Marketing isn’t a dirty word


Marketing is not about selling yourself cheap, says Mike Owen.

In CAT recently I listed the important elements for review in a modern garage and first on the list was volume. Volume is the key ingredient.

However, as Joni Mitchell sang: “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone” and right now there must be several garages wishing that “a big yellow taxi” would come and take them away. Volume and marketing are synonymous yet their interests are opposed. When you have volume you don’t want the cost of marketing, yet when the volume dries up it’s too late to start marketing your business effectively.

The price drop myth

‘Absolute rubbish!’ I can hear it being shouted by many garage owners across the nation – followed by ‘I dropped the prices on MOT’s, tyres, service and anything else I do’. The trouble is this is not marketing, it’s distress selling – and that’s a completely different animal.

Marketing is not based on price; marketing is everything that justifies the price. Dinner at “Le Manoir” or “The Fat Duck” is not sold on being cheap, yet almost all of their clientele believe it is value for money.

What would you choose?

While I’m sure none of you would choose “Alf’s Café” as the venue for your daughter’s wedding reception, your customers might not be so discerning over their choice of service or repair provider.

There are times however – such as when a car has a new second owner or has just come out of warranty – when the law of the jungle pertains, and that means survival of the fittest.

If all garages, franchised and independent alike, are short of work then survival calls for you to steal from the competition’s table. Sitting in reception waiting for the phone to ring is akin to a vulture on a telephone line waiting for something to get run over; the meal is very rarely going to come to you. Sometimes you just have to get proactive.

The wrong kind of work

I was asked recently to take a look at a company in the North Midlands who were (then) booked ten days in advance yet, we agreed, they needed to market themselves a lot more effectively. It is entirely possible, as some business will know to their cost, to have a full diary of the wrong kind of work, leading to lower profits and inefficiency.

I’ve said before that customers gamble when they’ve got money in their pocket, when times are tough the security of the purchase becomes the order of the day and this is best communicated verbally. Discuss the options and then let the customer make the choice.

Build obligation

Nowadays customers are impatient, and this manifests itself as ‘no-show’ jobs, and the best method of preventing this is building obligation.

Here I must take issue with Motor Codes. I have taken this up with them directly, but I do feel that when in its charter clause 2.10 it states “We will not require deposits or prepayments for service and repair work” the message is counterproductive.

When asked, the response was that this is with regard to labour and not parts, but I’m sorry to say that this ambiguity still pertains to this day. When considering some of the vehicle manufacturers attitudes to non-stock items, their discount policy and in particular their returns and re-stocking charges, if I didn’t know the customer well, I’d damn sure take a deposit.

Another effective way of marketing is with text messaging. SMS messaging is now common practice and we must move with the times. Social media is not just easy but cheap, and using this to notify customers that the parts for their vehicles have been purchased builds obligation and reduces the likelihood of the customer not turning up.

Get their contact details and get the vehicle registration. If you are concerned, test the customer by re-contacting them to double-check their details perhaps, and this will psychologically lock the customer in.

Service or customer records are the key to maintaining efficiency. How many times do
I hear garage staff say “you know where we are when you need us”. Rule number one of selling is staying in control of the next action; if you hand the responsibility for the next move to the customer, you have lost control of the situation.

The sword of Damocles

In the same way, telling a customer that their brake pads will last another 3000 miles, or worse that they will be needed soon, is tantamount to hanging the sword of Damocles over their heads. Instead, take control of the situation; “We will need to re-inspect your front brake pads quite soon; how many miles do you do per month? 1500? then we will give you a call in six weeks.” You now have a new type of booking to put in the diary. Sounds too much like hard work? Most garages won’t see the value in this, but believe me it makes the difference between having proper customers or just a loyal client base.

If you find yourself looking at blank space on a diary page, revisit some of those old invoices. Look for items marked as advisory and contact those customers, even if the item has further life. While you’re at it check their oil, water, bulbs, washer fluid and offer
a complete support service. You, and they, will be amazed.

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