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Building a Multicultural Shop

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The “melting pot” metaphor once described the assimilation of immigrant groups in the U.S. These days, the focus is on creating a multicultural United States that preserves each culture’s traditions. What does that mean to the world of collision repair? FenderBender talked with Kelly McDonald, president of McDonald Marketing, who has more than 20 years experience as a business consultant focusing on multicultural issues. Her main message: Integration of multicultural ideas—and maybe even multiple languages—is important for the future of your business

Repair shops are local businesses serving local customers. I don’t know how you can be effective at serving your local community unless you know who your local community is. I would imagine that the communities around all these shops are very different today than they were 10 years ago and that they are going to look very different 10 years from now than they do today.

Our country is more diverse than ever before. The census is going to show that one in three people in this country is not white. Becoming a multicultural shop is not just the right thing to do, it’s business survival.

Figure out who is in your primary market, and where that puts opportunity. With my eyes and my ears I can take it upon myself to be educated about the key culture and learn what I need to know to be welcoming to that culture.

In some cultures, it’s very important to be formal, to shake hands, look someone in the eye and say, “Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. How can I help you today?” Compare that to our widely accepted informal American business culture: “Hey, how’s it going? What do you need?”

Get out there and find out where the central nervous system of the community is. Sometimes it’s the church, sometimes it’s the resource center, sometimes it’s the chamber of commerce and sometimes it’s the little Mexican restaurant. There’s a lot of attention paid to the Hispanic population right now because it’s so large, but that’s not the only opportunity out there.

Get a multicultural and multilingual staff. Don’t just fire the people you have because they don’t speak, say, Spanish or Vietnamese. But as you have natural rotation in your shop and as you have the opportunity to add people, look for recruiting opportunities that will bring you bilingual people.

You are not selling commodities like toilet paper and gum. You are selling a transaction. And each and every transaction is different and unique. There’s going to have to be customer education, review of the estimate, insurance things. It’s a complex transaction, so whenever you can actually assist somebody in the language they can [most readily] understand, it’s going to be easier for them to comprehend and move forward with your business.

Market sincerely to your community. Start taking simple steps to market to that new group. Whether it’s flyers in a neighborhood or signs in the store that say, “We speak Vietnamese” or “We Speak Spanish.” The opportunity pretty much snowballs from there.

You do not have to spend a lot of money in advertising, because once you take care of those first two things, you’ll build your business with a new community organically.

If customers start coming in and they are treated well and have a good experience, then they start to share that information in the community. They’ll just start doing word-of-mouth referrals. That customer’s got to go somewhere so naturally they’ll gravitate to someone who can speak their language.

Use common sense. I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to have diversity training. But I don’t think it’s necessary for a shop to do that to be successful. A lot of cultural sensitivity is common sense and actually thinking about the broader picture.

For example, some cultural sensitivity training focuses on understanding that talking louder does not make you bilingual. Everybody laughs at that, but they laugh because they all do it. The non-English speakers are not deaf, they just don’t speak English.

When someone comes in and you don’t speak their language or they have an unusual style of dress, you need to:

• Look them in the eye,

• Smile,

• Talk a little slower,

• Be patient.

All these things are common sense. But if all of a sudden people from Sudan come in, [but you haven’t talked with your staff about that], then your front person is not prepared.

There are benefits to having a multicultural shop. Whenever you penetrate a new market, the assumption is you are going to keep getting the same kinds of customers you’ve been getting. [By seeking out new cultural markets], you’re getting a new customer type that you’ve never talked to and [that may bring] you 5 percent or 10 percent more business. That’s incremental revenue, and who can’t use incremental revenue?

It’s not only about the growth of the business and the growth of the profit. We find that minority customers will even pay more to get service that is pleasant and welcoming. [So you don’t have to be the lowest-priced shop in town to win new business.] Minority customers also tend to stay loyal, so if you treat them properly, they are likely to stay. Also, employees actually thrive in culturally diverse environments because it’s more challenging and it’s more gratifying.

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