Running a Shop Leadership Technology Sales+Marketing Advertising

Frank Terlep

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Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes A-Plus University recently began partnering with Summit Software and Marketing Solutions to help shops advance their digital endeavors.

The effort was designed with shop owners in mind, helping them rise above challenges and succeed despite quickly changing technology. They began teaching the course this spring. The course covers a range of topics—including what digital marketing means, why it’s required for success in today’s world, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, who in the shop should handle these responsibilities, and how much time and money to devote to these projects.

Frank Terlep is one of the leaders of this initiative. He’s the CEO of Summit Software, and he’s facilitating the program.

FenderBender recently spoke with Terlep about the new course and what shops are facing in the world of digital marketing.


Can you talk about this new course?

The class, which we’re calling Digital Marketing Management, was created based on conversations with several shops and larger paint companies, particularly Sherwin-Williams.

The way we look at it, a few years ago, if you had a website, that’s really all you needed if you were a small business. Today that’s really just the entry into the game. We’ve spent the last three years, and thousands and thousands of hours, learning and trying to understand it. In today’s world, you really have to have a complete digital marketing strategy to play. That’s really the reason why we created it. It’s to be able to tell the shop what’s out there, because shops really don’t know. They think all they need is a website. We want to keep them informed about all the things we think are important.

We also want to keep people educated on the right things to do in those areas, versus what you shouldn’t be doing.


So you said this was based on conversations you had with paint companies and shops. What were you hearing that made you think shops needed to know about this?

The fact is that you talk to the shops and ask them what they are doing in terms of staying in touch with customers during the repair process, and special promotions like Groupon. And shops don’t realize, by the way, that Groupon takes 40 to 50 percent of every dollar collected from the shop. Collision repair shops don’t know the details behind how email fits in the bigger marketing picture, how texting fits, and they don’t understand how to market to people with smartphones. They don’t understand social media. All these conversations with collision shops in North America, they just really don’t know. You’ve heard, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? Many paint companies are out there doing this high-level overview of social media. But from our perspective, social media is one piece of a digital marketing strategy.


“We’re not saying to throw out traditional marketing like the baby with the bathwater.”
—Frank Terlep, CEO, Summit Software and Marketing Solutions


How do you define digital marketing?

It’s a holistic approach to marketing electronically. What that means is, it incorporates your website, social media, e-mail, texting, marketing to smartphones, and more. It incorporates all of the different electronic media with which you can market your business.

I think it’s critical. If I only do social media, what about e-mailing my clients? What about texting them? It’s sort of like, in the old days with “traditional marketing,” where you ask about whether to market with radio, newspapers or billboards.


Has that changed? Should they be more focusing their marketing efforts on digital strategies instead of radio, newspaper and billboards?

We’re not saying to throw out traditional marketing like the baby with the bathwater. In today’s world, it’s the young drivers who are the worst drivers. And so you’re going to market to the young drivers, those 18-to-34-year-olds. They don’t read newspapers. They don’t watch TV. They’re on their iPad, they’re on their smartphone, and the social media. So do you throw out your traditional marketing? No, but you need to transfer a higher percentage of what you spend from the traditional to the digital.

Most of the websites out there today were built several years ago with a lot of flash and pictures.  They’re not typically optimized for internet searching.

So we are helping shops out by looking at 10 pieces of a digital marketing strategy. It looks at how you connect with your customer. The 10 things are:

-Overall web presence
-Search engine optimization
-Local search
-Pay-per-click advertising
-E-mail marketing and retention
-Mobile and smartphone marketing
-Social media
-Reviews, ratings and reputation management
-Digital advertisements, promotions and e-coupons
-Customer retention and loyalty

Those are the 10 items that encompass what we believe is a complete digital marketing strategy.


“In today’s world, a shop’s website is their online lobby.”
—Frank Terlep, CEO, Summit Software and Marketing Solutions


Who at a shop should be working on the digital marketing strategy? Is it the owner, the manager, or someone else?

Ultimately—anyone at a smaller company typically it will be an owner or manager who assumes the responsibility for marketing in general. If you move into multi-store operators, you get a half-dozen stores, and that business may have a person doing marketing for them.

Most shop owners, whether you’re a single shop or a regional MSO, they’re hiring their weakness. That means they’re hiring companies like us to do it for them.

Here’s the scenario: If you really want to go out and do this right, you might hire multiple companies. You might hire someone for email, a person to handle your website, and another company to work on your mobile solutions.

Or maybe you hire a company to do it all for you. And for the cost of probably one-fourth of what it would cost you to bring a full-time marketing person on.


What if a shop decides they simply don’t have the money to invest in something like that? Are there one or two areas where they can focus on improving?

First and foremost, make sure you have a website that is properly optimized for web searches. That way when someone searches for auto body shops in your area, they find you. The website has to be designed right. It has to have the right codes, and it has to have the appropriate key words for searching in their market. There are a lot of search engine optimization techniques that an expert could use for a website.

In today’s world, a shop’s website is their online lobby. It really is. You need to treat your website like an electronic lobby.

The second thing I would do is I would make sure to build a customer database so I can stay in touch with them over time.

Those are the two main things I would do if I had to pick.

To learn more about the classes, go to

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