by Debbie Briggs, contributing writer
In today’s ever-changing digital media landscape, with thousands of tweets per minute and videos going viral every day, it’s becoming more and more important for shop owners to stay on top of marketing technology. Ron Haugen, owner of Westside Auto Pros in Des Moines, IA, has seen first-hand how a well-mastered, intentional social media plan can attract new customers.
“We have a very comprehensive marketing plan and budget that includes internet, television, direct mail and social media,” Haugen says of his successful 16-year-old business. “We have focused on branding, which gives us top-of-mind awareness for both first-time and repeat customers.
“People will post on their wall and say, I need a plumber. Who should I call?” he continues. “Eight people will immediately reply back. People turn to Facebook and other social media; it’s the referral source of today.”
Haugen says he relies on The Buyosphere, a marketing agency with a customer service spin, to handle his social media posting, and advises hiring others who are experts in their field to manage areas that maybe aren’t your cup of tea.
“As far as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the bulk of that is handled by The Buyosphere,” he says. “They do such a good job that, just recently, readers of Cityview, a weekly independent newspaper in the Des Moines area, voted Westside Auto Pros ‘Best Tweeter,’ an honor we’ve won two years in a row.”
Complement that well-crafted social media plan with service reminders and a search engine optimized (SEO) website by AutoVitals, as well as e-newsletters by Greenmail, and you’ve got a powerful internet presence that not only strengthens the Westside Auto Pros brand, but also is a force in attracting new customers.
“The vast majority of buying decisions are made with some form of internet search or research,” Haugen says. “A good website with excellent SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) allows any business to be a part of that decision. Web presence is not an option, it is a must. And, it must be done right.”
Gaining & Retaining Customers
But once you get customers in the door, paramount is a knowledgeable, friendly staff that makes the car repair process a positive one. After all, Haugen says, you have only one chance to make a great first impression.
“If your staff and facility aren’t clean and professional, then the customer perception is that the service and repairs won’t be either,” he stresses. “If the interaction, from the very first phone call to the actual visit, is not professional and friendly, then the perception is the entire process won’t be either. Your shop’s appearance will determine whether or not the customer buys and/or returns.”
Haugen feels the staff at Westside Auto Pros sets the shop apart from the competition, and it starts during the new hire interview process.
“From our interviewing and screening during the hiring process, to the weekly customer service training and secret shoppers from The Buyosphere, we are never done learning and improving,” he says. “Our goal is to provide the best customer service experience of any business in our city — not just auto repair.”
Westside Auto Pros employs six techs who are all ASE Master Technicians; a requirement to work at the shop. Even oil changes are done by a Master Tech. A great work environment, clean facility, well-structured policies and procedures, and a generous benefit plan all work to ensure employees stay with the shop for many years. But when there is a need to hire new staff, Haugen has his pick of applicants.
“We have technicians apply for positions every month, even though we are not looking for someone,” he says. “We keep the great resumes on file, and if we have an opening, we turn to those resumes. We have a good reputation in town.”
Technicians are also required to complete 40 hours of training every year — but it’s more like 60. And, while it’s mainly on-site classes, techs also attend Bosch Technical Training in Chicago. Haugen himself, along with the front counter staff, also receive solid training throughout the year, including what’s offered at ASA’s Vision Hi-Tech Training & Expo each year.
Shop Owner Training
“Some of the most overlooked training out there is for shop owners,” Haugen says. “Most shop owners started out as technicians and grew into owning a shop. Throw technical out the window; HR, financial management, marketing and how to run a business — that’s what shop owners need to know. I was in the same boat, but then I sought education and training. It made a big difference.”
Haugen points to RLO Trainings Bottom Line Impact Group as the biggest influencer on how to better manage his shop.
“Learning and implementing financial benchmarks, not only on the income side but on the expense side, is key,” he says. “You can track your different expenses, but how do they stack up to other shops that are similar to yours? What about your profit margins? The training and accountability you get in a 20 Group is second to none.”
The bottom line, Haugen concludes, is that technology and marketing continue to change, and as a shop owner, you have to keep up with it.
“I compare it to a NASCAR race,” he says. “If you’re in the lead and you’re competitors are two or three car lengths behind you, you have to keep the accelerator pushed all the way to the floor or they’ll pass you. If I let off, other shops will pass us in marketing or customer service.”
Given Haugen’s whole-hearted dedication to both, Westside Auto Pros should stay in the lead for many years to come.
Ron Haugen’s Keys to Success
#1. Top level staff. These are the people who interact with your customers, fix the cars, and accomplish the goals and objectives you as an owner give them. To compromise on the quality of the people in your business simply does not make sense. Start with good people, then train and motivate them to be great.
#2. Monitor your key numbers and know the benchmarks. Also understand how to fix them if they are not right. Competition and the cost of operating a shop has made it more important than ever that an owner focus on being an owner, operating his business, not an employee working in it.
#3. Do whatever it takes to take care of your customers and your employees. If you do this, somewhere in the middle it will all happen for you.