Branding Your Shop on a Budget
Brandon Gary, general manager and owner of Champions Collision Center in Houston, says his shop operated for years without having any branding strategy in place. The shop didn’t even have a logo.
As a result, nobody knew what the shop was or what kind of work it performed. The shop was even positioned along a major thoroughfare in Houston with huge amounts of traffic. But potential customers kept driving right past.
Champions Collision Center moved to a new location in 2001. Gary’s new spot had much less traffic than the highly traveled thoroughfare, so he knew something had to be done to get people to recognize his business.
Gary created a logo, slogan and website. He put signs along the road, which included the new logo and slogan.
That helped project a much more professional image, Gary says. “Consumers took notice, and started to become more comfortable with us.”
Insurers noticed, too. Gary landed four new DRP agreements within one year of putting those basic branding techniques in place.
Branding is an idea that’s often associated with big, multi-shop operators. But even small shops can project a big business image with some simple branding strategies. Doing so will help your shop build consumer awareness, increase your credibility, and, ultimately, increase traffic to your door.
— Rhonda Hiltbrand, chief operating officer, NWZ WORX
That’s what Gary experienced. More walk-in customers and increased insurer referrals helped Champion’s Collision Center more than double its annual revenue—from $1.5 million to $3.5 million.
“We’re now in an area with less traffic, but we’re getting more business,” Gary says.
“Establishing a unique brand is of the utmost importance,” says Norm Angrove, senior manager of value-added programs for PPG Industries.
The collision repair industry has more capacity for repairs than there is work to go around, Angrove says, so shop owners must do something to differentiate their business from the competition.
“You need to have a branded company so that you’re recognizable to consumers,” says Rhonda Hiltbrand, chief operating officer of NWZ WORX, an automotive marketing company in Cincinnati. “Consumers get more than 6,000 marketing messages everyday. They shouldn’t have to think too hard about who you are and what you can do for them.”
Branding gives consumers another way of remembering your business, too. Consumers associate colors and images with businesses just as much as the name of the business, Hiltbrand says.
Take McDonalds, for example, she adds. Most American consumers don’t actually need to see a McDonalds sign once they see the restaurant’s golden arches towering in the sky.
That same idea applies to the collision industry. In fact, Hiltbrand argues that branding is even more important for repairers. “People don’t use collision repair shops regularly like they do with other retail stores,” she says. “Shop owners need to work even harder to create consumer awareness so their business is top of mind when consumers actually need their services.”
Branding is about giving your business a consistent look. The key is to keep your branding materials clean, simple and easy. Here are a few basic elements:
• Choose the right company name. Many shop owners create business names that don’t tell consumers what they do, Hiltbrand says. For example, some shops use the word “garage” in their name. That can be confusing to customers because it’s so generic. “Garage” could refer to a mechanical shop, or even a place to park their cars.
The name of your business should be unique, relevant to your community and clearly let people know what kind of work you do, Hiltbrand says.
And don’t try to be clever by spelling your company name in a weird way. That makes it harder for people to find your shop online.
• Create a logo. Your logo will become the face of your company in the community. Make sure to incorporate the name of your business in your logo. Keep it clean, uncluttered and simple. Don’t use more than three colors, Hiltbrand says.
• Develop a slogan or tagline. Your slogan should be built on the mission of your business, Angrove says. You should identify what differentiates your shop from the competition, and develop your slogan around that idea.
Gary’s mission is to build trust with customers and business partners. He developed a simple slogan: “A lifetime of trust.”
“Your slogan is an opportunity to explain your company’s values to customers and the community,” Gary says.
• Have a proper website URL. People do a lot of research online before they bring their vehicle to a shop for repair, Hiltbrand says. Your Web address should be as close to your business name as possible to make it quick and easy for customers to find you on the Internet.
There are many companies and graphic designers that can help you create these materials, Hiltbrand says. For about $500, you can hire a marketing company to create several logo and slogan designs for you to choose from.
Gary used a company called FASTSIGNS to design his logo. He only spent $200. You can find more information on FASTSIGNS at fastsigns.com.
Put It to Use
Once you’ve created branding materials for your shop, you have to strategically put them into action. The goal is to get your brand images and colors noticed as much as possible.
But where should your branding elements be used? In short, your logo, slogan and color scheme should appear on everything you do to create consistency throughout your shop.
“Your shop’s branding materials should be plastered everywhere, especially on everything that customers see,” Hiltbrand says.
• Identity program. Your brand should be printed on your stationery, business cards, headers on estimates, headers on repair orders, and any other paper material your customer receives, Angrove says. This means that all of your business letters and thank you notes should be printed on paper with a branded letterhead in your company’s colors.
• Signage and advertisements. Many shop operators create signs and banners that have nothing to do with their brand image or colors, Hiltbrand says. All of your signage should match your logo design.
• Facility colors. Paint the interior and exterior of your building to match the color scheme of your branding design, Hiltbrand says. That’s important to help consumers associate particular colors with your business.
• Social media. Include your logo and slogan on your Facebook page. Use your logo as your Twitter photo. And make sure your Twitter handle matches the name of your business as closely as possible, Hiltbrand says.
• Website. Your logo, slogan and color scheme should be used on every page of your website.
— Norm Angrove, senior manager of value-added programs, PPG Industries
• Phone and email. Your company name and slogan should be present on telephone answering machines, and included as a footer in your email interactions.
Don’t forget to include your business name as part of your email address, Hiltbrand says.
• Employee-customer interaction. Employee conversations with customers can affect how customers perceive your brand as well. Your staff needs to incorporate your brand during interactions with customers. For example, your staff should include your slogan in their greeting when they answer the telephone, Angrove says.
Built on Values
Branding is more than images and slogans you create for marketing purposes. Your brand is built on your company’s values. Clearly, it’s important to follow through with the quality image your brand portrays once customers come through the door of your shop.
“Branding is a commitment to elevating the customer experience,” Angrove says, adding, “Customers will always remember how you made them feel, and that’s part of branding.”
Since Gary’s shop is branded on the theme of trust, that has become his main focus everyday in the shop. For example, every front office employee wears a suit and tie, which Gary says helps build trust with customers dropping off their vehicles.
— Rhonda Hiltbrand, chief operating officer, NWZ WORX
Insurers have also taken notice of Gary’s efforts. Insurance partners regularly call Gary to ask for his opinion on how they should handle a client’s claim. Gary says he strives to always give them an honest answer, even if his opinion doesn’t benefit his shop.
“Everything we do with customers and insurance partners relates back to our slogan of building trust,” Gary says. “Our slogan helps get customers in the door, and our follow-through keeps them coming back to the shop.”
A Legitimate Shop
Although they’re simple, putting these tactics to use will get you noticed by customers. It’s one way to run a more professional business—and customers expect that from you.
“Consumers consider branded companies to be more credible and legitimate than ones that aren’t,” Hiltbrand says. Customers and insurance companies feel more comfortable with branded companies because those businesses portray a higher quality image.
But you have to commit to this for the long haul to be effective, Angrove says. You can’t just create a logo and slogan and expect a huge volume of customers to come knocking on your door. It takes time to create brand awareness in your community. Another note: You have to be consistent.
You can’t do this for a while and then suddenly stop, Hiltbrand says. Consumers will think you’ve gone out of business if you stop branding, and that defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.
“Consistency helps customers perceive you as a business of integrity and quality,” Gary says. “They recognize when you operate on a more professional level. And that’s how you gain market share.”