Sometimes it’s good to take a bit of time out to think through why a customer should choose you, as opposed to any other garage in the area.
Thinking about your business from your customers’ perspective is an exercise worth taking. After all, we can be so immersed in what we do that we lose track and take things for granted.
Personally, I think I can safely vouch for your typical customer and tell you that most find it very difficult to differentiate between one garage and another. Many independent garages unfortunately do appear the same. They all say they do brakes, clutches, servicing; some offer air conditioning services and other’s MOTs, but there never seems to be a lot of difference between them.
This makes it very difficult for customers to make informed decisions on which garage to use. They have very little to go by. They may have driven past your premises, seen your signage, again reiterating that you do what everyone else does.
Some premises will be big and others small; in these cases, price will probably go through the customer’s mind, big = expensive (but perhaps they have more capabilities); small = cheaper (but can they work on new cars?).
This could be a reason why some customers don’t stay loyal and change garages from year to year. Or, worse still, you lose out on a major repair because the customer wasn’t aware that you could do it and went elsewhere.
Very often customers are left to read the ‘signals’ that independent garages put out and to decipher for themselves who to use.
But this means for those who do reach out to their customers, who are prepared to communicate and engage with them, there are great opportunities to win them over. Customers do need more information to help them with their decisions. It’s not all about price and where you are.
To the majority, the mechanics of cars are a mystery. Most never lift their bonnet from year-to-year and as technology rapidly advances, people understand less and less. This only increases their difficulty with decisions. Who is really up to the job – can that small garage down the road really handle my particular car?
So how can you make yourself more appealing to customers? You need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. You need to help customers with their decision making so they gravitate to you.
In an industry where this is rarely done (outside of the dealerships), there are opportunities for those prepared to put in the effort. And this is what marketing is about – it’s not necessarily about hard-sell offers and saying how great you are. It’s about helping customers, informing them and going that extra mile. It does take time and effort but it can pay off.
If you take a leaf out of other industries it might help you understand what I mean by ‘differentiation’. Take the airlines; you’ve got Easyjet, Virgin and British Airways, all fly planes and take passengers fromAtoB–butallare distinctly different and spend a lot of money communicating how different they are and evolving services to back this up. Customers know pretty much what to expect.
Then there’s the supermarkets, who do you choose Waitrose or Lidl? Extreme cases I know, but with one you know the products have been chosen with a more discerning approach, plus you can pick up a nice lifestyle magazine with hints, tips and interesting stories. Whereas the other has a more, no frills, pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap approach – both are clearly different.
It has been said that those that are too ‘middle-ground’ or too general are the businesses that are struggling. You’ve only got to look at some big high street names that have gone to the wall. In most cases, it was because they lost their way and,
in the eyes of the customer, weren’t different enough.
So how can you differentiate your garage? As I’ve already said, in most towns there are great opportunities for those who are just bothered to communicate; to actually do something like sending out regular mailings. This is because most don’t do anything.
But the key here is ‘communicating’, after all, it’s no good being good at something, or offering something different if you don’t tell anyone.
For those bookish types out there, I recommend reading any book by Jack Trout the author of ‘Repositioning’ (an updated version of his earlier book ‘Positioning: The battle for your mind’, or ‘Differentiate or Die’. These books will give you greater insight into differentiation techniques.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
- Becoming the local expert
- Offering guarantees
- Providing a unique approach to serving customers
- Specialising in types of vehicles
- Providing more customer endorsements
- Providing additional products and services that others don’t n Doing charitable work
- A long track record or unique story