Whatever the case, business has been down for many shop owners. When this happens they begin to cast around to see what they can do to push business back up. As we all know, the best time to market is when you don't really need it, just like the best time to go for a loan is when you don't really need it. The worst time to go is when you're desperate - either for the loan or for additional business.
The need for a different approach
Most marketing takes time - often a lot of time - to reach those who are in need of collision repair. Ads are expensive and have to run quite a while before they're noticed and get results. Flyers are lost and tossed along with the many other annoying flyers that are left under windshield wipers. Courting insurance companies for DRP or drive-in status can be a very long process. What can a shop owner do to counteract a current down-turn in business?
About now, a typical consulting guru would suggest: "It's time to think out of the box." Actually one marketing lady came up with a better metaphor. She said: "It's time to think out of the bowl." What she meant was the fish bowl. The size of a goldfish is largely determined by the size of its bowl. Put a goldfish in a bigger bowl and it will grow bigger. Keep it in a small bowl and it will stay small. Many shop owners seem unwilling to "think out of the bowl." As the proverb says, to grow bigger "you will always be out of your comfort zone." So the same old comfortable marketing efforts never move the shop owner into a bigger potential market.
Picking a specialty
When you're looking for a medical doctor, it's nearly impossible to find a "general practitioner." Most of them learned long ago that the best money to be made is in practicing a specialty. So we have eye, ears, nose and throat specialists, foot specialists, heart specialists, etc. But most body shop owners seem reluctant to specialize. They tell me they need to get business from many different sources. This is certainly true of the "general practitioner." For many years the family doctor did just fine, but the time came when a new approach was needed. And perhaps that time has come for body shop owners too.
The most successful "specialists" I've seen have specialized in one type of vehicle. I've seen a number of Porsche, BMW, Corvette and Mazda specialists. Others do okay specializing in German cars and others in Asian cars. An investment in the tools, equipment and training needed may make it possible to succeed with these specialties. But the investment can be enormous - far more than many shop owners could afford. Are there other specialties that are more affordable?
Thinking outside of the bowl
When you begin to think about taking on a new specialty, chances are you will be cutting into someone else's turf. Shop owners have told me they don't want to get into theft recovery because they already work with a dash repair firm. Another said he doesn't want to add mechanical because he gets work from neighborhood mechanics. I hear the same thing about sun roofs, spray-on bed-liners, detailing, glass, paintless dent repair, and upholstery.
It is true that when you launch a specialty that competes with one of your current outsourcing vendors you may see a temporary drop in that business. But on the plus side, many of these specialties give you an opportunity that you don't have with general collision repair: People don't have to have an accident to come in for a service or product. Now your advertising has a chance to motivate a prospective buyer to come in immediately!
Follow your own interest
One of the most successful specialties I've seen lately is at a shop run by a dedicated Corvette enthusiast. He belongs to Corvette clubs. He promotes Corvette racing. He offers a Corvette Z06 upgrade kit. And a large percentage of his business is repairing and refinishing Corvettes. No surprise. Another shop owner focuses on the muscle cars he loves. And yet another specializes in flames, graphics, pin-stripes and other cosmetic accessories that car- crazy drivers love to spend their money on.
A final benefit from specializing also parallels the medical doctor specialist: You already know when you've been to a specialist when you get the bill. When you can deliver an expert service or product not offered by the guy down the street, you can also command a premium price for your trouble. And that may make being temporarily uncomfortable more worth while.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.