in our cars, and any shop offering free radio resets is likely to have a large crowd of customers and would-be customers beating a path to their counter.

Certainly I would have you advertise this service well in advance, certainly I would tie it to other available services and certainly I would be doing courtesy checks and reviewing service histories on any cars that show up. A great friend and former client in sunny southern California tells me he has vehicles lined up out the door when he promotes this both in his print and online/ mobile marketing efforts.

Online, and especially mobile marketing and promotions, are easy, inexpensive and have the great advantage of hitting our customers and would-be customers right where they live: online and on their smartphones. The things I am talking about here are loyalty programs, digital coupons, online and mobile/smartphone-based promotions, that are all viable options.

Most smartphones are GPS enabled, so it is simple to text or email a promotion whenever a customer (or whomever you had a cellphone number for) was in your market area. There is an obvious caution that goes with most of these strategies, and that is being smart and strategic in how we go about attacking a customer’s cellphone or other mobile device. Our object is to attract customers and there are few ways to upset a customer more than hounding him on his or her cellphone. Discretion is definitively the better part of valor.

Similarly, Facebook and other social media offer huge opportunities to gently touch and remind our customers that we are here and anxious to help them with their automotive service and repair needs. A great strategy I have seen here is simply posting a picture of an expired inspection sticker the last 10 days of each month. Subtle but very effective!

Drawing in New Customers
One of the best ways to draw new customers to your front door is to employ a strategy many shop owners employed as they were launching their shop, but mostly abandon as things take off. Make a point to introduce yourself to two or three people every day as you go about your normal routine, and along with shaking hands and introducing yourself, hand this new acquaintance your business card. This likely worked well for you as you were starting out, but it is a strategy I rarely see used by established shop owners.

The shocking plus here is that far beyond what acquisition marketing and even better than established retention marketing programs will achieve, this introduction, handshake and business card effort will reliably generate a response rate above 25 percent. The simple truth is that people go where they know somebody and where they feel welcome and you taking the time to introduce yourself to a couple of people has a huge potential to draw customers to your shop and to establish them as loyal customers. Get over yourself and get out there and meet some people. 

A variation on this is for you and for your service manager to get out there and introduce yourself to the other businesses in your immediate market area. This works for the same reason as the strategy described above: People and businesses go where they know somebody and where they feel welcome. Offering special discounts or pick-up and drop off service would be a further enticement. I would make a goal to hit a business a day and similarly have your service manager doing the same and ask whoever you talk to for their business card and make a follow-up call within a week or so.

The results can be amazing. A further enhancement might be to make the staff members of these businesses VIP customers, and this makes the other business owners a potential hero to his staff members and gives the staff members great reasons to come and see you and combining this with the pick-up/ drop off service and you make it very competitive and convenient for those nearby company staff members.

Another great and very visible approach might be your shop supporting local schools and charities. Our support of the children and charities in our community reflects very well upon us and can provide a great deal of visibility and free publicity. My hope is that we find a worthy cause that we truly do feel passionate about and that we find ways to highlight our efforts. I have a friend and former client in the Charlotte, N.C., area who is very busy supporting local charities and does an incredible job of organizing a charity golf tournament for a children’s hospital.

This is not a case where people go shoot a round of golf and run out and buy a pair of tires. This is where a great company is seen doing great work within their community and in this, building goodwill from among their customers and would-be customers. People want to feel good about the people they spend their money with and supporting your community is a great way to get that community support. Who knows, you might just have an impact or profound effect on somebody’s life in the effort and there is nothing at all wrong with that.

Marketing can be a terrible investment, with no guarantee of any return or benefit. That being said it is something we must do if we have any expectations of survival. Great marketers are like great fisherman. It is not only that they have the right bait, they are relentless and tenacious and are masters of both timing and delivery.

Master fisherman catch fish day in and day out, no matter the species. Attracting customers is a lot like fishing and more dependent on being out there every day, doing things to connect and retain your customers and making the right presentation. Having the right bait is only half the battle. 

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About the Author

Brian Canning

Brian Canning is 30-year veteran of the automotive repair industry who moved to the federal sector as a business analyst and later change management specialist. For many years, he worked for a leading coaching company as a leadership and management coach and team leader, working with tire and repair shop owners from across the country. He started his career as a Goodyear service manager in suburban Washington, D.C., moving on to oversee several stores and later a region. He also has been a retail sales manager for a distributor, run a large fleet operation, and headed a large multi-state sales territory for an independent manufacturer of automotive parts.

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