Hosting Defensive Driving Courses
Shops are always looking for new ways to keep their business top-of-mind when drivers need repairs. Promoting services is important, but getting recognized for things other than collision repairs can also get a shop noticed.
Offering defensive driving classes is one way to do that. The marketing tactic can help draw traffic to your facility and help you build relationships.
But why would anybody want to come? There’s a benefit for class attendees as well. The classes touch on safe driving topics including seatbelts, road rage, distracted driving, and drinking and driving. Warren Clark, a certified defensive driving instructor in New York, says drivers who take the class are 18 percent less likely to have an accident, and 55 percent less likely to have a serious moving violation, compared with those who don’t.
So people qualify for point reductions on their driving record and 10 percent discounts on insurance premiums upon completion. And some parents just want to train their children to be better drivers.
It does require some extra time and energy to conduct defensive driving classes—especially since they’re typically offered during the weekend.
FenderBender asked three shop operators who have capitalized on offering defensive driving courses to weigh in on why it’s worth the effort and how they go about doing it.
President, Carubba Collision Center, New York
Joe Carubba says he has an insurance agent friend who was teaching defensive driving classes to clients out of his agency. The agent explained the benefits of the class to Carubba, so he opted to give it a try in 2001—and has been doing it ever since.
Carubba offers a New York state-approved, six-hour defensive driving class to drivers in his community. The classes, which are held three times a month at one of the company’s seven facilities, routinely get between 25 and 40 attendees. Carubba charges a $40 participation fee to cover operating costs, but allows shop customers to come for free.
The Marketing Angle
Carubba says offering the class has allowed him to obtain several new customers. People bring their spouses, families and friends—exponentially spreading the word about the company. Carubba says roughly 10 percent of his customer base learned about the shop through the classes.
And the time they spend at the shop builds comfort with the business. Carubba says class attendees are often impressed by the cleanliness and modernization of the facility.
“This is one more thing we can offer to build loyalty, and keep our shop top-of-mind in the community,” Carubba says. “It keeps our business name out there consistently.”
Carubba's Top Tip:
Capitalize on Insurers
Carubba suggests that you heavily promote the program to all insurance agents. They can help drive class participation. Carubba says insurers like to promote the classes because they can use it as a sales tool. Insurers can promote lower rates to their clients, which improves their retention rates.
President, Nu-Look Collision Centers Inc., New York
Nu-Look Collision Centers’ entire marketing strategy is based on accident avoidance, and what to do in case of an accident. The company has “safety shorts” on TV that highlight how to handle deer hits, texting and driving law changes, car seats, and driving in the rain and snow.
Adding defensive driving classes to the lineup was a natural fit. So Todd Zigrossi started offering state-approved classes monthly at the company’s training facility in 2006. The classes grab about 30 people each time, and cost $35 per person.
The Marketing Angle
Offering the classes has better informed the community about the shop, improved community members’ perception of the facility, and increased business.
Many class attendees live near the facility, but didn’t realize it was a collision shop until they showed up. “We get a lot of new people coming to the class,” Zigrossi says. “It’s gets you noticed by people who didn’t know you were there.”
And that has ultimately converted into more work for Nu-Look. Zigrossi says the company has fixed several hundred vehicles owned by people who took the class since the launch. It’s been so many, he says, that “Defensive Driving Class” is now a standalone category on the survey Zigrossi uses to find out how customers heard about the shop.
“We don’t do this to make money; we do this as a community service benefit,” Zigrossi says. “But we’re certainly seeing positive results from it.”
Zigrossi's Top Tip:
Hire an Instructor
Zigrossi says it’s beneficial to hire a third-party instructor to teach the course. That’s because there are requirements that class instructors have to fulfill—like getting certified—which shop operators might not have time for.
Hiring an outside instructor eases the trouble of operating the class as well. The instructor takes care of everything administratively, such as providing class manuals and videos, and filing paperwork with the state. Zigrossi says hiring the instructor also allowed him to avoid the cost associated with getting certified as an instructor—which costs roughly $150 depending on your state. Zigrossi’s only obligation is to provide the facility and some food.
“This would require a lot more time on our part to process all of the paperwork,” Zigrossi says. “That was the major reason why we brought a trainer in.”
Zigrossi says you can check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to get a list of certified instructors. The fee you set for the class should offset the cost of the instructor.
COO, Suburban Auto Body, Little Canada, Minn.
Dennis O’Connell says he was looking for a marketing strategy that allows him to engage and build relationships with insurance agents. He wanted to offer something to help grow their practice and retain clients.
“We want to provide a tangible benefit to agents, hoping they’ll become comfortable to refer work our way,” O’Connell says.
O’Connell thought that offering defensive driving classes could help because insurers can use the class as a promotional benefit for their clients. “We make this look like customer appreciation from peoples’ insurance agents,” he says of the classes launched in the spring of 2011.
Suburban Auto Body hosts a Minnesota state-approved, eight-hour defensive driving class twice a year. O’Connell has targeted his class toward senior citizens, and partnered with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to conduct the class.
O’Connell says it’s tough to get people to commit for a one-time session that long, so he holds the class in two four-hour segments on consecutive Saturdays. The classes—which cost $15 per person—get about 15 attendees, and meet in the banquet room of local restaurants so O’Connell can easily have food and drinks catered.
The Marketing Angle
In addition to improving relations with local insurers, O’Connell says the defensive driving class allows him to be seen by attendees as a collision expert. He can answer accident-related questions, which builds trust with class participants.
O’Connell says the class also gives him a forum to promote the shop. “We’re able to advertise all of our value-added services that people don’t know about,” he says. “They know we’re a body shop, but might not know we detail cars, pick up and drop off, offer onsite estimates, and have courtesy cars. We can talk about everything we do.”
O’Connell's Top Tip:
Get Outside Help
O’Connell suggests checking with local organizations in your area for help with this. Since he works with the AARP, the organization supplies him with a certified instructor and course curriculum, and conducts the administrative work for free. That allows O’Connell to charge attendees a smaller participation fee.
The AARP helps advertise the class, too. The class schedule is on the AARP’s calendar, so O’Connell says marketing the program doesn’t fall completely on him.
Advertise the Class
Warren Clark, a certified defensive driving instructor in New York, says the insurance discount people receive expires after three years. They can retake the class to renew the discount. Clark suggests sending out reminders to past attendees to let them know about the upcoming expiration, and get them to register for another session.
Zigrossi says fleet drivers are often mandated to fulfill continuing education requirements throughout the year, which defensive driving classes can help with. Promoting the class to fleets could also help land long-term accounts.
Zigrossi hands out $25 class coupons to insurance agents, which they can pass along to clients. He says the agents usually run out of the coupons, and call for more, before he has time to make his monthly rounds back to them. Zigrossi also gives the coupon to every customer.
Carubba is a member of both the Better Business Bureau and AAA. Those organizations hand out coupons for Carubba’s class on his behalf. Carubba is also able to send out mailers to those organizations’ client base.
Community groups & businesses
Carubba has held private classes for various community groups and church fundraisers. He has also conducted the classes for local businesses, such as AT&T, which companies sometimes offer as benefits for employees.