Running a Shop

The Keys to Retaining Customers

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Every December, Dave Rush sends out 6,000 Christmas cards. For the most part, those mailings are inspired by the body shop owner’s desire to retain customers for years to come.

Rush, the president of D&M Auto Body in Rockaway, N.J., never wants to lose a customer to a large consolidator. So, he’s doing his part to make sure customers know that their business is appreciated.

“I do not want to sell [to consolidators]. Hopefully, by retaining my existing customers as best I can, I can retain work,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ve done such a good job at protecting my customers, and retaining my customers, that they want to come back here.

“Hopefully, if a consolidator does open up in my area, we’ll be able to minimize the loss of sales.”

Earlier in his career, Rush’s shop was actually affiliated with CARSTAR, as he spoke with FenderBender about in a 2013 article (

But Rush wasn’t comfortable taking frequent instructions from a large company’s upper management, so, in 2006, he broke free from his CARSTAR contract. While Rush’s business took a step back initially 13 years ago, it’s growing now; D&M brought in $3 million in annual revenue in 2006 and, by 2018, reeled in nearly $6 million.

And it’s largely due to that concerted effort to retain customers, Rush says. The keys to building customer loyalty are many, he notes—ranging from free T-shirts with every repair, to sending holiday cards to every customer from the past eight years.

FenderBender recently caught up with Rush—whose shop has a 95.4 percent CSI score and three DRP relationships—and gleaned his extensive suggestions for customer retention.  

Maintain your facility’s appearance.

One key to earning repeat customers: keeping up with the Joneses. If your competitors possess glossy store fronts or attention-grabbing signage, you need to keep pace. Rush essentially accomplished that through a recent addition to his shop.

In 2014, the facility nearly doubled in size, swelling to 13,500 square feet, an addition that provided far more room for parts storage, a detail area, and a more ideal parking configuration.

“We’ve grown $500,000 per year in sales since then,” Rush says. “We were doing about $3.5 million per year out of our building, and we couldn’t do any more; we were booked two months out. Now we can grow because we have room to grow.”

Utilize a marketing company.

Of the 140 vehicles D&M works on per month, Rush estimates 60 percent belong to repeat customers. The owner credits much of that to the work of Phoenix Marketing Solutions, which helps make sure consumers remember D&M even long after they visited the facility.

Many of D&M’s customers, according to Rush “have already been here once. We have such a good, loyal customer base because we’re marketing them every six months. Our customers get a letter every six months telling them we love them still, and, if they have any problems, come back. ... I think that really develops a loyalty from our customers.”

Market yourself through certifications.

In recent months, Rush has taken steps to get his shop certified by eight different vehicle brands. By paying to be certified—and investing in the requisite tools, equipment, and employee training—Rush is confident customers will view his shop in a positive light.

“Tesla is doing well for us,” he says. And “I look at [certifications] as marketing. Hopefully, manufacturers get better at controlling their vehicle owners, directing them to their certified collision facilities.”

Get advice from your 20 Group.

Over his last 35 years in the industry, nothing has helped Rush more than his affiliations with 20 Groups, he says. Currently he’s part of an Axalta 20 Group, and he appreciates how such meetings of the mind help him stay on top of current customer trends, for example.

“I’ve always, my whole career, had a 20 Group to exchange ideas with, and keep my finger on what’s going on in the industry,” Rush says. “You bounce stuff off of each other. It takes a couple years of being in the group to get the trust of everybody, because you’re talking about your numbers, your finances, everything.”

But, Rush adds, “20 Groups are like AA for body shop owners; they’re awesome, and you learn a lot.”

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