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Get Creative with Holiday Offerings

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Year after year, Louie Sharp, owner of Sharp Auto Body in Island Lake, Ill., sees his sales decline during the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, as long as a banged-up car can still get from point A to point B, he says, drivers tend to keep on motoring. What with travels, holiday plans and uncertain weather, it’s no surprise. But it’s not easy on the bottom line, either.

Sharp’s strategy to get customers in the door during these typically slow weeks? Get into the spirit of the season, and give. In response to requests from community service organizations working to raise money through holiday raffles or auctions, he donates gift cards for free vehicle detailing. The cards have a $250 retail value, but they only cost Sharp $60 ($40 for labor, $20 for materials).

Offering donations, supporting families in the community and showing appreciation for business partners are three ways shop operators successfully boost brand recognition. Planning for holiday promotions typically starts shortly after Halloween. And while you may have to search out opportunities at first, they’ll soon come to you. Sharp says his shop receives 20 donation requests every year from groups like the Rotary Club and Lions Club.

It’s important for shop owners to get out a couple times a year to personally visit business partners. People do business with people they know, like and trust.
- Jeanne Silver, co-owner, CARSTAR Mundelein

The investment is worth it, Sharp says. Of the people who redeem his donated gift cards, 80 percent are new customers, and 20 percent of them go on to become repeat customers. Winning new ambassadors for your business can improve your shop’s image, deepen customer loyalty and increase referrals from business partners.

Creating a Connection

As hearts open at the holidays, shops have an opportunity to connect with customers both old and new. Jeanne Silver, co-owner of CARSTAR Mundelein in Mundelein, Ill., says the opportunity for shop operators to establish a personal connection extends to vendors and employees, as well. She spends about $1,500 each holiday season to do just that. Here’s how she makes people feel welcome at her shop during the holiday season:

• Set the scene. Silver creates a festive holiday environment. Decorations, scented holiday candles, seasonal coffee, chocolate, candy and cocoa set the scene in the shop. She surrounds a Christmas tree with toys and gives one to every child who visits.

• Treat your employees. Silver treats her staff to dinner, and gives each employee a bonus and a small gift.

• Be kind to your vendors. “Our vendors work hard, and don’t get a lot of recognition elsewhere,” Silver says. She gives each one of her 20 delivery guys a gift card to the local grocery store.

Silver doesn’t calculate the return on investment for her holiday generosity. But years of experience have taught her this: If you take the time to recognize the people involved with your business, the benefits will come back to you, she says.

Taking Care of Business

Insurance partners often get a bad rap in the industry, but they seem to be as open to holiday magic as anyone. After all, Silver says, you can’t keep those business relationships on autopilot. You have to nurture them to keep the referrals coming. She says her business has benefitted from including insurers on her gift list.

Silver creates a gift bag for each of her partner agents—about 100 people. The gift bag may be filled with packets of cocoa, cookies, a company-branded memento, and a handwritten Christmas-themed tribute.

Last year, Silver penned a humorous poem based on “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” about auto body repairs, cars and of course, CARSTAR. She delivered the gift bags in person with her son, who also works at the store.

Our community is well aware of what we do, and they support us as a result.
- Patty McConnell, president, Old Dominion Collision

“It’s important for shop owners to get out a couple times a year to personally visit business partners,” Silver says. “People do business with people they know, like and trust; it’s all about relationship building.”

Silver has a highly detailed approach to tracking the source of her job referrals, and it’s clear that connecting with insurers increases her business. Although she won’t say just how much, she notes, “Anytime I network, the business follows me back in. At some point, you have to acknowledge the people who allow your business to stay in existence.”

Community Value

The holiday season is also an auspicious time for supporting the community that supports you. To free up more money to give back to the community, says Patty McConnell, president of Old Dominion Collision, she cuts the advertising budget for her two Oregon-based shops by 50 percent in November and December.

“We don’t do any TV or radio advertising during that time because we tend to get lost in all the retail advertisements,” McConnell says. Instead, she uses that money—a few thousand dollars a year—to help the local Relief Nursery, an organization that works to prevent child abuse.

Old Dominion adopts two families from the Relief Nursery each year. They provide a Christmas celebration for the families, including a tree, holiday decorations, gifts and wrapping paper.

“We chose to support an organization that we could really get behind, and that we thought the community would be behind too,” McConnell says, noting it’s important to steer away from controversial organizations such as politically charged groups.

Old Dominion also supports the Relief Nursery with a gift-giving tree in the shop’s reception area. The tree is decorated with crayons, scissors, stuffed animals and stockings that get donated to the Relief Nursery. The tree is also covered with tags that contain a child’s name and a gift idea. Customers at the shop choose a tag from the tree and buy a gift for the child named.

McConnell says she’s been impressed by the many customers who tell her they chose to do business at Old Dominion because of its commitment to the Relief Nursery. “Our community is well aware of what we do, and they support us as a result,” she says.

She hasn’t yet quantified how many customers she lands, but she “knows it pays off.” In fact, every current and past member on the Relief Nursery’s board of directors bring their cars to her shop, and refer their friends, families and business acquaintances there as well—solely out of appreciation for her work with the organization.

“It’s allowed our shop to be seen as a place that customers can trust,” McConnell says. Most valuably, the work with the Relief Nursery differentiates Old Dominion from the competition, because no other local shops celebrate the holiday season in similar fashion.

Even McConnell’s insurance partners get the goodness of McConnell’s holiday giving. She sends each insurer a holiday card, indicating she’s made a cash donation to Relief Nursery in their honor. “They refer work to us because they know we’re doing this for the Relief Nursery,” she says.

Giving strategically can build goodwill throughout your organization, but McConnell notes that the biggest payoff comes from making such an investment from the heart. “We do this because we’re committed to and believe in the Relief Nursery,” she says. “The benefits are an unintentional byproduct."

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