A NEED FOR CHANGE
After moving to the U.S. from Sicily, Italy, in the 1960s, Sebastian Santostefano—whom Adriana and Sabrina call their “Nunnu”—didn’t change much at his shop for 42 years: He retained two of his body technicians for a combined 67 years; he never once remodeled his building; he handwrote all of the estimates; and he didn’t spend time marketing or advertising the shop.
After college, Adriana performed marketing duties for several companies, including the Arthritis Foundation, New England Region and Clear Channel Communications, and researched social media trends for the Marketing 494 class at Central Connecticut. Sabrina, meanwhile, served as the director of marketing for Jasko Development and senior customer service associate for People’s United Bank.
Because of their marketing backgrounds, Adriana and Sabrina view the collision repair business differently than their grandfather, who was ready to retire two years ago. After several failed attempts from family members to take over the business, the sisters decided to take their shot.
“If I had stepped into it by myself, I probably wouldn’t have lasted long,” Sabrina says. “But together, we thought, ‘We can definitely do this.’”
But in order to make the business their own, change was necessary when they took over—the shop’s image was stale, and rebranding became essential.
Cleaning up the shop was quite the task. But after some financial help from their grandfather and two years of hard work, Santostefano Auto Body is unrecognizable.
While the exterior of Santostefano was bad enough two years ago—with junk cars, used parts and weeds littering the back lot—the interior was unattractive and being underutilized.
“One of the bays was completely occupied by my grandfather’s lawn mower and gardening tools,” Sabrina says. “And we said, ‘This is a moneymaking bay right here! ’”
Now, all six of the shop’s bays produce work, and the shop has a much more inviting atmosphere. Joking they now “live at Home Depot,” the Indomenico sisters went hog wild with $10,000 worth of renovations: They built a brand new workbench for their technicians; removed the metal desk that formerly greeted customers and hired their friend to paint a Ferrari on their new wooden desk; repainted and retiled their formerly “dirty and dungy” bathroom; and updated the “Santostefano Auto Body” sign that had stood untouched for 42 years.
“It took us a week to sand it down, clean it, and then we taped it all up,” Sabrina says. “We painted it with car paint and clear, and it looks amazing. At nighttime it shines so red and bright and pretty. People see it and think we got it professionally done.”
With a maroon color scheme, flowers and scented candles now welcoming customers as they walk into the shop, Adriana says they are now attracting people who previously avoided Santostefano—especially women and customers from their generation.
“[Sebastian] says he sees more females, more young people than ever,” she says. “We figured that would be our niche. A lot of females and people our age are afraid to go into anything mechanical, because you hear all these bad rumors that they’re going to rip you off. We wanted them to feel comfortable.”
It’s one thing to physically improve the shop. But Sabrina and Adriana knew they could really hook people by marketing their story.
“A lot of people were hearing our story, our unique situation. There aren’t many women that own shops,” Adriana says. “My grandfather isn’t here to guide us. We just have to call the shots.”
Utilizing their education in SEO and social media, the twins created a website for the shop that explains the shop’s services, displays before-and-after photos of their work, offers tips on researching insurance policies, and promotes the shop’s family values through their grandfather’s story.
The shop’s Facebook page (which now has over 1,600 likes) constantly updates with shop specials and throwback photos of Santostefano Auto Body. The sisters also set up Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts, all of which host videos and photos detailing their transformation of the business. After two years of active social media posting, the sisters claim more of their peers are becoming customers.
Tips for Improving Social Media
In just two years, Sabrina and Adriana have accumulated over 1,600 likes on the shop’s previously nonexistent Facebook page. Sabrina offered some tips on increasing engagement with your customers:
Post at certain times: You want to be posting every day, preferably a few times per day. Adriana and Sabrina like to post in the morning, around lunch, and at the end of the work day. You want to hit people when they’re on breaks, when they’re most likely to be looking at their phones.
Use hashtags: While they started on Twitter, hashtags have spread to Facebook, Google+ and Instagram. Sabrina says most people her age actively use hashtags, and they stand out within a post. According to TrackMaven, Instagram posts with five hashtags created more interactions—use more than five, however, and your post begins to look like spam and your interactions decrease significantly.
Include info on business cards: The Indomenico sisters are very active in their community in an attempt to spread their story. They always keep business cards on hand, which list links to their various social media accounts.
Their story really started spreading after they contacted the local newspaper about doing a story on the shop. The Middletown Press published “Twin girls take over grandfather’s auto shop in Middletown” on March 15, 2015, and the Indomenicos appeared in newsstands in the city of 47,000.
Weeks later, the local news station featured them as the centerpiece in a report on area Italian business owners.
Soon after the free exposure, the twins set up a booth at a local car show and began to notice something: Everybody knew their story, knew they were completely revamping the shop—they even knew Adriana and Sabrina called their grandfather “Nunnu.”
“We were little celebrities after that,” Sabrina says. “I went to the gas station and people were coming up to us, asking, ‘Are you the Santostefano girls? ’”
When the Indomenico sisters approached the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC), they were simply looking for tips on how to write a proper estimate.
But these days? ABAC president Tony Ferraiolo is actually the one looking to Adriana and Sabrina for advice. For years, the association had goals of reaching younger generations. And after hearing the Indomenicos’ story, he invited them to join the association’s board of directors.
“Most of our board of directors, we’re in our 40s to 60s,” Ferraiolo says. “It’s nice to have fresh people. They’re hardworking, they have a passion for the industry, and they understand how to better reach out to people their age.”
The twins have rebranded the association, employing the same strategies used for Santostefano: They’ve helped overhaul the ABAC website, assisted in making the Facebook page more engaging, set up a YouTube presence, and aided in completely designing a new mobile app meant to reach younger drivers called “Now What? ”
The app allows drivers to upload information about their vehicles to an ABAC-affiliated shop right at the scene of an accident. “Now What? ” asks users to take a photo of the vehicle, upload insurance information, and fill out an accident report. The app then connects users with ABAC’s various social media pages, including videos detailing the driver’s rights after getting in an accident.
“We’re trying to get it into the state driving schools, right into the hands of the younger generation—the generation we’re looking to educate,” Ferriaolo says. “And [Adriana and Sabrina] understand how to form a deeper connection with them.”
In addition to improving their reach in the community, Adriana and Sabrina are embracing their new status at ABAC, hoping to brand themselves as marketing masters and Santostefano Auto Body as one of the top shops in Connecticut.
“We know how we want to position ourselves,” Sabrina says. “We're slowly branding ourselves. We want to give a new image to auto body. We want it to be pretty and clean and classy and an easy experience.”