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For a customer living in western Illinois, have you tried Gator Sauce? Well, Dave Dunn says that once a customer tries this one-of-a-kind hot sauce, the likelihood of that person visiting his shop is much higher.

So, how can a hot sauce drive traffic to the body shop? Because customers can taste it in many places but only purchase it in one place: Dave’s Auto Body in Galesburg, Ill.

When customers are not in Dunn’s shop, they might see the name of the shop wherever they go. The sauce sits on tables and countertops in various restaurants, taco joints and bars around town. The name of Dunn’s signature cajun hot sauce is plastered across the bottle.

And that’s the beauty of Gator Sauce: It’s a way for Dunn’s shop to remain top of mind with customers—customers who might only visit his shop once every seven years.

For Dunn, it’s all about organic growth and becoming a wants-based business, rather than simply a needs-based one.

Another example of this: his shop’s Detail for Life program, a loyalty program to get a person coming back to the shop as a long-term and loyal customer. By offering free details after a repair for a certain amount of time, the program ensures customers come back with other cars they purchased in their lifetimes as a new detail customer.  

He opened a body shop when he was 22 years old and then expanded to doing body shop consulting when he reached his ’40s. He says it is more important to focus on gaining the customer’s relationship with the shop for a service other than basic collision repair. Dunn will hand out roughly 5,000 hot sauce bottles per year, and each bottle is free, he says.

“It’s important for [body shop owners] to stay in the game as far as creating some type of mind or brain tattoo,” he says.

Dunn details what to keep in mind when making a loyalty program for your shop that is not centered around major discounts for the customers.

As told to Melissa Steinken


Keep in Mind: You want a wants-based customer.

The collision repair industry is a needs-based industry. Customers enter the shop every 7–8 years on average because they need to get their car repaired. First things first, you need to turn the mindset of offering a needs-based service into wanting to offer a want-based service.

The goal is to ultimately bring the customer back into the shop for reasons outside the realm of collision repair. For us, it’s Gator Sauce. People see it and have it available to them for free. They think it’s odd for a body shop to have a hot sauce and then the only place they can find it is at our shop.


Keep in Mind: Offer a benefit but no extra hook.

Make sure the service in your new loyalty program is one that is offered with no strings attached.

The result will be almost half the people coming back to your shop religiously and the other half completely forgetting. But, you need to remember to offer customers services that entice them but do not trap them into doing business.

People are very wary of being hooked into a service. It is essential to build loyalty in a few customers rather than try gaining a large quantity of customers from the start.


Keep in Mind: The best customer to market to is one who has had an experience with you.

The No. 1 reason I’ve found that makes people want to do business is if the company is one in which the customer knows someone who works there.

I host the Run Galesburg Run event every year to get people to recognize my shop’s name. Thus, charity events alone show the community that my employees and I care for them.


Keep in Mind: Discounting the repair is foolishly spending dollars.

On average, people will own their vehicle one to two years after it was repaired. Based off this statistic, I decided to invest in a program that I trademarked as Detail for Life.

Every customer that comes into the shop, and has his or her car repaired then receives a free detail service for the car. We make sure to not offer a bait and switch program but to fully include what the service offers and does not offer. About one in four times, people purchase an additional service when they come in for the detail. The service is valid up to three to four times per year, for as long as the customer owns the vehicle.

After making this program and my hot sauce marketing one, my shop now produces $5.5 million in annual revenue. And, that number does not include the sales from the detail department.

Stop thinking about spending dollars and start thinking in terms of community engagement.


Keep in Mind: Charitable loyalty programs take off on their own.

Loyalty programs that focus on giving back to the community are meant to capture people that have already started to develop a relationship with your shop.

My shop does about 500 details per month and works on roughly 200 cars per month. We’ve noticed even in this itty bitty town that the programs pay off. There is no other body shop producing $5 million per year in Galesburg, Ill.


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