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Recently, a potential customer came into All Line CARSTAR Auto Body in Bolingbrook, Ill. Her vehicle, which had been in a parking lot fender bender, was drivable, but needed nearly $2,000 worth of repairs on the bumper cover, headlight and fender. She had insurance, but was unable to afford the $500 deductible she had to pay out-of-pocket.

The woman was considering holding off on the repair, since the vehicle was still in drivable condition. But Courtney Hartwell, an appraiser at All Line, told the woman about a line-of-credit option the shop offers for situations like hers. The customer applied for credit through a GE Money program called CarCareOne. She was approved for a $1,000 line of credit with no interest for six months through the program. The repairs were a go.

“We may have lost that sale if we weren’t able to offer that program,” Hartwell says. She’s seen many people postpone a repair until they can save enough money. When a customer holds off on a repair, there is no guarantee they will come back, says Hartwell.

“Word gets out that you’re a service provider that has options available, and people seek you out as a shop that is able to help them in their time of need."
— Jim Maliszewski, director of program management and centralized support at Skokie, Ill-based Gerber Collision & Glass

Shop owners that offer line-of-credit programs such as CarCareOne say those programs allow customers to get the repairs they need, increase customer loyalty and prevent potential sales from walking out the door.

The Deductible Dilemma

A recent report by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) predicted that the number of uninsured U.S. motorists will rise to 16.1 percent this year, up from 13.8 percent in 2007. In some Southern states, the outlook for uninsured motorists exceeds 25 percent. The drop in the employment rate is to blame, according to the IRC. Insurers are reporting that a high percentage of policyholders are dropping collision and comprehensive coverage on older vehicles in order to save on their monthly premiums, according to the report.

The result: higher deductibles for some, and total responsibility for repair costs for others—payments drivers are typically not prepared for.

Jim Maliszewski, director of program management and centralized support at Skokie, Ill-based Gerber Collision & Glass, says he has seen a growing percentage of people with $500 or $1,000 deductibles. “After a collision, our customers often have concern over how they’re going to afford to restore their vehicle,” Maliszewski says.

Offering lines of credit such as CarCareOne can help customers get their cars fixed immediately—and allow your shop to do the work.

Rick Koespner, general manager of Gerber Collision & Glass in Downers Grove, Ill., says CarCareOne brings in up to $4,800 of additional revenue each month. Koespner’s customers use the program about eight times each month, with average bills around $600.

“It’s a great benefit for people who are in a situation where they cannot cover the deductible,” says Koespner. “We offer the program to just about everybody who comes in.”

CarCareOne is a private label credit program which brands credit cards to the specific business offering the program. CarCareOne is specific to the automotive industry, and provides consumers a line of credit up to $5,000 to purchase any automotive repair, part or product. Currently, 450 collision repair shops accept CarCareOne, and nearly two million consumers have a CarCareOne line of credit.

Hartwell says having her shop’s name on the credit card does help build brand awareness. “When customers get the card from us, it says CARSTAR on it,” she says. “We’ve definitely had people come back as a result.”

John Howard, automotive industry marketing manager for GE Money, says that consumers who have an exclusive line of credit at a particular retailer tend to spend up to 30 percent more than customers who don’t have that retailer’s card.

CarCareOne charges shops about the same amount as credit card companies. CARSTAR pays CarCareOne 2.3 percent of the amount of the repair charges financed by the program. CarCareOne charges depend on the terms of its agreement with each shop, says Nicole Johnson, a spokeswoman for the company. Visit gemoney.com for more information on the program.

Using the Program Right

For shops that offer a line-of-credit program—or whose operators are considering it—here are a few tried-and-true tactics shops have used to get sales.

• Use your new offering to distinguish yourself from your competitors. “Word gets out that you’re a service provider that has options available, and people seek you out as a shop that is able to help them in their time of need,” Maliszewski says. “It helps drive a higher level of customer satisfaction, retention and referral.”

• Promote the product whenever a customer expresses financial concerns. “There are a lot of people who have good intentions of saving money for that repair,” Maliszewski says, “but there are a lot of other things competing for that money too—other bills and obligations.”

• Offer to perform additional services for customers at the time of their visit. “Most people involved in a collision have pre-existing damage,” Maliszewski says. Door dings and scratches aren’t critical, but some drivers will take advantage of the fact that their car is already in the shop, and add the work on to the necessary list of repairs. Access to six months of interest-free financing doesn’t hurt either, he says.

• Make the sale when the customer is still in the shop. Don’t let them leave; they might not come back. “Every week, we have customers come in to get an estimate for a repair, but say they need to wait until they have all the money together to do so,” Maliszewski says. The problem is, Hartwell says, it’s impossible to know whether they’ll return for the repair once they’ve walked out the door.

Gaining Customer Loyalty

“Customer loyalty is the number one pillar of the program,” says Scott Schwalm, GE Money’s relationship manager of the automotive aftermarket industry. “Having a customer put a piece of plastic in their wallet that they can use again and again drives repeat sales.”

Hartwell agrees. One woman came into Hartwell’s shop and was paying out-of-pocket for her repairs. She applied for the card in order to spread the payment over a few months. She has been back multiple times, fixing dents and scratches that aren’t worth making insurance claims for, Hartwell says. Those are repairs—and sales—the shop might otherwise never have made.

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