When I talk to shops about marketing to consumers I describe a ‘churn.’ You might not get butter right away, but if you get margarine, it’s a good start. Marketing is like building a structure and that’s why it takes time. If you start doing marketing and are perplexed that the phone isn’t ringing off its hook a few weeks later, you’re being unrealistic and setting yourself up for failure. Too many shops or MSOs don’t go the distance when it comes to marketing and abandon their efforts before they give it a chance to succeed.
I talked to three very successful shops recently that have marketing managers, in order to pick their brains and ask the number one question many shops want to know—will he or she pay for themselves over a reasonable period of time? If hiring a marketing person is a long-term expense rather than an investment, it can’t work; but if it makes you money, most body shop owners would embrace the idea rather quickly. ROI (Return on Investment) is a nice acronym, but to get there takes a lot of work and a strategic approach.
Craig Camacho is the marketing manager for Keenan Auto Body, with 11 locations in Philadelphia and Delaware. When he was hired by the company in 2002, Keenan had five shops that were doing roughly $600,000 in business annually. Today, the company is doing $21 million in business. Camacho knows he isn’t the main reason for the company’s explosive growth, but he also realizes that his marketing efforts have definitely played a role.
“One thing I would tell shops that are thinking about hiring a marketing person is that the technology is not going away. By continually plugging away at things like social media, advertising and other out-of-the-box approaches, we’ve been able to reach a point where we now fix almost 1,000 cars per month. We now have 21 DRPs and we dedicate 2.5% of our annual gross to our marketing efforts. We started out with a budget of 1.5% and increased it as we started to see some success.”
Devising a budget for marketing is the easy part, Camacho said, but without continually running analytics and seeing what works, the churn will not produce enough results to justify itself. “Many shops don’t know if their marketing works, so they take a shotgun approach and just blindly buy things like billboards, direct mail, radio and TV, among other things. This usually fails, because there is no cohesive plan.”
Rich Villanueva is the marketing director at Michael J’s Body Shop, with two locations in San Jose, CA. He came from the high-tech industry after working in Silicon Valley for many years, so he was already very familiar with the technology, but he had to learn the collision industry from the ground up.
“Collision is unlike anything else I’ve ever done,” Villanueva stated. “I’ve now been doing this for almost three years and we’ve increased our revenues by 32% since I came onboard here. I’m not doing it all by myself, because we have a great staff and a very progressive owner. I work a lot on customer service, making sure that every car we repair goes as planned, so that we have a happy customer, which leads to solid referrals. We’ve been working hard on our social media and website and now our average customer spends 2.5 minutes on our site, which is exceptional. We have also increased our Internet visibility 300% since I came onboard. We’ve embraced a lot of new things, like YouTube videos we create, search strategies that work and social media that brings us clients, coupled with some old school conventional marketing, which involves going out and meeting with insurance companies and meeting agents.”
Jeff Ryan, the owner of Michael J’s Body Shop, had a feeling that Villanueva would succeed as his marketing person, even though his background wasn’t in collision or even in the automotive field, he said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, so I was confident that he could do a good job. It took some time to get all of the puzzle pieces in place, but once we established a plan, we could see results. Rich has paid for himself many times over, so hiring him was definitely a smart move.”
Jeremy Eaton is the marketing guru at Collision Repair Specialists in St. Joseph, MI. He was hired by his father after attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco, so he had no marketing background. Eaton works around 50 hours weekly to provide marketing support for his family’s one location, he explained.
“I’ve only been doing this since April and we’ve already experienced a spike in business. We’ve succeeded by using things like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest to bring our message to the public. The process never stops and we’re not afraid of trying new stuff to see if it will work. We do a ton of charity because we want to do it, but I know it strengthens our position in the community and so it’s a win-win. Recently, we did a diaper drive for a non-profit and we have previously partnered with the United Way. We provide our amazing facility to charities and it’s been great. I also do a lot of internal things with the staff, such as team building, goal setting and other strategies to empower our people and it’s also been very effective.”
Marketing management isn’t new, but many body shops are new to the science. Positive results will lead to more cars and more money, and soon it will become a no-brainer and an addition to your staff that could soon be an indispensable part of your business.