So what separates a good shop from a great shop? There are many answers to that question. Is it location, training, techs, management? These are just a few, but one thing is certain: If a shop owner doesn’t concentrate on branding, all that other work and planning won’t matter. This may seem counter-intuitive to many owners because our focus is to have the most talented and efficient shop in town.
Branding is our way to communicate to customers what they can expect when they walk through the door. If it’s executed correctly, it will stay with them long after they walk out with their keys. The goal is to exceed their expectations every time.
Ok, it is easy to say but not so easy to do. Well, maybe. The key to successful branding is to offer something that gets your customers’ attention and solves problems they may not even realize they have. While pricing is important, I firmly believe that our expertise and our ability to provide exemplary service are truly what define our worth. Remember, we are ultimately in the relationship business. So we need to enhance those relationships. How we brand ourselves is critical to how our customers see us and how they perceive the value we deliver.
This is a truly introspective, humbling process. Once you define who your competition is and what you feel differentiates you from them, you can develop a plan that will help keep you on track. If, in the process of doing this, you find yourself unsure of what separates you from your competition, don’t worry. You have just taken the biggest step in the process and you now have a clean palette from which to work.
We, as independent shop owners, don’t have the multimillion-dollar budgets that the OEMs or big box stores have for advertising and marketing. That’s actually a good thing. Most of that marketing is completely price or gimmick based and consumers can see right through it. It forces us to be methodical and surgical with our branding and marketing to get our shop noticed.
Going the Extra Mile
The customers we want are looking to be “wowed.” Think of a time you were a patron in a business that impressed you with service, convenience, etc. Now think of a time you did the same for one of your customers. Maybe it was the tire repair you did for free, or the person to whom you gave a ride or loaner car that got them to work on time when their car wouldn’t start. Or, maybe it was the customer whose car you detailed after they had a major repair performed and their reaction to seeing that 10-year-old car standing tall after you serviced it. All of these examples are representative of a relationship-based way of thinking, not just a repair mentality.
The goal here is to use your experiences and expertise to brand your shop as the “go to” shop for outstanding service and experience. Truly, that is what sets us apart from the larger businesses. The customer you want doesn’t want to be treated like a number, but rather like family. That needs to be our focus and our promise to the customer. Use that as a guide when branding your shop. Keep hammering on the fact that your shop is convenient, that you’ll go the extra mile, and that you truly care about your customers’ needs.
If this is done correctly you will accomplish two goals. First, you have a presence and a contiguous message to convey all the time, every time. The second is slightly harder to notice. If you brand yourself correctly, you will establish the parameters for the relationship you will develop with your customers without ever saying a word.
Your Promise to Customers
Here is what I mean. If you have branded you shop as the rock bottom, lowest price in town, you have set the tone of the relationship with your customer as being completely price driven. This means that every time a customer finds something for slightly less than what you are charging, you have broken your promise to them and will lose them. What you have to ask yourself is, what kind of customer do you want? My suggestion would be to try not to undercut your way to success, but rather focus on the services you provide at a fair price. That is a win-win for you and your customer.
Make sure your logo is everywhere and on everything that has to do with your business. Always make sure it’s associated with positive messaging and the type of problems you solve for your customer base.
In my opinion, we are in the golden age when it comes to the ease of getting your brand/message out to the public. There was a time when we had very few options at our disposal when it came to advertising (remember when your Yellow Pages’ ad mattered?). For the last 100 years, shops have been trying to separate themselves from their competition. At this moment in time, there are so many avenues to take that it may seem overwhelming.
My suggestion is to try as many as you can afford to budget. What works in one place may not work in another. To be successful here, you must understand the audience you are trying to reach. Make sure when you advertise that you can measure each method’s success rate. This will be a key indicator of what is working and what is not. Once you have a method that works, focus your resources there and go for it.
As an industry, we evolved to places we never thought we could go. The services we provide and jobs we do cover every demographic you can possibly imagine. So, when you’re deciding on how you are going to brand your shop, keep that in the back of your mind. That said, as different as the baby boomers might be from the millennials, remember that convenience and quality still win the day every time!