Good Deeds May Bring in Good Business

Feb. 1, 2008
Community involvement can boost your profile and your profits.

If the highlight of your marketing plan is to blanket the community with flyers or to send a postcard to everyone on your customer list, it’s time to think outside the mailbox. Shop owners who invest their time, their spirit and a little sweat equity in community events are discovering that good deeds can lead to good business.

Flame Fame

When California’s Butte County Fair rolled around in 2007, organizers wanted their mascot to promote the fair’s theme. But nothing about the steadfast bull that welcomed fairgoers from atop the East Gridley Gate said “Rev Up For Fun.”

Enter RT’s Auto Body of Gridley. Owner Kevin Pickering agreed to adorn the bull in a more fitting fashion. He brought the bull to his shop, prepped its surface and proceeded to “flame it.” He painted goggles onto the bull’s solemn face and designed flowing flames for both flanks. Fair organizers offered free passes to the winner of a contest to name the bull, who was ultimately dubbed Full Throttle.

Pickering estimates he donated a $1,200 to $1,500 paint job to jazz up the cow. “Some people liked it and some didn’t,” Pickering says.
The work was a unique job for his body shop, and, more importantly, he’s found that the eye-catching paint job did more than turn heads at the fair. “In the community it just kind of keeps my name on their tongues,” he says.

Improved Image

In Ocean Gate, N. J., the police department’s three-vehicle fleet was in pretty shabby condition, with cars mismatched and surface worn. Resident Rob Fisher, who co-owns B.C. Auto Body with Bob Calarino in nearby South Toms River, offered the duo’s respective talents as painter and body man to greatly improve the appearance of the police fleet. Their offer wasn’t completely altruistic, of course. They had a hunch that their good deed could be good for business.

“I always thought the police cars looked like garbage,” Fisher says. “So when I bought the business in June, I talked to the chief about trying to give a good look to the department.” The chief was willing to consider Fisher’s suggestions. Being a painter, the shop owner had no trouble creating an attractive and functional look for the police cars once Calarino took care of the body work.

To accomplish the good deed, the B.C. Auto Body co-owners teamed up with two other local businesses: Central Paint BASF in Trenton and Sign Up, which donated the lettering for the police vehicles. All told, the materials cost about $10,000 and the labor totaled approximately 30 hours per car.

Santa's Workshop

In Pierce County, Wash., a group of collision repair and refinishing students and their instructor—all well beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus—helped keep that particular dream alive for dozens of local underprivileged children. The students converted a dilapidated county rescue unit into Santa’s sleigh, which was used to visit more than 20 apartment complexes where sheriff’s deputies distributed toys and candy.
The student renovation teams from Clover Park Technical College took the fully enclosed, decommissioned rescue unit and transformed it into a sleigh. They removed the roof, built an entirely new interior and rewired the vehicle so the lights, front and back, would function again. After the modifications and rewiring, students prepped and painted the vehicle. The interior was extensively reworked and covered with plush new upholstery.
The school and the students received credit in a local newspaper for their efforts, and soon will paint the school’s logo on the sleigh itself.
For now, the sleigh is back in the workshop of Santa’s helpers, where it’s undergoing a few more improvements before next year’s run.

Focus On Philanthropy

Along with the good deeds that directly generate business, there’s a certain appeal to those acts that are pure philanthropy. The owners of Auto Collision Specialists in Greeley and Loveland, Colo., have made time for both kinds of community service. Debra Foster-Morris and her husband, Mike, give airbag demonstrations, install car seats, and sponsor the American Cancer Society’s local Relay for Life. Only one of those commitments guarantees exposure for their business, but the co-owners see value in all of their volunteer efforts.

Foster-Morris, passionate about child-passenger safety, volunteers as a car seat fit specialist. “We live in a county that has a fairly high crash-fatality rate, relative to the population,” she says. As a percentage, it’s the highest in the state and ranks fairly high among national averages. Foster-Morris got involved with the Wells County organization Drive Smart.

“It seemed like a good fit for the body shop industry to work with an organization that wants to reduce fatalities in vehicles,” she says. Foster-Morris completed a four-day certification course to learn to properly fit and install infant car seats. Although there are other certified safety technicians in the area, the Loveland shop is the city’s only registered “fit station,” leaving Foster-Morris almost completely booked every other Tuesday when the shop takes appointments for the free inspection service.

Good thing, too: Statistics show that 75 to 90 percent of all car seats are installed incorrectly. Some of those she’s seen have simply needed minor adjustments; others find her saying a prayer of thanks that the drivers weren’t in an accident on the way to the shop.
Of course, these good deeds related to passenger safety may well raise awareness for Auto Collision Specialists, but that’s not the owners’ expectation. Their involvement with the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event is another story.

“We are corporate sponsors of that, locally,” she says. “My expectation is that I get business back from the sponsorship. That’s the reason I do that.” And the Society doesn’t disappoint: Corporate sponsors are featured on billboards, T-shirts, and other event advertisements.

In keeping with their philanthropic spirit, Foster-Morris and her husband do give more than their sponsorship requires. Their company sends two or three teams to participate in the relay as part of the Society’s larger fundraising initiative. “That’s [just] me giving to the community,” Foster-Morris says. “If it were just to get a business return, I would go out to my agents and do face-to-face marketing. That would have a bigger return.”

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