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Developing and executing a marketing plan is no easy task. It requires significant research, planning, budgeting, reviewing and tracking to create a successful annual program. That can be stressful and time-consuming, especially for shop operators who don’t have a history in the craft and are short on time.

And most don’t, says collision industry marketing expert Robert Rick, president of RR & Custom Solutions. Most shop owners have solid technical skills, but lack a sales and marketing background.

That’s a problem, he says, because the repair industry is shrinking. Those who want to survive have to put on a marketing hat to sell their products. Without training, doing that right is tough. Shops have difficulty researching their target audience, developing fresh techniques and allocating their dollars for the best possible return. That means marketing budgets are often spent haphazardly, without precise thought or methods to track results.
If you’re finding that your marketing plan needs some retooling, or that you just don’t have time to learn, it might be time to outsource the effort.

Rick says marketing agencies help owners understand their businesses on another level, using tools, systems and work standards to maintain, sustain and build out profitable operations.

“People buy tools and systems to help run their businesses better all the time. [Outsourced marketing] is the same way,” Rick says. “They offer a buffet of information that can improve your marketing efforts.”

Outsourcing comes with a price, but there are affordable options available, and the return from professional efforts should make the investment worth it.

FenderBender tapped one independent shop that successfully outsources marketing efforts to find out why he did it, and how it has benefitted his business. 

Direct repair programs were squeezing profits and putting pressure on Prestige Auto Body in Manchester, N.H. Owner Dave Ludwig didn’t want to let insurers have that control over his business, so he opted to increase his marketing to reduce reliance on insurer referrals.

The problem is that marketing isn’t Ludwig’s area of expertise. After meeting with his 20 Group in 2011, he realized there were several aspects of marketing that he wasn’t proficient at. For example, his peers mentioned that his logo could use an update—it didn’t include a motto and failed to explain what the business was.

In addition, there were new marketing components that Ludwig wanted to implement—most notably, social media, search engine optimization and Internet campaigns—but he didn’t have the know-how to get them off the ground.

“That’s just not my thing at my age. To do a good job with those mediums, you have to spend time on it, understand it and use it habitually,” Ludwig says. “That kind of thing is not my specialty.”

Ludwig, who had been doing all of the shop’s marketing himself, didn’t have time to learn and revamp his marketing strategy. He needed help. Knowing that hiring a full-time, in-house marketing employee would cost roughly $40,000 plus benefits, he opted to outsource the effort instead.

What the Agency Does

LTD Company now manages most of Ludwig’s marketing efforts. They organize budgets, creative development, public relations, direct mailings and ROI tracking. Every month, the agency is charged with presenting at least one new marketing idea to Ludwig to keep things fresh.

“All of our shop’s marketing strategies run through them. If I have an idea, it goes through them,” Ludwig says of LTD.

The Improvements

Ludwig says LTD has improved his marketing plan and execution in several ways. They’ve brought several ideas and results to the table that Ludwig couldn’t have achieved on his own:

• Media attention. Ludwig says the agency has built-in connections with local media outlets. They know who to reach out to, and how to do it appropriately, to get the business noticed in those local mediums.

“That saves me from spending a lot of time making contact lists and keeping them updated,” Ludwig says, noting the agency has helped him get business events and announcements covered in various newspapers, trade magazines and through the Better Business Bureau.

• Market Intelligence. Ludwig says the agency knows what works and what doesn’t with various types of communities and target audiences. He says that saves time and money up front, before resources are wasted on things that won’t generate returns.

• Consumer Research. Ludwig says the agency is able to provide proof to back up their marketing advice. For example, they can provide him with verified research to illustrate the values and mentalities of certain target audiences. That’s allowed Ludwig to develop more strategic messages to various customer segments.

“In this business, I’m marketing to populations who don’t think like I do. We all have a paradigm as to what we value. Sometimes what I value is not what my target audience values,” Ludwig says, noting that can derail your marketing efforts if not recognized. “So [the agency] helps take you out of your own world and think outside the box.”

• Audience Development. Ludwig knew the exact audience he wanted to target, but didn’t know how to reach them. The agency helped him acquire and maintain specific direct mailing lists to save time and money.

• Rates. Ludwig says owners without marketing knowledge can sometimes get taken for a ride regarding costs. In the past, he didn’t always know what reasonable rates should be for various things, and commonly overpaid.

The agency has acquired lower bulk mailing rates on direct mailers to insurers and consumers. It also negotiated lower rates on the shop’s billboard advertisements.

“They prevent me from paying more than I should, which I otherwise wouldn’t know,” Ludwig says. “They know how much things should cost, and who to go to for better pricing.”

• Professionalism. All of the shop’s marketing materials must be clean, precise and branded in order to impress.

Without training in design development, Ludwig says it’s difficult to create materials that properly brand the company in a way that reflects who he is and the image he wants to display.

“Their work is much more professional than anything I could have come up with. They have professionals who know how to edit things and put them together,” Ludwig says. “That has raised my level of professionalism and increased our name recognition in the public.”

The Return

“There’s no question that [the cost] is worth it,” Ludwig says. “They have helped me initiate several programs that I otherwise would not have known how to get off the ground.” And they’ve done it without consuming his time, too.

Ludwig says he spent at least six hours a week researching, learning and working on his marketing plan in the past.

Now, he only spends 30 to 60 minutes—and most of that is spent approving or tweaking new ideas presented by the agency.

He has hours of extra time every week to focus on other business-building initiatives.

“This has freed up a significant amount of my time. In my leadership position, I have enough on my plate and several duties I’ve kept to myself. This has allowed me to focus time on those other areas that I enjoy doing,” Ludwig says. “It relieves a lot of stress to outsource work that I’m not the best at and get more professional results in return.”

Ludwig says the agency has helped attract more customers to the door. He monitors every customer to find out what caused them to choose the shop, and it’s most often a result of marketing tactics implemented by the agency.

“Even amidst a tough economy, we’ve picked up additional market share,” Ludwig says. “I firmly believe that my name recognition has grown substantially throughout the community. If you hire the right company, your returns will outweigh your costs. 

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