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Building a Narrative For Your Body Shop

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April 14, 2022Everybody loves a good story, but what good is a story unless it’s shared? Businesses can have stories too, and when your business’s story is interesting or sets you apart from others, it should be shared with current and potential customers. 

Building a narrative to promote your shop can be a compelling marketing tool, provided you identify the story you want to tell and convey it effectively. 


Defining a Narrative

A narrative is a story about your business. Its primary purpose is to connect with your customers, as well as to differentiate your business from the competition. 

“The average consumer views all body shops the same, even though it’s not the case. Ten years ago, it was more the case than now, but shops are very different now than they were a decade ago,” says Tom Zoebelein, owner of Maryland-based Stratosphere Studio, a content marketing agency for the transportation industry.

Customers make decisions in a variety of ways, and one of them is emotional—do they connect with your shop, with your story? 

“Some customers will choose the path of least resistance and go with the DRP shop, but other customers care about their vehicles. Maybe they’re familiar with a shop, maybe their family member had a car fixed there. If you can get them into the door, the shop owners have the ability to get a customer to buy into the whole narrative of why they do things differently,” Zoebelein says. 

For example, a shop may deliver a level of service that is almost guaranteed to match a manufacturer’s, so they are going to draw customers who value that fact. “The narrative can help attract the customers you want to work with if it’s done right,” he adds. 


Elements of a Good Narrative

Unlike a brand, which is fixed, a narrative is dynamic, because it could change, as it is an unending story. As a business changes and grows, so should its narrative. This dynamic narrative mirrors the collision repair industry, which in itself is dynamic. “If the shops are evolving, the narrative should or will evolve,” Zoebelein says.

In crafting a narrative, Zoebelein notes he would start with the origin story of the company, especially if it’s a multigenerational business. “I would start there; how long the shop has been in business. If it’s not a multigenerational one, I’d start with the owner, their background, and what got them into the business. And then I would probe into the kind of shop it is: DRP, OEM certified, etc.; we can craft a narrative around that.

“Anything that is a passion for the owner should be communicated, because that is what gets them out of bed every day. The shop is very much a reflection of the owner and what they care about. The narrative is the opportunity to tell that story before someone walks through the door. It is sort of the DNA of the business,” Zoebelein continues. 

And regardless of the details of your specific shop’s narrative, there are always certain key points that should be conveyed and somehow intertwined with the messaging.

“Customers care about speed, accuracy, customer service, how they are treated, and how easy it is to perform. No one wants to deal with car accidents, so how do you make it super easy for the customer, even beyond what the insurance company is trying to do for them? If you can make the customer experience really easy, they will recommend you, and that word of mouth will spread,” Zoebelein says. 

And even though your shop may not be on the list of approved shops given to a customer by the insurance company, the goal of the narrative is to get the customer to come to your shop anyway. 


Steps to Creating a Narrative

1. Collaborate with a marketing expert who understands the collision repair industry,  Zoebelein says. Someone familiar with the industry can help you ferret out the key points needed to construct a compelling narrative. 

2. Quantify what it is about your shop that makes you different and to get the customer to understand that not all body shops are created equal. 

3. Ensure your shop’s  narrative make sense to the average person, particularly customers who don’t know how to differentiate one body shop from another. “How do we connect this message with this buyer? How do we get in front of all the Subaru (for example) guys with this information? With all the stuff we know about collision repair, how do you get a customer to understand it quickly?” Zoebelein asks, saying that is a tricky thing. One strategy is creating specific pages on your website that explain where the industry is right now, the dangers of improper repair, things of that nature.  

Then from there, Zoebelein adds, it’s all about marketing. 


Marketing the Narrative

Having an interesting story to tell is only half the battle; the narrative will not serve its purposes if no one is listening. 

That is why twin sisters Adriana and Sabrina Santostefano shout their narrative from as many social media rooftops as possible.

The Santostefano sisters grew up in their grandfather’s auto body shop in Middletown, Connecticut, always finding cars to be fascinating. Knowing that they wanted to be business owners one day, the two earned marketing and communications degrees in college. 

The sisters transitioned into the business in 2013 as their grandfather started the retirement process; in 2015, the two officially became owners of Santostefano Auto Body, which has been in their family since he opened it in 1973.

The sisters’ grandfather did things the old-fashioned way; he did not even have a website. “He did the old school marketing—a church bulletin,” Adriana says.

They knew they had an interesting story to share: how two young females in a male-dominated field came to own a collision shop. But first, they had to win over the trust of their customers, especially as they were something of a unicorn. That’s where the narrative came in handy. “When we stepped in, there was a lot of hesitancy from the community,” Adriana says. 

Pushing back against a perception that they didn’t know what they were doing, they set out to show the community that they, indeed, were capable by taking advantage of as many forms of social media as possible. “It is important to be omnipresent on different platforms,” Sabrina says. The sisters continue to grow their online platforms all the time—Facebook, YouTube, Instagram—drawing upon their narrative time and again so that their customers can learn what sets them apart.

Zoebelein agrees with the strategy. “The customer should be able to find the narrative quickly, and everywhere. “At the very minimum, it should be on your website,” he says, and even on TV, radio or Facebook ads. “Everywhere your name is, it should be—if there’s an opportunity to customize it and craft it, it should be where the storyline goes. Communicate in such a way that a customer can understand it, digest it quickly and make a buying decision.”


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