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The Wonders of Web 2.0

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This spring, Laura Bertolli, president of Bertolli’s Auto Body Shop Inc. in San Rafael, Calif., put out an invitation on her shop’s Facebook and MySpace Web pages for a promotional barbecue. More than 30 customized cars showed up at the shop, which last year added a custom division to its collision repair business. There was a photo shoot, then the cars caravanned out to the beach.

“People were asking if this was a car show, and everyone was checking out each other’s cars,” Bertolli says. “It was kinda fun.” In order to bolster interest in the new custom side of her 30-year-old collision repair shop, Bertolli last year started using social networking Internet sites like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. She blogs on Blogspot, and sends out regular emails to customers telling them about car shows and other events she and her shop are participating in. Her shop’s Web site, bertollis.com, is stylish and easy to navigate, and it has video and links to the shop’s blog. She says that while the Internet is a part of her shop’s marketing and advertising strategy, she thinks of the blog more as a way to reach out to her audience.

“I’ve met a lot more people [than I would have otherwise] and they’re coming from a bigger area,” she says. “It’s drawing a bigger crowd and it’s more customer-based.”

The automotive industry can’t continue to ignore the Internet’s importance in reaching out to new customers, and in holding on to existing ones, says David Butler, owner of Butler Consulting. Butler’s company, based in Dallas-Fort Worth, is an Internet advisor to the automotive industry. “If you don’t have a presence [online] you’re going to lose what you’ve got,” Butler says. “It’s one of the most inexpensive forms of advertising and it’s one of the most efficient ways to market your goods and services.”

START WITH A WEB SITE

The foundation of good Internet use is a dynamic, user-friendly Web site, Butler says.

Bertolli started her Web site more than 10 years ago, so she was well ahead of the curve in Internet use for her business. She said that for a long time, she was one of the few collision repair shops with a Web site. “I’ve been online forever,” she says. “I love my computer. My whole business is computerized.”

To build her current Web site, she did a trade with a customer who is a Web designer. Now, one of her estimators who has computer skills spends two hours a day maintaining her Internet presence. She says the Internet component is part of his job description. “You have to give it a little attention,” says Bertolli, who continues to advertise in the Yellow Pages and on cable television.
Butler says keeping things current on a shop’s Web site is crucial to using the Internet wisely.

“This technology is really dependent on the commitment the [shop owner] has to updating the information,” says Butler, who recommends dedicating a worker to that task, as Bertolli has done. It’s important that the shop owner or operator also understand the procedures for updating the Web site. “Turnover is pretty good in the car industry,” Butler says. “We don’t want them to have to call us up every time someone leaves.”

 

ADD SOCIAL NETWORKING

The social networking component of a shop’s Internet presence can supplement the existing Web site. Bertolli says the social networking component supports the custom side of her shop well. Her company’s custom division is called B Customs.

“The MySpace crowd is people who are on car forums. They’re modifying their cars; they’re in car shows. It’s a whole culture I’ve tapped into,” she says. “These are people who love cars. For these people, cars aren’t just transportation. These are people who live and breathe cars.”

Bertolli estimates that in the seven months she’s been using social networking sites, her custom shop has gotten probably 10 jobs because of it. She anticipates this number will increase as word gets around. The B Customs side of the business currently brings in about 5 percent of the shop’s sales. Bertolli would like to see that increase to 50 percent, and she says her social networking strategy is a big part of that plan.

“In business we all just try this new stuff and hope for the best,” Bertolli says. “That’s where I’m at with this right now. Plus it’s really fun.”
The social networking aspect of Bertolli’s Internet strategy has also helped her collision repair shop. She started blogging in 2005 and put up her first MySpace page in 2006, when her shop was still solely focused on collision repair. She also goes on car forums and joins online car groups to network with other people in the business.

“It’s a good way to keep your name in front of people,” she says. “You’ll be the one they think of [when they need work done on their car]. Then they’ll tell their friends. It’s all [supporting word-of-mouth marketing.”]

Bertolli has also connected with her customers in a very personal way through her social networking sites. In August 2007, her five-month-old nephew died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and she posted a raw and emotional blog entry about it. Bertolli says that, while she’s now considering taking that very personal post down, many customers have reached out to her about the tragedy.
“People have opened up to me” after reading the blog, she says. “Maybe it makes them trust me more, that I’m willing to share something like that.”

RULES OF THE GAME

There are some important things to remember when using social networking sites to help bolster business.

• Keep the message consistent.“All the uninformed people are turning informed very quickly” thanks to the Internet, Butler says. “You can’t have one message out there for the suckers and one for the informed people.” Having different messages in your television ad and on your Web site compromises your credibility.

• Post only relevant information.“I was doing some research on YouTube the other day and I saw one dealer who had a video of himself standing there with two Penthouse Playmates, and I thought, ‘What does this have to do with selling cars?’” Butler says. “Just because you stick something out there doesn’t mean it’ll help you sell.”

• Blog. “The big boys in blogging are quickly becoming industry experts,” Butler points out. “It’s one of the best ways to credit your account.”
Using social networking sites is a good way to keep contact with existing customers, while a solid Web site is what will attract new customers, Butler says. “People go on MySpace and Facebook to meet people. They’re not looking for goods and services.”
Building loyalty among existing customers who have already had contact with the shop is what social networking sites can be used for, he says.

The most important thing is to not be afraid of the technology. “Just go for it,” Bertolli says. “It doesn’t cost anything, and it might be fun. It’s a good way to showcase your work, and it gets your name out there. It adds credibility with the younger crowd that you’re tech savvy.”

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