The years I spent managing repair shops taught that me that slow periods are inevitable. There are just certain times of the year – the holidays, back-to-school - when consumers put automotive repair on the back burner.
While the slow season can fill any shop owner a sense of dread, rest assured that nearly every industry has its ebbs and flows based on such issues as weather and other factors that are often out of our control. However, a well-crafted marketing campaign can help you can shorten the duration of these downturns and lessen the impact they might have on your business.
Here are some marketing strategies to consider to not only survive – but thrive – during the slow season.
Stay active with your advertising: Too many shop owners slash their marketing budgets when business slows, reasoning that it’s an easy expense to cut when times are tough. That approach reduces your exposure to potential customers at a time when you need it most. By taking a break, you’re also giving competitors – who will likely continue their advertising efforts - a chance to steal your market share. Although it’s hard to do, you should actually increase your marketing expenditures in the slow season. Use those additional funds to advertise offers that will not only draw customers immediately, but also fill the pipeline for the future. For example, consider a package of oil changes for a discounted price that will give customers an incentive to return. Another good option is to offer a “bonus” discount that increases with larger purchases, say $25 off $100 in services or $50 off $250 in services. This approach provides motivation for consumers who have been delaying large repairs because of cost concerns to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment.
Focus on maintenance: With the end of the summer road trip season, consumers simply aren’t focused on auto repair. But this is the perfect time to remind customers to address issues that could rear their ugly head this winter. Since cold weather is tough on batteries, try experimenting with a discounted offer for battery conditioning or replacement for a limited time. Free inspections and discounted tune-ups are also a great way to get the phone ringing.
Promote your strengths: This is the time of year when it pays to remind customers about what separates you from the competition, so the next time their car breaks down, your shop and special services are top of mind. Think of what makes your shop special and incorporate those unique attributes into all of your marketing materials. Maybe you beat competing shops on price. Or maybe convenience is your big selling point. If you offer free customer shuttles or rental cars, those are excellent perks to promote. Warranties are also powerful differentiators. If you have benefits you’re proud of, make sure they’re also posted prominently on your website and be sure to reference them in your social media posts as well. It also doesn’t hurt to create an email campaign to raise awareness about your benefits among existing customers. If you don’t have any unique offerings, now might be the time to consider what you can to distinguish yourself from other shops in your area.
Go old school. You might be hearing a lot lately about the power of digital marketing, but sometimes an old-fashioned approach captures more attention. Though clearly low on glitz and glamour, direct mail is one way to cut through the clutter. When your in-box is jam-packed with sales pitches, getting something delivered in your actual mailbox can feel almost special in contrast. Of course, you’ll still need to distinguish yourself from the junk mail most people receive. One good option is to include a gift card that consumers can redeem for a certain dollar amount in services. Another great strategy is to package your offers along with maintenance tips or other “news” they can use. That way, you can build your reputation as an expert and not just another retailer trying to sell them something.
If you market consistently you can build a steady stream of business and reduce the slow season from a major bump in the road to a minor blip.