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Tuesday, 31 May 2005 17:00

Creating a profitable event

Written by Tom Franklin

Most shop owners try to get on referral programs that will bring in a steady flow of business. These might be insurance direct repair programs, drive-in programs, fleet management company programs, or contracts with government, institutional or commercial vehicle departments. In just about every case, the problem is the same: how to get the decision-maker to look at your shop or to send someone to look at your shop. 

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 Franklin

Recently a Ford dealership with a moderately-sized body shop worked with us to create an event that brought insurance people, fleet managers and commercial vehicle managers to look at the shop. Initially, the dealership owner was reluctant to create what we called the "Spring Spectacular Open House Event." He thought it would be much too expensive to justify the amount of new business that could be expected to result from the effort. You might be interested to learn what changed his mind.

Some beginning moves

Planning began for the event about four months before it took place. It was necessary to get some preliminary commitments from in-surance executives, local agents, some municipal fleet managers from surrounding towns, and some existing commercial and fleet customers. Persistent calls had to be made to these people to get those early commitments, but there were enough positive responses to suggest the event would be successful.

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A large crowd including Insurance company representatives, fleet and commercial vehicle managers attended the Spring Spectacular Open House Event to showcase a Ford dealership's body shop.
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As a benefit of the Spring Spectacular, some new fleet deals were negotiated by the fleet sales manager and dealership service manager. This is an idea that works!

Fortunately this dealership is located in an industrial area and more than half of all vehicle sales are fleet sales. This means that the service department also does a lot of fleet maintenance. It would seem this would spill over into some collision repair, but the body shop just wasn't getting very much of that business. It was often barely breaking even or actually losing money. It was hoped that holding the event in the body shop area would acquaint attendees with the body shop, the manager, and the sophisticated equipment and facility available to do repairs and refinishing. With some key people coming, it looked like this might happen so the owner agreed to try the event.

Funding with other people's money

Once we had a couple of preliminary commitments - especially from insurance direct repair coordinators - we began to contact vendors who would also benefit from exposure to insurance and fleet executives. The shop uses PPG paint and has recently become a Certified First facility. We got the agreement of PPG, the paint jobber, and a Certified First representative to do some presentations and to provide drawing prizes. The regional Ford company representative also agreed to show up with an assistant and some prizes.

The shop is also a substantial user of 3-M products, so we got a 3-M representative to set-up a slide show and also to do a live presentation of some plastic repairs on a damaged plastic bumper cover. A representative from MOC also brought a display of detail products to show, along with some more drawing prizes.

The shop has a Chief frame machine and Velocity measuring system, so it wasn't hard to get the local Chief sales rep to come out and do a demonstration. The Saitek spot-welder rep also agreed to do a demonstration. Enterprise Rent-a-Car has an office on the dealership lot, so they set up a table with pens, post-its, calendars and other sundry items for attendees to pick up. One of the big draws for the event was offering attendees a free paintless dent repair on one small dent on their vehicle. Fix-a-Dent, a local company, came out and did free repairs all day, just for the exposure.

When all of the contributions from vendors were taken into consideration, about the only heavy expenses were the promotion and the caterer with food and drink, plus the before and after clean-up.

Having a major attraction

Every event needs a center of attention to be really successful. If this had been an event to attract local residents, perhaps a merry-go-round and carnival-style event would have been appropriate combined with articles and press releases for all local newspapers. But this event was aimed specifically at volume referral prospects - not the general public. The vendor demonstrations and free dent fix or car wash would be somewhat of a draw, but we still needed something more spectacular.

Fortunately, the fleet sales manager is a major stock car racing fan. He was able to arrange to have a racing vehicle and driver from a local speedway at the event. He was also able to arrange a drawing prize of an opportunity to test drive the vehicle at the local speedway. We created a set up to photograph all attendees with the race car in the background, and e-mailed digital photos to them the next day. This proved to be an excellent draw, and many attendees posed for the photo.

Since the dealership provides vehicle service and maintenance for several police departments in surrounding communities, another special attraction was a huge armored ram vehicle used by the sheriff's department to batter down doors when criminals have barricaded themselves in a building. This made another fine posing prop for photos.

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When the event began to pay off

Several insurance direct repair coordinators came. One of them brought several area supervisors. Another brought along the executive who decides on drive-in operations. Quite a few agents came. All of the insurance people were especially impressed with 3-M's plastic bumper cover repair. A clip had broken off from the damaged cover. The 3-M rep repaired the broken clip in about 15 minutes. He noted that prior to the availability of some of these new adhesives, bumper covers often had to be totally replaced if a clip had broken off.

Insurance people love to see operations that reduce repair costs. As they viewed the various demonstrations: spot-welding, frame measurement, special paint applications, paintless dent repairs and more, it was obvious they were impressed with the technical focus at the shop. Several valuable new relationships were worked out with the shop.

As a side effect, some new fleet deals were also negotiated by the fleet sales manager and also by the dealership service manager. There was no doubt that the event had been profitable.

What if it had gone perfectly?

Because it is so difficult to work on an event like this while keeping up with the daily work load, we had felt not enough calling or promotion had been done. Events like this require a massive amount of calling and promotion. We sent out hundreds of invitations followed by a newsletter describing various elements of the event to come. Still, many of the arrangements were not completed until almost the last minute. We were concerned that there would not be a big enough turn-out to justify the cost and effort that had gone into it.

We were right. The turn-out was far less than we had expected. But the return on investment turned out to be excellent. We wondered how much more could have been gained if everything had gone perfectly. We came away convinced, once again, that any event is better than no event. Often nothing less than this can get key executives to make an appearance and really check out your facility. And -- like giving a party at your house -- holding a shop event forces you to clean up the entire shop, to put a fresh coat of paint on some of those worn and chipped areas, and to put a better face on everything.

This client was so pleased, we may even get him to put on a "Fall Spectacular Event." Any holiday or season change can be a good excuse to put on event. Especially if it's profitable.

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: tbfranklin@aol.com.

 

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