Agents and repetitive calls
In doing marketing for shops, I often call on insurance agents. Once again, exposure is the key. On the first call, most will only give you a couple of seconds to say why you're there and to leave some information. On the second call, they may give you an additional minute or two. By the third call, they know your name and you know the name of the people in the office. Now you have a real opportunity to provide more reasons for them to send you work .
So you've made the rounds for the third time. Can you stop now? I just spoke with another marketing guy who calls on agents for a shop. He said they dropped him for a few months and soon noticed referrals from those agents also began to drop off. They quickly called him back. In today's competitive marketplace, you're quickly forgotten if you don't maintain a continuous connection.
Just because you don't read it...
I've done some marketing for an immigrant shop owner who has come up the hard way. He still has limited English and so doesn't bother to read hardly any of the pieces of junk mail that cross his desk every day.
This shop owner refuses to let me send cards, letters and newsletters to agents and insurance executives because he is certain they will throw them a way without reading them. His viewpoint assumes every mailing piece is equal and all will be discarded without a glance. Because this is the way he treats all uninvited mail, he assumes everyone will share his aversion to reading commercial mail. But he overlooks the difference between his profession and that of the insurance executive.
While body shop owners focus on repairing and refinishing physical materials, the typical executive's stock in trade is words. Accountants, lawyers and insurance professionals are keenly aware of the power of words. A well-written mailing piece is more likely to be read by them than by someone in the collision repair business.
One key to getting a mailing piece read is professionalism. In this case, professionalism requires more than the same message sent repetitively over and over again. A professional P.R. person should be able to craft a newly interesting letter every month or two for you.
Marketing to fleets
National fleet management companies are an entirely different animal. After an initial application to be put on their program, if your shop is accepted there is little official reason to continue to communicate until you get a job assignment. The only interest these companies would have in hearing from you would be to update your shop profile. If you've sent in their application which calls for photos of your shop and details about your frame machine, spray booth, storage, security, and employees, what more can you say?
The ideal continuing communication is a simple newsletter. Every month something of interest happens. You produced an exceptional job on a difficult vehicle. One of your employees went the extra mile to perform beyond expectations. You've instituted a new policy, or purchased a new computer or software package. There's always something to communicate about. The important thing is keeping a continuous flow of communication going out, to maintain that connection. Sooner or later you'll see a job referred by the company you communicate with.
Specialty group advertising
I recently conducted a seminar in Las Vegas, during NACE. One of the attendees happened to mention he occasionally repairs and paints a horse trailer . He said it is a relatively simple, profitable activity, and he would like to have more of those jobs. He said there were quite a few race horse breeders in his area and there should be more of that kind of work to be done. I asked if he had found out what publications his horse trailer customers subscribe to. He hadn't (but I'm sure he will now). Special interest publications provide an ideal place to run a small ad.
Can you paint larger vehicles? Limousine companies and related publications are a natural target for you. You might also try for hearse fleets and funeral publications. There may also be a local general fleet publication you could advertise in.
And of course the least expensive advertising is your local church, club or community publications. You might also check the chamber of commerce to see if they have a local publication. Ads in specialty and local publications are often dirt cheap.
Attorneys -- a reason to communicate
These days few attorneys refer business to a specific body shop because of the potential liability if there is a problem. Nevertheless, there are still attorneys who specialize in personal injury cases. When the injury is automobile accident related, an attorney's primary interest is the dollar-volume value of the event. The greater the severity, the larger his potential fee.
This opens the door to soliciting estimates rather than actual jobs. The attorney has an interest in getting the largest possible estimate for his client, but one that will also pass muster with the insurance company involved . Your solicitation to the attorney should emphasize your skill in writing high-dollar estimates that are accurate and accepted by most insurance companies.
Once again, your letter must be very professional, comparable in style to the kind of letters sent out by the attorney. If you mail to the same attorneys every month or two, you need to have a couple of different variations so you're not sending the same letter over and over.
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," and "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops." His marketing company now provides on-line consulting and integrated marketing solutions 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.