Marketing - September 2002

Market Your Detail Shop
By Joe Kennedy

This is the best advice I can give any prospective business owner: Love what you do, and do what you love. Do it better than anyone else, and never ever do it for the money. Then develop a strong vision that will fit your unique strengths and gifts. Finally, go for it as if there were no risk or failure involved. Yes, this is all part of the American Dream and available to anyone willing to take the journey.

No matter what type of business you start, the first thing you must realize is that it is not just another job. It's a complete commitment for you and your partner. It not only takes courage, but a combination of hard work, skill, perseverance, and some good old-fashioned luck. Now it's time to develop the necessary skills to succeed. You can be the best detailer in the world, but if you don't let the world know that you exist, you're in trouble.

Did you know that only 30 percent off all small businesses make it? Do you know why? In a word, marketing - good old-fashioned down-to-earth promotion, not only of your business but also of yourself. This is the most important seed you can plant in order for your business to grow.

To nurture that growth and to make your business successful, you need to promote your detail shop to the same buyers that your competitors are targeting. You need to tell target buyers that your
business exists. So many people put a sign up on their building with an "Open" sign and expect people just to come in. Trust me, this is not the way it works.

Through trial and error, I have discovered several promotional programs that work - they have certainly worked for me. I have summarized the important features of each of these programs in the following pages. You may have implemented one or many of these already. However complete your promotional program is, I hope you will find something useful in what follows.

Many small businesses use coupons as part of their promotional program. The most common ones entitle the bearer to some benefit, such as a price reduction in either dollar amount or percent off. I prefer a dollar amount. People don't want to figure out percentages, no matter what the number is. Twenty-five dollars sounds like a lot of money. Ten percent sounds like something that most people could not be bothered with. Don't make people think when you are trying to sell your service.

Coupons come in many forms, but the one thing you must make sure you don't forget is the expiration date! If you forget this, you will live to regret it. A rebate is similar to the coupon except it is not honored at the time and point of purchase. It is a great idea for use on a second vehicle. I have used this method and I have had great success with it.

Always accept competitors' coupons. It's a great way to get new business without the cost.

Classified ads and small display ads are a great way to reach your customers. If you choose to use the classified pages, here is a suggestion: Purchase a spot within the autos-for-sale columns of the local newspaper. A one-inch-by-two-inch ad would work fine for this. Within the ad write, "Better Detail, Higher Retail" in bold caps. Underneath, list your name, address, phone number, and a coupon for "so many dollars off" with this ad. And that's it!

For a display ad, I would recommend a two-inch-by-two-inch ad, preferably in the sports section of the daily newspaper. Headline your ad with "Is Your Car Dirty?" Follow with your name, phone number, and your logo. Adding the line "Satisfaction Guaranteed" might be an idea. Make sure you always use a border to set your ad apart from the rest.

This is a little different because you are not only advertising your business but you can load up your newsletter with informational material. People will read a newsletter from cover to cover if it is done right. My newsletter has everything from crossword puzzles to thank-you notes. Tips on how to take care of a vehicle after it has been detailed was another big hit. I would often add newsy items about my customers, such as marriages, promotions, new babies and anything else that might pique the reader's interest.

This is one of the most neglected marketing tools in our business. I call it "the follow-up." Wait a couple of days after completing a detail and then call your customer to find out if he or she is 100 percent satisfied. If they are not completely happy, find out what you have to do to rectify the situation. If they are satisfied, ask them for the names of a couple of their friends who might be interested in your services. Today, you have to make it worth people's while to give up some of this information, so I offer a free dinner for two, a cash incentive, or a gift certificate from my detail shop for each new customer an existing customer might send in. This works every time. Try it!

Signage is a key component of establishing and perpetuating your identity. Magnetic signs for your car can be very effective, particularly because of the mobile nature of your message. You can readily find a local supplier who can fashion a magnetic sign for your car or truck. When the vehicle is not in use for company business, simply remove the sign. Employee uniforms or T-shirts are another form of signage.

A-frame signs I can't say enough about! I have six that are put out every single day. We have been placing these same signs on the major highways in and out of the city for over 10 years. As a result I probably get 25 new customers a year from them. Remember, once the signs are paid for, there is no cheaper way to advertise. A guaranteed winner! A little tip for when you do your signs: Be aware that using all-capital letters sometimes hampers readability. Also make sure you check scrupulously for spelling errors.

These car-enthusiast events are becoming very popular - everybody is having them. Talk to the people who are organizing them and offer some products or gift certificates with your name on them for door prizes. Also, never be afraid to just go to the shows and hand out your business cards - not just to the people who have their cars in the show, but to the people attending. These people love their cars and make great potential customers.

Talk about low-cost advertising. This is for the thrifty detailer. You can create flyers very inexpensively on your own computer. Find a catchy phrase. Two that I used that were very successful were:

"Free Viagra." Then I would follow up with "Just wanted to let you know what's up this month at our detail shop."

"IRS Notice." The IRS stood for Irresistible Relentless Shine.

Remember that with any advertising you must get your potential customer's attention. Without that, you're just wasting your time. Work with the local community. Ask doctors, dentists, lawyers, coffee shops, restaurants, and any other place of business you can think of if you can place flyers in their offices and their lobbies. Post flyers on every bulletin board you can find, even the grocery market. Walk up and down the street and place them on the windshields of automobiles. I found that printing on a bright neon paper worked well for me. It catches everybody's attention.

This medium of advertising is very effective. Stay within a 5-mile radius of your shop. Hit these same people continuously with different promotions. Make sure the stock you use is heavy enough so the door hanger doesn't blow off the doorknob. These people have cars. Offer them a coupon or some other incentive just to get them to your shop.

These are good for some detail businesses. In my case, though, I feel that people are just going to shop around once they've seen the brochure, or a competitor will copy what you are doing. Watch your step! I prefer the newsletter. Much more quality and quantity of information can be given with this approach.

Although this never worked for me, it doesn't mean that you should not try it. I just prefer not being lost among a bunch of other advertisers. Personally, I'd rather send my own personal postcard. The initial cost is higher, but the return will be much greater in the end.

Every single vehicle we detail gets a professional-looking sticker that adheres to the side window of the vehicle. This states that the vehicle has been professionally polished by our shop. I have customers who literally ask for them. I have also been told that when the vehicle is traded in to a dealer, the dealer will ask that sticker stay on the window.

I give pens not only to my customers, but also to bank tellers, waitresses, and even some of my detail suppliers. Just think how you would like to sign an invoice with your competitor's pen!

This little item alone can set you apart from the competition. Do it with class. My business card is a multi-colored high-gloss card printed on both sides. Name, phone number, and logo are the most important. It's advisable to add a catchy phrase that will make you stand out. Here's one that I have used: "A dirty car may be hazardous to your wealth." Give your potential customer a reason to keep your card. People don't toss high gloss!

This is a medium that has worked very well for me, but there are a few tricks. Insist on airing your commercial during morning drive time, between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Let me warn you: They will try to sell you what they call the run of the day. This is allows them to air your ad whenever they feel like it. This kind of radio time is cheaper, but in this case cheaper is not better. I felt that my customer was the
professional who was on his or her way to work during that time.

The best way to make use of this medium is to do a so-called "live chat." I had the morning disc jockey call my shop live. We would talk a little bit about the advantages of our detail business and how our detail shop could make vehicles look better than new. I would always end the conversation with an offer to the next 10 people who would call my shop and book an appointment. This could, for example, be a free interior cleaning with a polish job. Trust me, this works! I could get as many as 20 appointments in one day. People would even call well into the afternoon. They felt like they'd won a contest. Hey, we were both winners! You must have high energy and display great passion on the radio. Talk with enthusiasm! Enthusiasm is a valuable asset. It is faith in action. If you're not excited about your business, why should a customer be? Nothing is as contagious as enthusiasm.

Another great medium to use in the marketing of your detail shop, although very expensive. I insist, if you choose to go this route, that you make the commercial yourself. By this I mean you should be the on-screen personality. You are the star - customers are coming to see you. Their trust is in you and no one else. If you can afford it, I recommend that you run your commercials only during the news broadcast. This will give you unbelievable credibility. If you are going to spend your hard-earned money, spend it wisely. I have not been on TV in eight years and people to this day will call and say, "I saw your ad on television."

I saved the best for last. Word-of-mouth advertising has been around for as long as mankind has communicated and traded goods and services. This, by far, is the most effective way to advertise. What word-of-mouth offers that no other advertising venue will is strong credibility, high audience attention levels, and friendly audience reception. This form of advertising is at no cost to you. You should build an advertising program that results in word-of-mouth advertising.

When you stop marketing, you stop buying. When you stop buying, you stop selling. When you stop selling, you stop making. When you stop making, you stop earning. When you stop earning, you stop buying. Many people say that they can't afford to advertise. But they do advertise when it's too late. They advertise the business for sale.

Starting any kind of business takes a lot of courage, hard work, skill, and perseverance. Staying in business takes marketing and lots of it. Set your goals for your business. Ask these four key questions: What do I want? Why do I want it? When do I want it by? What do I choose to do in order to achieve it? Once you have asked these questions, you'll realize that the only way you can answer the last question is by marketing. This is what will set you apart from the rest.

Live the American Dream. Fall in love with your future. Be the best you can and do it with the utmost of integrity. Always deal honestly and fairly. Always keep your word. Never knock the competition but out-service and outperform them. If you do all of this, implement a strategic marketing plan, and choose a good reputation over great riches, you will have success beyond your expectations. Good luck!

Joe Kennedy has owned and operated a detailing business in Buffalo, NY for more than 30 years. We featured his operation in the July issue of Auto Laundry News. You can contact Joe via e-mail at

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