There are many ways to market a collision shop. I'll start by going over some basic fundamentals and then share some of the successful actions I've taken over the last 18 years.
First, it's important to know the difference between advertising and public relations. Advertising is offering your business or service to the broad public in hopes that it will attract them and bring them in to your business when your services or products are wanted or needed. This can be in via print, Internet, radio, television, social media, etc. It can be done as branding, which is just getting your business name and image recognized, or it may include some type of an offer or special treatment or discounts that your company offers. Maybe you have loaner cars or you include a minor detail with any collision repair. Many shops advertise a lifetime warranty. Whatever message you are sending out should be based on what your public are actually looking for.
As a collision shop we have several groups to which we want to promote. We have new customers, existing customers, insurance companies, fleet companies, other non-collision shops, etc. Each of these groups may have different hot buttons that create the interest necessary to call or visit your shop for their specific needs. The only truly effective way to find out what each of these groups will respond to is by surveying them. A separate survey should be created for each of these groups. Many businesses think they know what their customers want, but unless you invest the time and properly survey you are only guessing and promoting what you think is important.
Public Relations can be defined as "good works well published". A good example of this would be doing an excellent job on the customer’s vehicle and having them show and tell their family, friends, mechanic and insurance agent the great job you did. Another example that has become popular is fixing up a car and donating it to a worthy recipient and documenting the whole process and sharing throughout the community.
The truth is almost every action you do in your business is a promotional action. Are you easy to find on the web? Is your website clear and easy to navigate? Does it actually direct customers to your business? How you handle the customer calling in on the telephone, the appearance of the sign, the parking lot, building and front office are extremely important in presenting a professional image to your clients. You should make it a regular exercise to look at your business from a customer's point of view. Are your estimators friendly, well dressed and well groomed? Is the front office and customer parking clean and clearly marked so it's easy for your clients to arrive at the right place? Do you have the type of vehicles that you want to work on parked in front of your shop? I recommend parking only clean, good-looking late model vehicles out front if that's the type of vehicle you want to work on. Most customers will be much more comfortable bringing their vehicle to your shop if they see similar vehicles parked out front. Wrecked cars should be kept out back — customers are likely to be turned off by seeing crunched up sheet metal and broken glass. Do you have a clean, modern customer bathroom? Customers will make a buying decision based on your reputation and what they see and experience during their visit to your website and or your repair facility.
Many seemingly small actions add up to a great customer experience, so be aware of how you and your employees are promoting your shop in every step of the customer service experience.
We send out handwritten thank you cards to every client who comes in for an estimate or repair. These are done the day after the customer comes in. We’ve gotten a great response from this gesture, as it is a personal contact that shows clients are important to us.
The actual quality of the repairs done, the customer service provided in person and on the telephone and the final delivery of the completed vehicle all either promote you and your shop as a quality professional establishment. Nothing has a more powerful effect than a high quality final product but unless you promote your shop properly on the front end you will never get a chance to do a quality repair that will attract more customers to your facility.
There are many Public Relations actions that can be successful for a collision shop. Visiting insurance agents and non-collision repair shops is one of the best. We always make an appointment and use the meeting to find out about the agent and their clients so we can improve our operations. Bring cookies and a press book that has pictures of your shop, employees and some good before and after photos of jobs you've done. Leave the photo booklet for the office to review so they can become more familiar with your operation. We have made up special bus is cards for referal sources with a blank spot to put the name of the person handing out the card. This way the referalls can be tracked and the person sending the client can be thanked.
Another great PR event is our annual pumpkin carving contest. We provide the pumpkins and get all the local agents and repair shops involved. We post the entries on Facebook and the one with the most likes wins a gift certificate for a free detail.
We also host car wash fundraisers for local non profit groups. These get great exposure to our shop and help out groups like the Boy Scouts, local little league teams and church groups.
There are many creative ways to involve your shop in the community and when you do, the community will support you! Have fun and don't hesitate to contact me for more information. I'm glad to share