Spread the Word

Aug. 20, 2020

Your shop can gain customer referrals in a cost-effective manner if you simply get face time with local insurance reps.

SHOP STATS: Auto Body Concepts   Location: Gainesville, Texas and Ardmore, Okla. Operator: Dan and Wendy Ott  Average Monthly Car Count: 175  Staff Size: 39 (13 front office, 26 back end) Annual Revenue: $6 million  

On the surface, the odds seem stacked against body shop owners Dan and Wendy Ott. 

They operate two shops in a rural area near the border shared by Texas and Oklahoma. The area is remote enough that most insurance companies won’t send field reps to visit the Otts’ shops. And, the couple spends very little in the way of traditional advertising. 

Nevertheless, the Otts have grown their business immensely over the last decade. 

“We just stuck to the game plan of taking care of customers,” explains Dan Ott, whose business was honored by Germania Insurance a while back for boasting a CSI score of nearly 99 percent.

Over the past decade, the owners of Auto Body Concepts have grown their business to two facilities bringing in a combined $6 million per year. 

While spreading the word about your shop isn’t easy in a rural area, Auto Body Concepts has grown due in part to some unconventional advertising. 

The Backstory

Dan Ott’s father was an accomplished body shop owner in the past, and his overarching business philosophy is still utilized at Auto Body Concepts locations. 

“My dad ran a shop in this area for 52 years,” Dan Ott explains. “And he always said ‘As long as you take care of the customer, everything else is going to fall in place.’” 

That said, sometimes shops need to put an added emphasis on asking their customers to spread the word about their service. And Dan Ott especially hoped to accomplish that earlier this decade, in hopes of increasing his return on investment for equipment like a Car-O-Liner frame machine and a facility upgrade in Gainesville that took place roughly eight years ago. 

The Problem

Auto Body Concepts’ two locations reside in Gainesville, Texas, and Ardmore, Okla.—towns with a combined population of  roughly 40,000. As a result, marketing the shops via mass media wasn’t much of an option. 

Even time-honored, traditional methods of advertising, like appearing in the Yellow Pages, just didn’t offer the Otts much in the way of a return on investment. 

Eventually, through trial and error, the couple learned a few cost-effective methods of generating word of mouth. 

The Solution

By gauging the reaction to various methods of drumming up word-of-mouth advertising, Dan and Wendy Ott discovered a few valuable methods for inspiring customers to become advocates for their business. The following steps proved to be the most valuable methods of cost-effective advertising. 

Visit insurance agents. 

While the owners of Auto Body Concepts utilize several tactics to inspire referrals from their customers, like providing a complimentary follow-up car wash, the free polishing of headlights, and virtually ‘round-the-clock PDR service, their most impactful customer service tactics begin with  forging relationships with area insurance reps. 

Every two weeks, Auto Body Concepts’ leaders visit insurance agents in Gainesville, Texas and Ardmore, Okla., bringing them cookies with the company’s logo on them. It’s a rather inexpensive step that Dan Ott says helps ensure that “in our community, pretty much everybody knows ABC.” And the approach appears to work, considering ABC has added multiple DRP relationships in recent years. 

Donate to schools. 

Another element that helped the Otts grow their business (and add a second facility that opened seven years ago), was the positive buzz they so often create in their community at high school sporting events. Namely, the couple donates bottles of water to area high schools’ concession stands. 

Anytime you’re at a high school football game in their pigskin-crazed area, ABC’s branding is emblazoned on it. It makes for a goodwill gesture of which the area’s residents take note. 

“It helps out, because now the concession stand’s not having to buy water, and also it’s an advertisement for us,” Dan Ott says. 

Upsell Respectfully. 

The Otts are now the proud owners of a 40,000-square-foot facility in Gainesville with a state-of-the-art shop floor featuring an array of equipment like welders from Car-O-Liner. They were able to fund for a shop like that due in part to a style of salesmanship that customers seem to respect. 

Like any collision repair business, ABC’s 39-member staff upsells when possible. But the Otts take care to try and educate customers during that process, too. For example, Dan Ott shows customers a model hood that compares and contrasts what a repair job will look like if his shop staff fixes only dents covered by a vehicle owner’s insurance, as opposed to fixing any additional aesthetic damage like rock chips. That method, Ott says, typically helps customers understand why touch-up work might cost them a little more than they initially expected. 

The Aftermath

By refining their methods of cost-effective advertising, the Otts have continued to grow their business in recent years. They have built Auto Body Concepts up from what was once one shop producing roughly $200,000 in annual revenue to two facilities that currently bring in a combined $6 million per year.

Even the COVID-19 crisis has scarcely slowed the Otts’ business, aside from a roughly two-week downturn early in the pandemic. Unlike many shops throughout America, Auto Body Concepts didn’t have to lay off any employees last Spring or Summer. 

The Otts now have nearly 40 total employees that combine to repair approximately 175 vehicles per month, and ample hope for the future. And much of that is due to the word-of-mouth advertising they inspire within their area. 

“If there’s summer camps, we’ll buy their T-shirts and advertise on them,” Wendy Ott notes, “and we end up seeing those T-shirts a lot over the years. If a kid wants us to advertise in their yearbook, we’ll do it. Those are creative ways we’ve come up with to advertise.” 

The Takeaway

More than anything  in recent years the Otts have learned that, when it comes to marketing a shop, aggressiveness is key. Persistence typically pays off, Wendy Ott says. 

Whether you’re attempting to secure new insurance partnerships or just trying to keep a customer happy, she feels it’s crucial to follow-up with them consistently, for example. 

“Don’t give up and just send an email and let it lay,” Wendy Ott says. “Follow up with them. Ask them, ‘What do you need?’ One tip that I have is this: Be aggressive.”