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ABRN's 2015 Top Shop: Chantilly Auto Body Group

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 09:00
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Back to school and the information highway

Chantilly also takes aggressive business steps with marketing programs designed to attract customers through the Internet and its close relationship with local schools.

Before he came on board with Chantilly, Ellison worked in information technology. One of his first steps was building and upgrading the business's Web presence. Next, he started a reputation management initiative to respond to feedback on Internet review sites and set up social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter to connect with customers. To keep those accounts active and engaging, he brought in a specialty content firm and tied in Web reviews to help direct more Internet traffic to the sites for each Chantilly shop.

The business also worked with Google to purchase ad words to drive local repair searches. "The goal is always to get customers to the websites to request an estimate," explains Ellison. "That request is a call-to-action we respond to by contacting the customer to schedule an estimate, whether it's at one of the shops or somewhere the customer prefers."

Chantilly has grown quite adept at capturing this business. Ellison points to statistics that show 172 inquiries in the second quarter of 2013 resulting in 48 completed jobs. That 28 percent conversion rate produced  $79,939 revenue with a $1,665 repair average.

In the second quarter of 2015, 144 inquiries produced 63 completed jobs--a 44 percent conversion rate generating $88,704 revenue and a $1,408 average repair. "Our conversion rates have improved a great deal over the two year span," says Ellison. "Now we need to put more emphasis on increasing the number of inquiries." 

"Doing so should increase revenue and average repair numbers," he adds.  

As effective as its Web initiatives have been, Chantilly's outreach to local schools has produced an arguably more impressive boon. Like most small businesses, Chantilly's donated funds whenever it was contacted by nearby schools. "After years of them coming to us, we started going to them," says Ellison.

He began approaching all schools near Chantilly's locations offering sponsorships for sports, arts and music programs. The shop also donated signage featuring its name to hang on every possible sports venue and created electronic banners on school program websites.

The sponsorships aren't year-to-year propositions. Chantilly negotiates 5-year contracts that benefit both school and business significantly. Chantilly keeps its name in the community and the schools receive a long term, much needed financial commitment.

This close relationship is helping spawn one more mutual benefit, a body shop apprenticeship program. "Like everyone in the industry discovers, it's hard to find good, young employees," says Ellison. Youngsters interested in collision work aren't always presented with a direct path from school into the repair business. The apprenticeship program addresses both issues.

The program is in its beginning stages as Chantilly conducts talks with three vocational tech schools, two of which have applied for Collision Repair Education Foundation makeover grants. Chantilly is formulating ways to direct additional funds into these schools to build a training program.

In addition, Ellison sits on a school advisory committee and is arranging a Chantilly shop tour to allow students to see what a high production shop looks like. He's hoping engagements like these will allow Chantilly to better identify students interested in being an apprentice.

A full lot of work waits for repairs. Chantilly has frequently grown by adding new shops that handle overflow from existing locations.
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