Auto Laundry News - March 2012

Yes! We do That, Part I — Try Creative Modifications to Your Regular Marketing Program

By Prentice St. Clair

We all know the challenge of keeping the doors open, much less remaining profitable, month after month, year after year, economic swing after economic swing. It boils down to making sure there are enough appointments.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to find imaginative ways to bring in new customers. At the same time, it is important to keep marching forward with the tried and true marketing techniques.

TRIED AND TRUE

A friend of mine who has done well in the investment business offers great advise. He emphatically recommends that, when times get lean, “you gotta work your book, baby.” What does that mean for us? Our “book” is our customer database — all those who have previously been paying customers. “Working the book” is simply checking in with those customers, either by phone or any other communication method that you like.

Although I may have a regular mailing program working in the background, I also like to work the phone. For example, when my business gets slow, I take out a stack of invoices from last year and go through them one-by-one, noting the service that was performed. I call each customer and conversationally “check in” with a reminder that it has been about a year since something was done on their vehicle. Then I simply ask if there is anything that I can help out with this year. I am often surprised at the percentage of answering customers who say something like, “I’m so glad you called, I was just thinking about you. My car needs a detail.”

Here’s a novel idea: Don’t wait for the times to get tough to “work your book.” Many operators who have a relatively steady work flow will tell you that they spend time on a consistent basis checking in with members of their customer base. This activity, performed on a weekly or monthly basis, “keeps you in front of your customer” and increases the likelihood of repeat business. It also helps to reduce the chances of those lean times occurring.

A common way to keep in front of your current customers is to issue regular mailings, either by e-mail or physical mailing. You can attract new customers by advertising in local publications and with flyers. If this is working for you, bringing in plenty of customers to cover the cost of the marketing effort and more, then keep it up. However, beware of falling into a pattern that leaves your customers with the same message every time.

Those receiving your e-mail blasts, newsletters, and postcards, and those viewing your print advertisements month after month, might start to ignore your efforts if it is the same message over and over. If your marketing effort seems to be “flat” and does not produce the response that you would like, try some creative modifications of your regular marketing program.

SUGGESTIONS

In a nutshell, here are some ideas:

  • Focus your message on specific aspects of your detail service
  • Provide a “did you know?”
  • Promote your premium services
  • Promote your additional services
  • Spotlight special detail situations
  • Showcase special capabilities that you possess

Now let’s discuss each of these suggestions individually.

Focus your Message
A common tendency for those engaged in a regular print advertising campaign is to include as many as possible of the services that are provided. This makes for a busy ad that most people will not bother reading.

Another common tendency is to run the same ad with the same information, month after month. The problem with this is that it becomes “background noise” to the person seeing the ad on a regular basis. Now, my friends in the marketing field will argue that consistency and persistency in advertising is important — you have to get in front of the potential customer many times before they call.

Nonetheless, I argue that you can have a consistent look in your advertising (the logo, the fonts, the colors) and have a consistent general message (we are here to help with your detail needs), while at the same time changing the specific message, so as to draw the attention of regular viewers.

So instead of the over-loaded ad or the same-old-ad routine, try a different approach. Specifically, try focusing each month on one specific aspect of your detail service.

For example, you could talk about the importance of leather care. Show a before picture of dirty dull leather, then show the after picture with the leather thoroughly cleaned and conditioned. The benefit to the customer:
it looks better, feels better, and lasts longer. Next month, you could talk about paint surface contamination and
the importance of a regular clay-and-wax treatment.

The following month, show before/after photos of dirty, stained mats.

Now, I am not suggesting that we should try to get people to come in to just get their mats cleaned. Actually, the object of this advertising approach is to get the customer to see the problems with his or her own vehicle by showing examples of your previous work. Then, when the customer phones in or stops by, you can use your sales techniques to have them purchase a complete detail. “Not only will your mats look great, but the entire interior will look virtually new.”

Print advertising that is going to remain unchanged for several months or years should feature your moneymakers. For example, if you specialize in “new vehicle protection packages” and make a ton of extra profit on this when compared to your standard detail packages, then the words “we provide new vehicle protection packages” should feature prominently in your ad.

Did you Know?
A “did you know?” message is a clever way to focus your customer’s attention on a specific aspect of your detailing
capabilities. This type of approach can work well in newsletters and even regular postcard mailings to your customers. An example might be: “Did you know that we can virtually eliminate nasty odors from your car?”

A more visual message might come in the form of before/after pictures of a moderate scratch removal from a door panel. This one might read, “Did you know that we can reduce the appearance of most paint scratches?” Notice how I do not use specific promises, like “eliminate scratches” and “all scratches.” This helps to avoid the situation in which a potential customer comes in all excited that you will take care of his situation, only to be sent away disappointed because the scratch was down to the primer.

The “did you know?” campaign can be worded such that it takes on a more educational flavor, thus reducing the hard-sell feeling of most advertising messages. This could be something like, “Did you know that regular application of a high-quality paint sealant can help your car look great for many years and increase its resale value?” This sounds like an intriguing message for the newer vehicle owner, and it can be followed up with “Yes, we do that!” or a coupon for a free additional service.

Promote Premium Services
Make sure your customers and potential customers know that you provide premium protection services. These include polymer paint sealant, leather conditioning, ultraviolet-inhibiting vinyl dressing, liquid repellant for fabric and carpeting, and sheeting agent for glass.

If you include these kinds of applications in your normal detail packages, then, by all means, let the consuming public know that you are providing premium service at no extra charge. If your premium services come at an additional charge over standard detailing, then let the customers know that these premium services are available at your location.

A great way to attract new customers is to offer a free premium protection application with the purchase of a standard detail. For example, applying a polymer paint sealant takes about the same time as applying a premium wax, so it’s not much of a sacrifice to offer this for no additional cost, especially if doing so means gaining a new customer.

SUMMARY

Interesting economic times necessitate creative marketing. While it is important to continue with plain and simple marketing that has brought consistent results, it is also a good idea to try out some new advertising tactics. That was the point of this month’s column. Of course, there is no guarantee of spectacular results with any of these ideas. The hope is that, if you are struggling or your marketing seems flat, maybe trying a new tack will help attract some new customers. If nothing else, I hope this information got your own creative juices flowing and that you can come up with some new ideas of your own. Well, once again, I’ve rambled on too long and it looks like there will be a “Part II” of this subject, so look for more ideas next month.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail Prentice@DetailinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.

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