By Andy Fiffick MACS Chairman and CEO, Owner Rad Air Complete Car Care, Cleveland, Ohio
There is no doubt the future of our industry will be built on maintenance and service, and less on repairs. Today’s vehicles are simply manufactured better, have fewer failures and are lasting longer. Additionally, maintenance and service intervals are increasing and every system and sub-system is monitored and controlled electronically; a fact which also reduces major failures. In the past a client would visit us 3 to 4 times a year. All indicators show a new trend of 1.5 to 2 visits per year will emerge in the near future. Therefore, to keep the same volume in our shops, we will need twice as many clients to maintain the same sales volume. How do we accomplish this monumental task? The answers are not simple; however, the two tools to increase car count are advertising and marketing.
Advertising is all of the direct mail, TV, radio and any other form of promotions you may do to attract clients. Typically, advertising is expensive and can be costly to most shops. On the other hand, marketing is everything else you do to enhance you, your shop and your brand. Marketing starts at the top with the shop owner, and while marketing programs are cost effective, they are also more labor intensive.
During this time of the year we all slow down and question every expense. One of the first items to get the axe is advertising and any unnecessary expenses or overhead. I understand shops need to “trim the fat,” however, I never understand when shop owners tell me they are cutting advertising and marketing budgets because times are slow! In fact, my advice is to increase your spending on advertising and double-up on your marketing efforts during the slower months. Here’s why:
If every other shop in your area is cutting their advertising budgets, it is your opportunity to pick up some additional clients with proper advertising. Be smart and aggressive (without giving the shop away) when no one else is and you can come out on top. Mount an ongoing and strategic advertising and marketing plan for the entire year and implement it at all costs. Budget to increase spending in the slow months and you will build market share when your competitors are cutting back. By being in front of your client every month or so (the more the better) you will land that big job when they remember to come to you after receiving 4, 6, 8 or more advertisements about your shop on a consistent basis. Just because you did not land a job on the first try does not mean the advertising is not working.
During the slow months you have the time to enhance your marketing efforts. Develop and implement plans to engage the community. Hold an after-hours event for the local Chamber of Commerce, PTA, Garden Club or whatever organization you can get to come to your shop. This is a great time of the year to be proactive and think outside of the box. Introduce yourself and your shop to as many civic organizations as you can. Let them know you are the personable, local expert and they can trust you. Offer unique and different discounts your competition hasn’t thought of. Line up the fundraisers for the spring and summer with local sports groups, Boy Scouts, schools and more. Schedule charity car washes, food drives, or a Free Hot Dog Day with all proceeds going to a local charity or a civic organization. Again, involve and engage the community and draw outside the lines with your marketing plan.
Two rules of marketing and advertising have stood the test of time. First, you will lose about 15% to 20% of your clients on an annual basis due to conditions outside of your control. The second truth is that if you do everything absolutely right, your client MAY tell one or two people you are a great place to do business with. If you do something wrong, they will tell everyone; and social media makes it easy for them to tarnish your reputation! If you don’t advertise and market yourself, you may be out of business in 5 to 7 years because of these two factors alone. With reduced car counts, it may be sooner!
One last word; unless you and your shop are performing at a true professional level, you need to hold back on advertising dollars and fix your business first. No amount of advertising can overcome inferior or shoddy work in today’s social media crazed marketplace.
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