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Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

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When an insurance agent approached Dave Finkelstein last fall about donating money to the local Boy Scouts, he wanted to do more than simply hand over a check. In September, the owner of Golden State Collision Centers launched the auto body shop’s first Boy and Girl Scouts month. A fixed monetary donation was made to the scouts for every car repaired at each of the company’s five California locations. The collision center—which has 85 employees and $15 million in annual revenue—raised $5,200 for the cause in September.

In addition to raising funds for the local scouts, Finkelstein hoped the event might boost sales by drawing in more business from the local community. It worked. In September, Golden State experienced its highest sales month of the year, up 20 percent from the previous month. Better still, the shop’s philanthropy helped establish a better connection—and better brand awareness—with the community. “It gets [people] to see us in a different light,” Finkelstein says. “This is a way to give back. It’s more than just a revenue goal for the company.”

PROGRAM LAUNCH

To successfully launch Boy and Girl Scouts month, Finkelstein dedicated a full-time marketing person to help raise awareness for the event. “She devoted at least 80 hours to this, if not more,” he says. All other marketing efforts came to a halt. “For that particular window of time, we abandoned the shop-specific marketing and focused specifically on the Scouts marketing,” Finkelstein says. “It was definitely a call to action for that time period.” Golden State dedicated August to publicizing the event.

Golden State spends 2 to 3 percent of its gross monthly sales on marketing. If monthly sales hit $1 million, for example, Finkelstein allocates approximately $30,000 for marketing efforts. Leading up to Boy and Girl Scouts month, nearly all that money was allocated to the budget dedicated to getting the word out about the donation program. While Finkelstein says measuring the precise return on investment for the event is difficult, he anticipates that he’ll see a return on his marketing efforts months or even years in the future (the idea being that folks will continue to share the news with friends and family and boost Golden State’s potential customer base).

“You have to know—whatever program you
decide on—if the results are coming to fruition.”
—Dave Finkelstein, owner, Golden State Collision Centers

To get the word out, Finkelstein first issued a press release_notes to the local media. It was sent to newspapers and the Chamber of Commerce. He then hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house at the shop’s newest location in Yuba City. Local scouts were invited to attend the event, and Finkelstein says it was one of the most effective ways to inform the community. Members of the local media and the Chamber of Commerce attended. The big crowd created great buzz for the event, and ultimately, for the month-long fundraising effort.
Additionally, Golden State invested in TV and radio ads to help folks learn about Boy and Girl Scouts month. Finkelstein spent about $1,000 advertising on a local radio station. News about the event was announced several times throughout each day. He also spent about $7,000 in August on TV ads. He chose a local network that ran the commercial for the entire month.

SMART MARKETING

Finkelstein’s efforts paid off in dividends. Golden State repaired over 500 cars during the month of September. He attributes the shop’s success to smart marketing strategies:

Know your audience. Finkelstein says it’s important to know what type of marketing approach will work best, given the demographics of your local community. “A person who specializes in Mercedes or Porsches is probably going to [market] differently than someone who fixes Toyotas and Hondas.” For example, he says a collision center that repairs mostly luxury cars may choose to market their event in travel magazines, art galleries or musical events. An auto body shop working mostly on economy cars, however, may target local grade schools, coupon booklets or soccer matches.

Mind your budget. Be realistic, or even conservative, about how much money you can invest in a marketing plan. “Decide what you can commit to on an ongoing basis,” Finkelstein says. “Don’t throw whatever the amount is out on a one-time monthly deal. If it’s a $500 budget, stick with it. Be consistent. That is key.” Stretching your financial resources too thin may cause you to have to abruptly end a worthwhile event.

Track the results. Establishing your return on investment is crucial. “You have to know—whatever program you decide on—if the results are coming to fruition,” Finkelstein says. “You need to ask every customer who walks through your door how they heard about you.” He followed his own advice last September, asking every customer if he or she had stopped in because they had heard about the Boy and Girl Scouts program, and tracking their responses. You don’t want your marketing efforts to end up in a black hole, he says, so it’s critical to ask your customers why they chose your particular auto body shop.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Finkelstein says Golden State chose to donate to the Scouts so the proceeds could be used to help rehab some of their local camps. He also hoped to establish better relationships with community members who had children in the Boy and Girl Scouts.

Hosting the event proved to be a great way to promote a positive image of Golden State. “It helps build our brand awareness, rather than just throwing a TV commercial out there [about our quality],” Finkelstein says. “It helps build stronger ties with the community. We’re not just a business out there sucking revenue from the community.” Those strong ties have meant bigger business for the collision center.

LOOKING AHEAD

Next year, Golden State plans to market Boy and Girl Scouts month two months ahead of time, working through local schools and scouts camps to get the word out. The collision center will also notify insurers and other regular contacts to help increase awareness. Finkelstein says the goal is to exceed last fall’s donation of $5,200. As the program continues to grow, he hopes it will help strengthen repeat and referral business as well.

Finkelstein says the benefits of philanthropy are two-fold. “Anytime you can give back to the community, it’s good for publicity, and it’s personally rewarding.”

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