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The Importance of Branding for Small Businesses

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Photo courtesy of Virendra Chhikara

The Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) provides training and consulting services for small business owners across the state. The LSBDC is made up of 10 centers throughout the state of Louisiana and provides small business owners with no-cost training, information, and one-on-one consulting to help start and grow businesses. Virendra Chhikara, director of the Monroe center, started with the company in 2007 and explains how the consultants at LSBDC assist owners based on specific needs and why every shop owner should look at how his or her shop is being branded.

What can a client of LSBDC expect?
We help our clients with branding, social media, customer service, human resources and all of the other aspects that go into running a business. We check back in with our clients periodically, usually once a month. They are all welcome to come to the training that we offer or to contact us with any needs that they have.

Are there any common issues that you’ve noticed with business owners in the collision industry?
I’ve noticed that collision shop owners are very technical and can sometimes miss the bigger picture when it comes to managing a business. Collision shop owners are very focused on fixing cars, but they need to remember that branding a shop is so important.

How would you advise a client that’s having an issue with branding?
I would explain to that client that if he or she is not differentiating the business, he or she is not doing it correctly. Imagine your car has been hit. When you pick up your car, the interior is spotless, but there’s also a smiley face bumper sticker that says “thank you for your business.” That will make all the difference in the world to a client and if that client is happy with the service, they will recommend that shop.

What do you do with a shop that doesn’t realize they have an issue with branding?
Many of our clients may not realize they have an issue with branding. So, no matter what they come in for, whether it’s increasing sales or opening another location, we ask them about their referral rate and customer retention. A shop that has a lot of referrals is probably doing a good job branding, but a shop that doesn’t may need to rethink their strategy. We check our client’s website, social media outlets and client flow to get an idea of what they are doing when it comes to branding and we use that as a jumping off point.

Once you’ve identified branding as a problem, where do you take it from there?
We make a plan with three phases. When people think of a problem as a whole, they can become overwhelmed, so we prefer to break it up. We make a roadmap for our clients. For example, if branding is a problem, we may tell them to hold off on changing their website until they’ve updated their social media outlets.

Websites tend to cost money to update it, but it’s free to go onto Facebook and like other pages to get more exposure. We give our clients homework. I may give a client two weeks to update their Facebook. After that period, we’ll meet again and then I may tell them to work on Linkedin. After they’ve done that, then they can tackle their website. It’s less overwhelming that way. Those are just examples of online branding. It’s important to remember there are other ways to brand. We also advise clients to go to local chamber of commerce meetings to get more exposure.

Is your process for branding all the same or does it depend on the shop?
It’s usually customized and based on the client’s biggest issue. For example, if they want a 20 percent increase in sales, we will look at what will get them more exposure. Most of the time, businesses think that having an ad on TV or a radio spot is enough. It’s not like that. It’s so important to consider who the target market is. That market may not even be listening to that ad.

How would you identify the target market for the collision industry?
The collision industry is unique in terms of target market. For a collision shop, the market could be anyone within a certain mile radius. People aren’t going to travel 200 miles to come to a shop, so there’s no point targeting an audience that far away. The market could be anyone within the shop’s area that was involved in a wreck. From there, look at car owners. The age market we advise collision repair shops to look at is anyone that is older than 20 and younger than 50. People younger than 20 will most likely rely on input from parents. A person older than 50 is different because they are not tech saavy, so the way to approach them will be very different. In between those ages though, those are the people looking at social media and Google to find where to go for a collision shop.

What advice would you give to any collision shop owner?
The brand and the image of the business is so important. Treat your customers right and they will remain loyal.

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