How to Effectively Market Your Certifications
Time, effort, and, most importantly, money—those are the three components that go into obtaining certifications for your shop. And while they will help you perform your job better, how is it possible to maximize your investment if you don’t choose and market your achievements correctly?
Brad Zara, owner of Zara’s Collision Center in Springfield, Ill., says that for him, his certifications, which include Ford F-150 aluminum repair recognition and FCA and GM certification, give him something to promote. Whether it’s people knowing him as the expert in some areas of repair or maintaining a leg up in his market, they earn him credibility.
In order to begin marketing your shop’s certifications, both Zara and Tom Wolf, director of business development USCA of PPG Industries, agree that research needs to be completed before the marketing can begin.
Both Zara and Wolf offer tips to consider when choosing and marketing your shops achievements effectively within your market.
Do the Research
Marketing a shop’s certifications starts with finding what certifications to obtain. Wolf says that in order to go to market, you have to understand to what you’re marketing.
The first step is to do market research, which consists of doing an analysis of the vehicle makes and models that are in the shop’s zip code and location radius, which can be obtained through some type of a data aggregator.
But your research shouldn’t just stop at what kind of cars are in your area. Understand the programs in which you are interested. For example, Wolf says that for some of the higher-end certifications, you need a dealer to sponsor you. In those cases, you’ll have to market to your local dealership.
Doing this helps answer some lingering questions regarding the ROI of the particular certification you’re looking to obtain. Because some of these programs are very expensive, Wolf says, this step is crucial to helping you understand what makes you should be certified in.
Determining a specific ROI can be difficult, Wolf says, especially when there is a budgeting plan. See what kind of trends are in your area and go off of that. If you have a local dealer that hold the brand of your certification, contact them and see if they are willing to give you some insight.
Zara, owner of a $6.5-million-per-year operation, did just that when making the decision to get certain certifications. Although it was recommended to him to get certified in Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW by his local Mercedes and BMW dealerships, Zara didn’t see it making good business sense. Not only were those certifications more expensive, by the number of those vehicles in his market would not sustain the ROI of that investment.
Instead, Ford aluminum F-150 recognition made sense. Located in the middle of Illinois, Zara says that there are nothing but farms around him, which meant that F-150 pickup trucks were to be found everywhere.
After going through the secretary of state, Zara was able to to get some information on how many pickup trucks were licensed in the county, despite the research not being specific to the make and models available.
Armed with that information, he went into his own database and looked at how many F-150s the shop had repaired over the last several years. While he wouldn’t get a full ROI based on repairs alone, investing about $70,000 in the recognition and equipment did give him something he sought from the beginning: marketability.
Marketability meant a variety of things to Zara, including properly taking care of his customers and becoming the experts in aluminum repair, as no one else in their market was pursuing the aluminum certification.
Choose a Strategy
Once you’ve found and obtained the right certifications for your shop, now it’s time to market. Wolf says there is no one way to market, but he offers three of the best ways, in his opinion, to do so:
The Dealership Direct Referral Model. Wolf says that this is likely the most predominant method through which shops market. This is how it works: Once you obtain that OEM certification or approval, go to your local dealership and tell them about your achievements and repairs.
Wolf says that some shop owners will even invite the “right people” from the dealership, which can be the dealership principal or fixed ops director. They are then invited to their facility, where he showcases his space and explains the repair and customer experience. Gain their trust by showing the dealership that their referrals would provide an extension of the type of work and craftsmanship that they would want.
Upon obtaining his aluminum certification, Zara went to his local Ford dealer and marketed his certification. He found that sometimes, the dealer doesn’t understand what makes fixing this particular truck different from any other car, but after giving the dealership that education, they realized they needed to be careful about where they were referring their clients for repairs. Through that, Zara was able to build a referral relationship with the dealership. He receives about one referral per month from the dealership.
Zara has also developed a relationship with a fellow body shop owner about 30 miles away that decided not to invest in the certification. From that relationship, he has gotten seven referrals year to date.
The Direct to Consumer Model. According to Wolf, this method encompasses your own referral network and current customer base, meaning that you should be utilizing what you already have.
Always make sure that your staff is talking to your current customers and asking for referrals. Direct-to-consumer marketing also entails social marketing strategies, such as using social media and other media outlets.
Zara markets to his customer base in several different ways such as billboards, press releases and local newspaper ads. His certifications are always promoted within his current marketing.
Zara says that his choice of methods is really a blend of their normal marketing or an extension thereof. He says that they are known in their area for billboards, so it’s what people expect from them. As for the press releases, it allows his shop free advertising and the opportunity to tell a longer story.
One of Zara’s popular marketing slogans is, “We Aren’t Foiled by Aluminum. Ford F150 Certified.”
The Direct to Insurance Carriers Model. If you’re an independent shop, reach out to your local agent with your recent achievements. They can help you connect with the right people.
If you’re an MSO, look more at the regional insurance influencers and if you’re a national consolidator, look more on the national front.
The right insurance people usually attend major industry functions, such as the the Collision Industry Conference or I-CAR conferences, Wolf says. Go and get your message out and directly market to those regional or national insurance partner if you have a larger business.