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What’s in a Name?

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NASCAR sponsorships. make-a-Wish contributions. Multimedia advertising. A strong Web presence. FOX Collision Center, Inc., has incorporated all these community, promotion and advertising efforts into its powerhouse brand, and all have contributed to the high visibility of the FOX name—and its continually increasing revenue stream.

But even more critical to FOX’s branding success are two building blocks that are essential for any branding effort, according to owner/operator Todd Fox: personal relationships and quality of service. It’s like the old adage about trying to build a strong home without a strong foundation, Fox says: “You have to back up your advertising.”

Fox has been part of the collision industry since his youth, when his father and mother owned Service Body Shop, which they started in Wichita, Kan., in 1974. In addition to owning and running the shop, Fox’s dad was also an insurance catastrophe adjustor, and it was in this position that Fox himself first joined the industry. The downside of that job, Fox explained, was the amount of travel required, so when he got married, he decided to buy the business from his father and take over operation of the shop instead.

In 1999, Fox then sold the four-facility family business to The Boyd Group, based in Canada, where he became vice president of U.S. Operations. After two and a half years working primarily with acquisitions and mergers — and further solidifying a foundation of relationships across the industry — Fox decided he wanted to be back in the collision repair business himself. Because he was bound by a non-compete agreement in Wichita, he moved his family to Tulsa, Okla., and opened three FOX Collision Centers there.

Although using one’s own name in the branding of a business is certainly not uncommon, Fox’s decision to do so was a strategic move to build on the relationships he had developed, not only across the collision industry, but also with insurance companies — key customers for any collision repair shop.

“I wanted to leverage these relationships,” Fox says. “In this day and age, the insurance company is very much a customer. We market not just to vehicle owners but to insurance companies as well.”

It’s marketing that is self-taught and gained through “the school of hard knocks,” Fox says. He has no formal training in marketing, and “I’ve never fixed a car in my life,” but through his merger-and-acquisition travel with Boyd, he ran across a fair number of ideas and concepts — some that worked and others that didn’t. “I’ve always enjoyed PR — public relations,” he says. “There’s really no Blockbuster Video of collision repair, so I had to come up with something.”

Fox’s “something” has obviously worked. In the six years since opening his first FOX Collision Center, Fox has built the business to include 18 full-service and satellite body shops in four states — Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma — which now bring in $30 million in annual revenue. “The branding plays a big role in it,” Fox explains. In fact, when he opened his first Kansas City center, he was amazed at the name recognition that was already in place — generated by the branding success of the Tulsa centers more than 240 miles away.

The collision repair business can be a highly competitive one, and Fox sees it becoming more and more so with time. “I think my competition is doing a better job all the time of getting their brands out,” he notes. And what everyone is after is keeping their company’s name top of mind, so when the unplanned happens, theirs is the company potential customers think of calling first. “It’s what everyone is after,” Fox says, “whether they know it or not.”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

One of the relationships Fox developed early on was with DuPont, and it continued to grow as he expanded the FOX business. The DuPont link also brought him into contact with NASCAR and Jeff Gordon, both of which are now an active part of FOX promotional and branding efforts. Gordon, who is a four-time NASCAR champion, has participated in a FOX Collision grand opening in Tulsa and an open house in Wichita, meeting and chatting with fans, signing personalized autographs and significantly raising awareness of the FOX Collision brand.

FOX also sponsored car #92 in Front Row Motorsports in 2005 and 2006. “When it comes to NASCAR, they wrote the book on branding,” Fox says. The sport has an incredibly loyal fan base that tends to be true not only to its drivers and races, but also to its sponsors as well, often creating lucrative branding-investment opportunities for related businesses. “Our partnership with Front Row Motorsports in 2005 provided a tremendous amount of exposure for our collision centers and was a wonderful experience for everyone involved,” Fox explained in a 2006 press release_notes on the sponsorship. “This gives us the chance to connect with the core of our customer base. We look to strengthen our relationship with our existing customers while exposing our business and the services we offer to new and potential customers.”

Building relationships starts the process and brings customers to the door the first time, he notes, but it is customer service and service quality that will solidify a company’s brand with customers and keep them coming back.

QUALITY SERVICE, QUALITY WORK

The tagline on the home page of the FOX Web site alone provides a solid example of incorporating customer service into branding: “So come in, relax and let us take the hassle out of the repair process. That’s what we’re here for.”

“There’s no reason a doctor’s office or lawyer’s office should be any better than an autobody shop’s,” Fox says. “We want to make sure the customer knows we appreciate them and want to have a comfortable place for them to wait.” FOX’s waiting areas, for example, were designed by an interior decorator to be “a part of the total package of services,” not simply construction add-ons. As such, each waiting area includes FOX’s signature “Foxy Coffee,” along with cappuccino, comfortable couches and plasma screen TVs, all of which is simply a part of the FOX mission: “to see that every customer and every car is treated with the utmost in service and care.”

That service and care extends to treatment of the car itself, providing the service quality that Fox believes is such a critical component of his company’s brand. “It can look shiny and nice, but if you don’t have substance, you’re not going to last long,” Fox explains. And in this, as in so many of his branding efforts, Fox is taking service to new levels with the development of the company’s FOX Command Center.

Designed to simplify and verify compliance with specific insurance direct repair programs (DRPs) among all FOX Collision Center facilities, the command center is staffed with experienced industry professionals, each of whom specializes in specific insurance and DRP requirements. Linked to the collision centers via telephone, direct connect and Web and video conferencing, this senior staff communicates with shop personnel and oversees every aspect of DRP compliance, repair-quality verification and billing.

ORGANIC BRANDING: At FOX Collision Centers, branding is a common thread that runs through the entire organization, from the company’s NASCAR sponsorships and facilities design to the quality of its service and its expert-staffed FOX Command Center.

The concept was implemented, Fox says, in order to allow each employee to specialize in the area in which he or she excels. Body shop people, he explains as an example, “are super good at analyzing cars, but don’t necessarily like to grab a keyboard and start typing on it.”

The command center is also used as an integral element of FOX’s branding, particularly as it relates to insurers. “Insurance agents come in from all over to view our command center,” Fox says. But even this circles back to the initial aspect of relationship building. “If we didn’t have the reputation, we wouldn’t have been given the chance to try out these new things,” he says. Because Fox had built the relationship and trust with the insurers, they were willing to keep an open mind with FOX Collision Centers’ innovative program and even visit to gain a better understanding.

In addition to the central command center, FOX has also developed a Mobile Command Center, enabling the company to “mobilize when disaster strikes” by taking its inspection, adjustor and even paintless dent repair services on the road — providing further branding opportunities as the big blue FOX Collision truck makes its way across the states.

ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION

Only after the necessary relationships are established and the quality service is in place can a business really begin to focus on what most people think of as the crux of branding: advertising and promotion. And, in fact, if all is done right, a business can already be well on its way here with little additional effort. Witness the innate promotion FOX attained through its DuPont/NASCAR relationship, its Mobile Command Center and the word-of-mouth buzz that preceded the collision center in its Kansas City expansion.

But Fox did not stop with such built-in promotions. He continues to build the FOX brand through multimedia, a strong Web presence and community giving.

Fox utilizes all forms of media in his advertising and promotion efforts, believing that they work hand-in-hand and that the combination of print, broadcast and even word-of-mouth provides the greatest branding potential. Add to this the opportunities of the Internet, and you have branding possibilities that far exceed anything in the past. “In this day and age, you absolutely have to have [an Internet presence],” Fox says. “It’s stronger than 20 years ago when you had to be in the Yellow Pages.”

So Foxcollision.com has been in place for four years, and the site offers customers the ability to view their vehicle repair online: Click “See your vehicle;” select the location where your vehicle is being serviced; click on your ID number, and see photos of your vehicle being repaired — with time and date stamps, and enlargeable photos for detail. But FOX has not stopped there — the site is currently being redesigned to add more flash and “utilize some of the cool Java that’s out there,” Fox says.

In addition, Fox has found awareness-building opportunities through community development and giving, such as the company’s contribution to one of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s most unique requests: a youngster’s clubhouse in a bus. To fulfill the request from a 12-year-old autistic boy in Collinsville, Okla., who had drawn up plans for exactly what he wanted, FOX gutted, cleaned and customized an old bus acquired by the foundation. FOX added new rims and tires, fresh paint and chairs, couches, tables, video games and an air conditioner. Says Fox: “You’re not only doing a good thing, but it is good PR.”

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