How to maximize your repair shop's online marketing efforts

Feb. 2, 2018
The trick to maximizing your online marketing efforts is to be strategic in your approach. Simply being active in a variety of platforms isn’t enough to distinguish yourself from the competition. These days, consumers are looking for authenticity.

Like it or not, the internet has dramatically changed the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Even word of mouth has gone digital, with potential customers asking for business referrals through Facebook and NextDoor or visiting Yelp to scan reviews. As a result, having a strong online presence is no longer optional, but essential. 

A 2015 consumer behavior survey conducted by the marketing firm Yodle found that 77 percent of automotive repair shop customers use the Internet to find or research a business. That’s two percentage points higher than the number of customers who use the Internet to search for other types of service businesses, which means that building a solid online brand is especially vital for repair shop owners. 

The trick to maximizing your online marketing efforts is to be strategic in your approach. Simply being active in a variety of platforms isn’t enough to distinguish yourself from the competition. These days, consumers are looking for authenticity and don’t want to work with businesses that appear to be going through the motions. It’s also important to remember that digital marketing should augment, rather than replace more traditional marketing methods. After all, some of your customers will respond to your social media posts, but others might be more compelled by a newsletter with car care tips that you send directly to their house. 

Here’s a look at the tools we use to build brand awareness and trust online. Remember that the key to success with any marketing effort – whether online-based or more conventional in nature – is consistency.


Let’s face it, unless you’re the only game in town in a one-stoplight town, you’re going to need a website. Now don’t panic if your site doesn’t have a plethora of bells and whistles. Just make sure your site is fairly modern because if it looks like it was created in 2001, potential customers will assume your shop is outdated too. Here are some other tips to help you use your site to attract customers and build credibility.

  • Make it user-friendly. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and if your site is hard to navigate, consumers will wonder if their customer experience will be poor as well. Make sure you contact information is not only displayed prominently on your home page but other sub-pages as well, so customers can reach out easily. Organization is also key. Make sure that what the customer needs to see is located right up front – whether that’s a call to action or a benefit of your shop that you want to promote. Having a button on your home page that customers can click on to make an appointment right online is also useful.  
  • Make it personal. The site should reflect the personality of the shop and the owner. To that end, all of the photos on the site are either of me, or my employees, not stock photos. I want potential customers to feel comfortable about doing business with me and my employees before they even walk in the door. That’s the benefit a small business has over a large chain – it’s run by real people in your community rather than a mysterious corporate entity. I also include photos of my shop on my site so people can get a sense of what to expect when they visit.  
  • Make it mobile friendly. Most people are using smart phones to search for services instead of their desktops, so your site needs to look and feel the same way it does on a computer. The other issue is that Google gives preference to sites that are mobile friendly, so if your site isn’t, it won’t show up as high in the search rankings. Remember that your site’s ease of use and look is a reflection of your business overall. In the Yodle survey, 67 percent of auto repair shop customers said they wanted service centers to improve their websites over the next year. 

Social media 

Social media is a great vehicle for developing a stronger relationship with your customers and cultivating loyalty. We focus our efforts on Facebook, but if your demographic is younger, Instagram or Twitter might be a better fit. Instead of using Facebook to simply push sales, our approach is about establishing social credibility. We want our followers to get to know me and my staff better through our posts. We want to be relatable, so customers understand that this is a family-owned business run by caring people who live in their community. If you looked at 10 of our posts, two might be promoting an oil change special or some other offer, while the other eight will be about what’s happening in the shop or in my life. We might post a photo of a beautiful classic car and say something about what a treat it is to work on those types of automobiles, which shows how passionate we are about our work. I’ve done photos our trainings and the “girly” solvent cars our female techs use, which helps educate customers about our workforce. Videos are also good way to endear yourself to the customer. I once posted a photo of my daughter learning to drive a stick shift (and stalling out several times), which got a great response from followers. 

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to “farm out” your social media to an outside marketing firm. It might seem like an efficient way to still stay active and connected, but customers can tell when your posts feel pre-programmed. We did hire our social media out for awhile and it was a disaster because we ended up with posts that were completely irrelevant to the message we were trying to communicate. At the end of the day, nobody knows who you are better than you and your team. You should also avoid using stock photos because it also adds to the sense of inauthenticity. 

Online reviews

If you’re not asking your customers for reviews, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. Three-quarters of the consumers surveyed by Yodle said that having reviews is expected and gives a local business a competitive advantage. Yet, less than 1 in 10 consumers in the survey had been asked to write a review of a local business. Even more surprising? The majority, a whopping 89 percent, said they would be willing to provide a review if their experience was positive. 

We have a sign at the front desk at each of our shops that encourages reviews and we also use software that automatically generates a text or email request for a review after a customer visits. Our staff is also trained to ask to ask for reviews and to head off problems before they turn into online complaints. Our advice is that if a customer has an issue, our goal is to resolve their concerns and “get them happy” before asking for a review. 

Of course, potential customers aren’t going to read every review, but taken as a whole, a group of positive reviews will provide validation for your business. On the other hand, a business without any reviews will likely raise questions.

If you have good reviews, share them – on your website, social media and in your other marketing campaigns. Google reviews often carry more weight these days, so you might consider featuring a link to your Google reviews on your website. 


Shop owners often turn to email campaigns because they are a relatively inexpensive option. However, in my recent experience, email hasn’t proven effective for either driving sales or building trust. The problem is that in many cases, your emails are getting filtered out before they even reach your customer. And even when it lands in a customer’s inbox, they are often viewed simply as spam and deleted immediately. I spend my marketing dollars instead on a printed newsletter that features car maintenance tips, recipes and coupons for service. I know that piece will be better-read and accomplishes my goal of making me, as a business owner, more relatable. If you still want to use email, I suggest doing special offers just once a quarter, to avoid inundating customers and potentially losing them from your subscription list. 

No matter what method you use, it’s important to remember that building trust with consumers takes time. If you’re genuine and consistent with your efforts, you should make headway and position yourself as front of mind the next time a customer needs a repair or service.  

About the Author

Aaron Stokes

A nearly 20-year veteran of the automotive repair industry, Aaron Stokes grew his business from a one-car garage to an six-shop operation that includes a car rental agency. He is the founder of Shop Fix Academy, an innovative management coaching and training company offering AMi-accredited programs. In addition, Aaron hosts a weekly radio show on auto repair.

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