These can vary widely in terms of size and cost. I assisted one dealership owner in creating quite a large event to build business for his body shop. In addition to insurance DRP coordinators, since he did a lot of work for commercial contractors and also local law enforcement, he invited many company owners and managers and also sheriff's department personnel. He put up large umbrellas over picnic tables all along the driveway in front of his body shop work bays. Naturally food and drink vendors were located along there.
Each work bay was converted into a presentation space. By the prep and spray booths, the paint jobber he used set up demos of spray guns, a color-matching photospectrometer, and various paint supply items. The 3-M distributor used a bay to demonstrate special materials for everything from windshield repair to simple repairs on plastic and fiberglass auto parts. Another bay housed a paintless dent removal specialist, and some attendees were provided with small dent removals from their vehicles. An ongoing demonstration of the estimating and management systems was provided in the body shop office. Tours of the entire dealership were given every fifteen minutes.
The cost of the event was in excess of $10,000. Was it worth it? One small insurance company representative agreed to add the shop to their DRP list. The dealership got a few orders for new pick-up trucks, but very few new commercial company people came to the event and I didn't hear of any new commercial contracts. Was the event a wise investment? I don't think the dealership owner considered it a success, but the upgrades to the shop were needed and the P.R. value of the event was substantial. Could he have put on an event for less? The answer is a definite "Yes!" Looking back, I could see that a dealership principal would have difficulty resisting turning a body shop promotional event into somewhat of a vehicle sales event. That increased his cost greatly.
In general I've seen more shops simply put on a barbecue along with a tour of the shop. Others have made their shop available for a small local trade show with suppliers and other vendors setting up their demonstrations and presentations on long tables. One disadvantage of this is having other shop owners coming through. The barbecue event can be focused purely on insurance company representatives and/or other referral sources.
An even more economical approach to an event is to participate in someone else's event. One local school put on a safe driving event. The Auto Club and a local radio station sponsored it. A couple of collision shop owners and also driving school owners were invited to set up tables with safe driving information. In a sense this was more of an event looking to the future when the high school kids would become new drivers, but parents were also there and had an opportunity to learn more about the participating collision repair shops.
A more direct event for the general public was put on by a shop that became a voting location on an election day. The owner played patriotic music and had patriotic banners all over the place. He even hired a model dressed up in an Uncle Sam costume to conduct tours of the shop for anyone interested. Since many voters are long-term local homeowners with more expensive high-end cars, the shop owner felt he would reach the kind of customer he wanted.
While a shop event aimed at insurance or commercial account attendees has to direct their promotional mail, phone calls and faxes to a very specific list of prospects, the shop focusing on the general public could use radio, TV and print publication ads to get the word out. Shops located in a desirable residential area could also distribute flyers directly to homes in the area.
Collision shops have one major advantage over many other businesses when it comes to putting on events. Most shops occupy a fairly large space overall. Like the dealership I described, most have many parking spaces and open repair bays where demonstrations and presentations can be carried out easily. Few people are aware of the size and complexity of a typical body shop. The event can be an ideal opportunity to educate prospective customers on the advantage of choosing a shop with state-of-the-art spray booths, frame measuring and straightening equipment, top quality welding equipment and the many special tools needed to perform repairs on today's ever-changing vehicles.
Putting on an occasional event is a good promotional effort for a shop because it not only provides a reason to invite key potential referral sources to see the shop, but it also motivates shop owners and managers to clean up the place and make it presentable for the event. That alone is worth at least a small investment.