By Jeff Buckley, Owner and Master Technician, My Father’s Shop Certified Automotive Repair, Midlothian, Texas
I’ve been in the industry for more than 35 years. I started in a service station and then had a big shop that did both mechanical and paint and body. For the last 26 years, my wife Candace and I have made a home and business in Midlothian, Texas.
We are a small “Mom and Pop” shop. Our community has supported us and we have supported the community. And now, more than ever we need to continue our focus on community, helping others and giving back.
By the time you read this, we, as an industry, will have been dealing with this challenge for more than a month. So what are you doing? What is working?
In our shop, we offer extraordinary service and value to our customers. We started by being a one-stop-shop. If we don’t do the work, we partner with a shop that does. We developed our shop as the expert and as an advocate for our customers.
If we do front-end work that also requires an alignment, we’ll take the vehicle to get an alignment at a trusted shop. If we do work to get a customer’s vehicle to pass inspection (for example, check engine light, emissions, brakes, tires, etc.), we’ll then drive the vehicle to reset the monitors and take it for inspection. The local tax office is just around the corner from a state inspection station, so we will of course pick up the license tag.
If a customer needs a small paint and body work job, we offer to have the vehicle brought to our shop. We’ll meet with the insurance adjuster to make sure needed repairs are addressed. By working with a trusted body shop and using my experience and training, it takes the hassle off the customer. In other words, if the vehicle needs a bumper cover, headlight, grill, etc., we order one, get it painted and install it. Bigger jobs are sublet out.
We started with pickup and delivery services for teachers and coaches, and then expanded to include local customers. Under normal circumstances, they see the value in having their vehicle serviced while at school. Most teachers also have their own children to get ready and drop off at school. Here, it’s easy to see the value in our services to customers.
We also show our customers what we do. We don’t discount oil changes. Instead, we show value. We show that fluids are refilled. Tires are properly inflated. Maintenance lights are reset. We check the vehicle over and make sure OEM maintenance is recommended at the proper interval.
It’s so important to show you care about the customer and their vehicle. We share videos of our work on social media. When customers see their vehicles lasting longer, that’s value.
Navigating the new challenges
So what are we doing now or different during these challenging times to show customers that we care about them and their vehicles, as well as their safety and the safety of our staff?
We wear gloves and use social media to show customers how we wipe down vehicles with a sanitizing product before and after service. We offer pickup and delivery service. We are social distancing and letting customers know about our safety guidelines and precautions. We have early and after-hours drop off, as well as after-hours key pick up. As importantly, we are keeping customers informed. In other words, we are marketing, marketing and marketing.
Of course, ROI is important now more than ever. Some shops have a large marketing budget; some not a lot. Guerrilla Marketing is a way to do marketing on a budget. We use social media, largely Facebook and Instagram, but you don’t have to spend a lot. To make your presence known, start with posting at least once a week with a goal of once a day.
We don’t discount our work. We give Car Care Tips on social media. We show why a repair or maintenance is needed. We show a broken or worn out part and what the part does, why it needs replacing, why it’s a safety item. We show our shop, what makes us different and why we are the local expert.
As stated earlier, we also support our community. I have coached in various youth leagues for my children. We have been a supporter through the schools. We support other local small businesses. In our marketing, we share what other local businesses are doing, special events and the work of non-profits. For example, we recently shared how a local florist had prepared educational kits for kids, complete with potting soil, seeds and growing instructions. When a local sign shop needed help, we purchased new signs thanking healthcare workers and first-responders. We also posted on social media for the community to purchase a sign to show their support for healthcare workers and first-responders and to help a small business.
We also started a separate Facebook page called “Howdy Midlothian” to share our community and people helping people. We partner with local restaurants by purchasing a gift card and asking for one free to give away in our promotions. We then tag the restaurant on social media as a way of marketing. All of this requires thinking outside your shop (the box). Most recently, we introduced a mobile app to add convenience for customers and to elevate our status.
Engaging with our industry community
To support the automotive aftermarket community, our shop sponsors three technical schools through an Automotive Service Association (ASA) educational program. We also donate vehicles to the local high school automotive program. How were we able to secure the vehicles? First, let’s think about some of the vehicles that are brought into our shops. All shops have customers with vehicles that are either not worth the value of the repair, at the end of their useable life, not reliable, and at the point of does the customer put more money in or trade. Customers also don’t want to hassle with security issues of selling their vehicle.
Each year, we also attend AAPEX where the automotive aftermarket community meets for training, networking and getting questions answered about new products and tools. The training and networking raise the bar in our industry and add value for our customers.
If our industry is trying to support us, shouldn’t we support our industry? Just as our community supports us? We must show up, participate and be involved.
AAPEX 2020 is a great place to start, continue or advance our industry community; to explore, learn, network, meet new folks, and to connect with friends to refresh and rejoice in the new and exciting technology that is our industry. With all we will have been through by November, this year’s event will be a celebratory homecoming of industry colleagues, friends and family, getting together after this time apart and driving the industry forward.
Until then, we all know the value of paying it forward. We need to encourage each other, including our crew, other local shops, our network, our local high school teachers and struggling shop owners.
Do you see the value? If so, share or comment what you’re doing to get through these challenging times. We’re in this together, and together, we’ll move ahead.