Auto Laundry News - May 2011

New Markets — How to Open the Doors

By Sharie Sipowicz

Being able to adapt is a key ability to surviving and succeeding in the detail business, as we have all learned these past two years. No sense in trying to paint a rosy picture in which detail business owners are overwhelmed with work. Instead, your success depends upon being able to place yourself in a position to take advantage of opportunities, or better yet, to create opportunities for your business. Finding new markets is difficult enough, but then getting them to “bite” is another challenge.

Gone are the days of finding numerous messages on your answering machine from customers looking for a detail. Gone are the days of being booked a couple of weeks in advance with 40-hour workweeks. Gone are the days of being able to depend only on referrals and word-of-mouth to get business. So, what do you do? Wait for things to recover? Wait for customers to come to you? Afraid not, you would be out of business, as has happened to many detailers these past two years.

Think about what has happened in the detail industry these past couple of years; you will see that there are areas of growth in which you can take better advantage. There are also areas that are in decline. The detailer who wants to succeed needs to be able to move away from the declining markets, such as dealer work, which has been the strong suit for many detail businesses.

You need to have certain skill sets to be successful in penetrating new markets for detailing where growth exists, such as buses, motor homes, boats, airplanes, and agricultural equipment.

This article will focus on some ideas that may help open doors to those markets.

NETWORKING

Networking is one of those over-used buzzwords that have become so common that it is meaningless to many people. We all network to some degree, but doing so effectively is really an art form. Whether it is talking to your chemical supplier or other detailers, it is very important to develop a network of local people in your business. By becoming known as someone with ability and expertise in the local market, you can create a demand for your services. Once other detailers find you are capable and reliable, word spreads and that can generate work from them, should they need help.

The most valuable networking tool is active membership in a trade organization. The International Detailing Association (IDA) is the only trade organization dedicated to the detail industry, and it is an invaluable networking tool for members. The IDA helps its members with information, educational seminars, and facilitates networking opportunities. To obtain all the benefits a trade organization such as the IDA has to offer, a member needs to be active by attending and participating in seminars, conventions, and sitting on committees. There is a great deal to be gained at trade organization functions. This knowledge is critical to becoming a master in your trade. Whatever market segment you want to focus on, the IDA can provide the information necessary to be successful.

The other benefit of being a participant at IDA meetings and functions is that you become known within the organization, and other detailers become familiar with you and your abilities. This is a tremendous resource when fellow members need a hand with work or have a job that is outside their abilities. These same members are a resource to you when you land a large job that might require extra hands, or if a customer presents you with a challenging job and you have questions about it. It is not unusual for active participants in the IDA to find a lot of business coming through IDA contacts, or to find that business has been made possible because they became better detailers through IDA certification.

GO TO THE SOURCE

Another step toward finding an opening to a specific niche market is to go straight to the source. If you want to do boats, contact the owners of all the marinas in your area or the management offices of floating home moorages. For airplanes, contact the small aviation companies that house and provide ground services for private aircraft. Contact agricultural equipment dealers — maybe you can get customer lists from them for detailing a few of their rigs. Same with tractor truck dealers whose over-the-road drivers are fanatics about their rigs.

SUCCESSFUL MAILINGS

A good way to reach all of these potential markets is professional and personal direct mailings on a regular basis. There are keys to successful mailings. First, if you plan to do a mailing and think you can then sit back waiting for the phone to ring, do not waste your time. Instead, one week after the mailing goes out, set aside a day to contact everyone to whom you sent a package. When you make the follow-up call, have a script ready in which you introduce yourself and what you do, and ask them if they received your package in the mail. This should take no more than 20 seconds. Any longer and you will sound like a telemarketer and lose their interest. Next, ask if your detail services are something they would be able to use. If so, ask to set up an appointment with them. If they say they cannot use your services, ask if they know any owners (of planes, boats, or tractors) who would be interested in your services. If they say yes, ask for a list. If they still say no, ask if you can call back in the future to see if things have changed. If they still say no, thank them and move on. This call should take no more than two minutes. This shows that you respect their time and saves you from trying to convince somebody to whom you won’t sell anyway.

Also important to a successful mailing is the composition of the mailing itself. Your letter should be concise and limited to useful information without excess verbiage. The longer it is, the less likely the reader will finish it. Include:

  • Who you are
  • How long you’ve been in business
  • Your contact information
  • A brief paragraph describing your ability and training and industry association memberships
  • Even photos showing them some of the work you have done

When you are done writing the letter, let someone else read it while you time how long it takes to read. If it is more than a minute, trim it down. After you are done, have someone proofread it. Do not rely on yourself to find errors in your own writing. Every good writer uses someone else to proofread.

Never expect a 100-percent return on a mailing. If you send out 25 packages and secure three or four appointments from your follow-up calls that is fantastic. Mailings can produce results long after the initial work is done. Some mailings result in calls as much as a year later.

COMMERCIAL WORK

If you are looking for commercial work, the process is similar, but you need to find out who makes the decisions. Finding this person can be the biggest challenge in the process, but it is a critical step. Do not waste time trying to sell to somebody who cannot buy. Ask politely to whom to address yourself and you will usually find out. Then ask to speak to that person or get his or her mailing and e-mail addresses.

If you want to target dealers, marinas, moorages, aviation companies, or agricultural equipment dealers, the Yellow Pages will help you find those companies in your area. Call them and send them a mailing. In addition, do an Internet search for companies you are looking to do work for. You will be amazed at what you find. Check websites of companies you know or locate and use your judgment on which ones to contact. While doing the Internet search and checking firms, send an e-mail to them asking whom in the firm to contact to offer your detail services.

Very often, you can do your mailing via e-mail. Remember, though, that many e-mail filters filter out
solicitation e-mails, so your information may not be seen. Send a regular mailing as well an electronic one.

CONCLUSION

Networking, mailings, and follow-up calls are only a few techniques to use to obtain new business, but they are among the most effective. Networking is a tool that cannot only increase your business, but will also make you a better detail business owner. With mailings, you choose who will receive your information, thereby qualifying contacts that will fit your business and disqualifying those who will not. You also select how many to contact at a given time, setting your pace to ensure you have time for follow-up calls.

Because the days of work finding you are gone, it is time for you to find the work.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at sharie@detailplus.com.

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