VIP Employee Programs
Marketing in a tough economy is quite the balancing act. Shops need to continuously market to maintain customer traffic, but marketing budgets are often the first to shrink when finances are tight.
Two shops—Longhorn Collision Center in Austin, Texas, and Scuderi Auto Body CARSTAR in Rockville, Md.—have recognized that. They understand the significance of frequent marketing, and have implemented a simple tactic that fits
Dubbed the Employee VIP Program, both shops offer special deals to employees of local organizations. The program has boosted shop revenue through jobs and referrals. Best of all, the program can be initiated with almost no expense.
“We’re a small shop; we only do $120,000 a month in sales,” says Larry Powers, general manager of Longhorn Collision Center. “So our overhead costs are critical. We can’t stop marketing, but we have to watch every penny we spend carefully.”
Longhorn Collision Center is located right down the road from the University of Texas at Austin. Powers realized that was a market of customers the shop wasn’t capitalizing on when he took over as general manager nearly two years ago. He knew there was work to be had from the thousands of people employed at the school.
—Larry Powers, general manager, Longhorn Collision Center
So Powers launched the Employee VIP Program. He partnered with the university, offering a 10 percent repair discount to each of its employees, and a $25 Visa card for each customer they refer. University employees just have to show proof of their employment to qualify for the benefits.
• Why it’s worthwhile: Powers says this is the most cost-effective marketing tactic he has tried. The only cost is the small discount applied once Longhorn Collision Center has landed the job.
“We don’t print any materials, and we don’t hand out any plastic ID cards. It’s just a matter of the university letting employees know about the benefit,” Powers says, noting the program is advertised in various employee materials created by the school. “It’s a marketing tactic that costs nothing.”
Due to the low cost, Powers says the program would be beneficial even if it only attracted one customer a year. He does get more than that, though.
The program generates about three monthly customers. That equates to $6,000 in sales—5 percent of the shop’s monthly revenue. In addition, the shop averages eight monthly referrals from customers who previously visited because of the program. Those referrals total another $16,000 in sales.
In all, between jobs and referrals, the program brings results in $22,000 of monthly sales—more than 18 percent of the shop’s revenue.
“That’s all work we wouldn’t have acquired otherwise,” Powers says. “The returns are highly beneficial when you consider the few resources required to make it happen.”
Scuderi Auto Body CARSTAR doesn’t have a giant university in its local market, so owner Chip Scuderi took a slightly different approach with implementing an Employee VIP Program.
He partnered with four local business owners, offering additional benefits to their employees. The program, which is free for those businesses to participate in, offers free carwashes, free vehicle safety inspections, special rates on repair services and priority service—VIP customers are put ahead of other customers in the repair scheduling process.
Scuderi created VIP cards, branded with the shop name and logo, for the business owners to give to their employees. He prints the VIP cards on heavy cardstock.
• Why it’s worthwhile: Scuderi says the program is easy to implement, and doesn’t require any maintenance. There aren’t any contracts to renew or relationships to nurture. It’s an ongoing offer that doesn’t need oversight.
“Once you find business owners who are interested in participating, hand them a stack of cards to give their employees,” Scuderi says. “It’s as simple as that.”
Scuderi says the program has increased customer traffic, although he has not yet quantified by exactly how much. But he believes the biggest benefit is the increased shop exposure among participating businesses’ employees and their families.
—Chip Scuderi, owner, Scuderi Auto Body CARSTAR
“It’s a way for us to get involved with local companies and help keep our shop name in the community,” Scuderi says. Even though he hasn’t determined the immediate financial returns, Scuderi says the branding benefit is invaluable.
Scuderi says many business owners like to offer extra incentives to employees as part of their benefits package. They like it even more when those benefits don’t cost anything. So it’s a win-win situation; your shop gets additional exposure, and participating businesses get a morale booster.
Scuderi suggests taking time to talk with each of your VIP customers to increase program participation. A representative from each of the businesses on Scuderi’s program has been a past customer. And that way, you already have a satisfied customer who will promote your shop within their company once the program is implemented.
Find out where your customers work, and how many people are employed there, Scuderi says. Then you can set up meetings with the owner, or send a stack of cards back to work with the customer.
The more effort you put in to acquiring participation, the more valuable the program becomes, Scuderi says.