Marketing for Growth
For more than a year, the facility sat vacant on the side of Highway 77 in North Canton, Ohio. Doors locked, windows boarded up, bays empty—many would look at it as a reminder of a business that failed, an overt warning for any optimistic entrepreneur who might drive past.
Craig Mullet saw it differently.
“Sure, the shop before had failed,” he says, “but it was a good location. It had all the factors you’d want in a facility. It’s just that someone had failed there. You can see that as a bad sign, or as a sign for opportunity.”
And Mullet jumped at that opportunity, opening a Maaco Collision Center franchise in March of 2010.
With no client base and no insurer relationships, Mullet started from scratch. Two years later, he has a million-dollar shop that grew 22 percent in the second year alone.
How’d he do it? Strategic marketing.
“The point of marketing, and the result of effective marketing, is to get people calling your shop when they need repairs; it’s to get people coming to you,” he says.
Marketing is a powerful tool for generating growth, and FenderBender spoke with four shop operators who have used unique and inexpensive marketing strategies to transform their businesses.
Wheeling and Dealing
The Story: Until 2010, Craig Mullet had worked his entire 26-year career in software management. That may seem like a strange place to come from for any shop owner, let alone one taking over a long-failed business, but Mullet considers it an advantage.
“My focus has always been on data mining and analysis,” Mullet, 50, says. “That’s one of the things I strive for here—I measure everything. We understand what our numbers are, what our goals are.
“When you understand your numbers, you understand your business, and you can better see the opportunities you have for growth.”
And in looking at the numbers, one thing became very clear to Mullet early on: His shop needed to adjust its work mix. There were plenty of dealerships in North Canton, but very few had their own collision centers. Reaching that segment would mean substantial growth for the shop.
The Strategy: Mullet began targeting area dealerships with a grassroots marketing approach, which included a detailed shop profile document. It helped set up exclusive agreements with local dealers, which now make up roughly one-sixth of his overall work load.
The Cost: Free (aside from the price of printing materials).
How He Did It: Mullet says it required a lot of pounding on doors, meetings and networking. But, the main aspect that stood out for his shop—compared to competitors in the area—was the four-page “calling card” that he left with each dealership.
Mullet calls it his shop profile. It’s a document that gives pertinent information about the business that Mullet feels the dealerships will want to know. It includes shop photos, licenses and certifications, equipment summaries, staff descriptions, and details about some of the benefits the shop can give each dealership, such as pick-up and delivery services or quick cycle time.
What to Learn From It: Mullet says he takes the same approach with all of his marketing—he creates unique campaigns for his specific target audience.
“It’s never a one-size-fits-all deal,” he says. “You have to reach people in the way that best suits them.”
Connecting the Dots
The Story: Louie Sharp wrote the book on car ownership. No, really: In 2011, he published Car Cents, an instructional guide to saving money on vehicles.
He understands the consumer’s needs. He gets it. It’s what led him to write the book, and it’s why his shop, Sharp Auto Body, generates 80 percent of its sales through repeat customers and referrals.
“You realize at a certain point that the best way to really reach customers is through interacting with them, or through their friends and their family,” he says. “There isn’t a better form of marketing than that.”
Sharp has held that focus for his 30-plus years of ownership, but it wasn’t until the last few years that he saw an opportunity to take it to a different level. He would launch a proactive marketing campaign to gain referrals through other local businesses.
The Strategy: Sharp began extensive networking with other businesses in his area, businesses that now refer work to his shop. It has helped Sharp increase his revenue by more than 10 percent.
The Cost: $400 in annual dues.
How He Did It: Sharp joined his local chamber of commerce and other organizations, as well as a Business Network International (BNI) group for northern Illinois. BNI sets up weekly meetings for business owners and managers with the sole purpose of networking and referring work to one another.
“Everyone is there to send each other business,” he says.
One Example: An owner of a security systems company helped Sharp set up a meeting with a local dealership owner. Sharp now does their collision work.
In 2012, Sharp says his shop received $60,000 in work from direct referrals through the BNI program. Taking into account repeat customers and extended referrals, Sharp guesses the networking has actually brought in double that.
What to Learn From It: Networking is an essential marketing tool for any shop owner, Sharp says. But more importantly, Sharp says body shops need to focus on putting their effort toward marketing that builds trust with both current and potential customers.
“People want to do business with people they know, trust and like,” he says. “You need to get out there and give them a reason to trust you.”
The Story: Kurt Damron’s father founded Sprayglo in 1986 with just $500 in cash. In the last 27 years, the business has grown from a small, single facility in Valdasta, Ga., to a six-shop company operating in four states and generating more than $4 million in annual revenue. (Note: Sprayglo also has two franchise locations, which for the purpose of this story, were not factored in.)
“Everything we’ve done has been through saving and through cash,” says Damron, who runs much of the day-to-day operations of the business. “My dad always paid attention to where every dollar was going and how it benefitted the shop.”
That’s a big reason for the successful growth, Damron says, and it’s a reason why the company’s marketing is always adapting to get the most “band for its buck.”
As the company has grown larger and larger in recent years, Damron says Sprayglo has looked to new avenues to reach customers and potential customers, the newest being the introduction of a mobile website.
The Strategy: Damron used a service from DudaMobile to transform his company’s website to an easily accessible, mobile version that has led to an influx of customer contact at his family’s shops.
The Cost: Free.
How He Did It: There are plenty of services that can help, Damron says, and his shop found one that can convert your site for free. The key, he says, is to make sure there is a clear call to action displayed on it (e.g. a phone number, email address, link to social media, etc.) and a solid map.
His shops’ mobile site (bit.ly/FBsprayglo) has produced positive results. In December alone, the mobile site had 635 page views, 68 clicks to call, 48 clicks to the map and 14 more clicks on the link to email the shop.
What to Learn From It: Mobile is critical in today’s industry—that’s the simple lesson, Damron says. In a more broad sense, Damron says that it’s important to understand how customers look for your shop, how they find out about your business, and find the best ways to reach them there.
The Story: Even with seven locations spread out throughout southern Illinois, Central Collision Center prides itself on its neighborhood, family-owned image.
To understand the organization’s commitment to this ideal, look no further than chief operating officer Mike Fitzpatrick. Twenty-six years ago, Fitzpatrick was hired at the bottom of the organization’s one-facility totem pole.
“We’re committed to our people, whether it’s our employees or customers,” he says. “I guess I’m an example of that.”
While the company and Fitzpatrick’s role in it have changed drastically over the years, that people-first focus has never been compromised. But it has been improved.
Sure, Central Collision uses plenty of other marketing tools, as well, but Fitzpatrick says the company’s No. 1 strategy—the one that has led to its dramatic growth over the years—is its daily interactions with customers.
The Strategy: Every Central Collision location handles, treats and speaks to customers in the same way, in person and over the phone. It’s not an exact package of recited scripts, but a trained and carefully crafted approach.
The Cost: Varies depending on training sought.
How He Did It: The process has been developed over the last 30 years since Central Collision first opened its doors. And every employee that comes into contact with customers is trained regularly, whether it’s through an online course, in-person seminar, or coaching from a manager.
“The main focus is that we don’t want anyone to feel like a number,” Fitzpatrick says. “Normally, they’re going through a traumatic experience. We want them to feel that we understand what they’re going through and we want to help.”
It starts with the greeting—each person needs to be greeted with equal attention, respect and enthusiasm, Fitzpatrick says. It alters slightly depending on the reason for the customer contact, but Fitzpatrick says the key is making sure that staff members understand how to properly handle each interaction in the best possible way.
What to Learn From It: It’s easy to focus on the flashy aspects of marketing, Fitzpatrick says, but the goal for any strategy is to bring more business to the shop.
“One positive experience doesn’t just give you that customer for the future, it gives you their friends, family, the other people they’ll recommend,” he says. “These are crucial aspects of your marketing, and it makes a huge difference in your business.”