Offer Winter Driving Classes

Oct. 26, 2009
Draw in more customers with a defensive driving course for the community.

Last fall, Steve Church was looking for an opportunity to market his shop to the local community. The impending winter weather sparked an idea: to organize a winter driving class so folks could learn defensive driving tips and minimize collision risk. As the shop manager of Champion Chevrolet Collision Center in Reno, Nev., Church realized that teaching people how to safely drive on nearby mountain roads during snowstorms could help boost the shop’s public image. So Church contacted the Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) to help facilitate the course, and last November, he offered the shop’s first winter driving class. The seminar was a huge hit. Nearly 200 people attended, and the shop—which has 10 employees and $1.3 million in annual revenue—is planning another for this November. Church is hoping even more folks—all potential customers—attend this time.


Offering a winter driving class to the community is an effective marketing strategy because it connects with folks emotionally, says marketing expert Rajiv Kapur, founder and president of Configurations, a leading experiential branding communication firm.

In this case, the emotional connection between Church and class attendees is the prevention of a car accident—which, of course, can be a truly frightening and unsettling experience. And if someone at the course does, unfortunately, become involved in a collision, they’re more likely to bring their vehicle to Champion Collision because of the previously established emotional tie.

"You want to create an emotional attachment with your audience. Anything you can attach to a person's heart has much better impression, recall and customer loyalty."
- Rajiv Kapur, Founder And President, Configurations

Without learning defensive driving skills, the accident may have been a lot worse, says Kapur, and so the person is likely to believe that attending the class helped prevent further harm. As a result, they’re more likely to bring their car to Church, in whom they have confidence and a sense of familiarity, for repairs.

Kapur explains that the class helps folks realize that Church cares about their safety and wants to protect them from a serious car accident—a powerful emotional attachment that solidifies customer loyalty. “You want to create an emotional attachment with your audience.” he says.  “Anything you can attach to a person’s heart has much better impression, recall and customer loyalty.”


To generate buzz for last year’s winter driving class, Church posted flyers in area high schools, retirement homes and insurance offices. He also advertised in the newspaper and arranged for the local radio station to make an announcement about the seminar. The NHP spread the word during traffic news reports as well.

The shop’s entire staff pitched in to help host the event. “I asked who wanted to volunteer and everyone came in and helped out. They had fun with the people,” Church says. With the help of his team, he cleared half the shop to make room for chairs and a podium for speakers. The team also set up a booth for the shop’s technicians so they could field questions about paint and body and chat with customers.

The class focused primarily on safe winter driving habits. The NHP explained the “do’s and don’ts” of winter driving and advised folks what emergency supplies they should store in the trunk of their cars. This fall, Church is also planning to show folks how to properly use snow chains.

"The strategy was to get our name out and get people into our shop. If they get into an accident, hopefully they'll think of us first."
-Steve Church, Shop Manager, Champion Chevrolet Collision Center

In addition to defensive driving tips, attendees received information on safe practices such as proper seat belt use and the dangers of drunk driving. They even tried on driving under the influence (DUI) goggles that demonstrated the effects that alcohol has on depth and distance perception and peripheral vision.

Church gave a short presentation on what to do in an accident. “Most people who get in an accident don’t know what they should be doing,” he says. He gave everyone an accident kit, which included instructions on what to do immediately after a collision. The kits even include paper and pencil to make it easy for a driver to take notes that could be useful to the police, insurer or repairer.

The education drivers received at the class, Church hopes, will encourage them to bring their vehicle to his shop in the event of an accident. “The strategy was to get our name out and get people into our shop.” Once that happened, Church and his team were able to convey their competence and to inspire confidence in potential customers. “If they get into an accident, hopefully they’ll think of us first.”

Church says he spent about $800 organizing last November’s class. The NHP offered its time for free, and Church kept other costs low, as well. He rented tables and chairs. He minimized food costs by skipping catering and grilling hotdogs for guests. And he provided small-dollar items like popcorn, snow cones, soft drinks and bottled water.


Kapur says connecting with your local community is smart business. “In today’s world, anything you can do for your community is part of your business responsibility.”

Church plans to continue offering his winter driving class. Now that the event is established, he’s counting on more people attending. He has noticed that most body shops in his area are just doing business as usual. So putting his name out there in smart ways stands to give him a competitive advantage, he says.

When Church is ready to expand his community outreach, Kapur suggests other seasonal driving classes would be a natural way to grow. A summer driving course, for instance, might help potential customers learn to properly tow a boat or trailer. “Repetition creates brand,” Kapur says, and offering classes a couple of times a year will help keep Church’s shop top-of-mind.

For now, the winter driving classes are a win-win for Church. “It’s good for [drivers], and it’s good for us,” he says. “Anytime you can do a service for the public, it’s good for everybody.”

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