Plus, think about all the places people get their information from these days. There are so many different outlets: TV stations, newspapers, local magazines, social media, online publications…
By-and-large, not all people get their information from the same places. Half of your potential customers might be on Facebook, and the other half might be on Twitter. There might even be some who prefer learning about things offline by picking up the newspaper. You have to be able to reach people across multiple channels.
Even then, people can be fickle. A new customer that one of your regulars referred your shop to might visit your shop once but then decide to check out a shop that’s closer to them, even though they really enjoyed the service your team gave. These are just a few reasons why, as nice as word-of-mouth marketing is, it shouldn’t be the only marketing strategy you rely on.
You can cast a wider net and reach more potential customers by combining word-of-mouth marketing with other marketing strategies. Here’s how to find the right mix of marketing strategies to maximize the number of customers who will stop by your shop and generate more profits.
Auto Repair Shop Marketing Strategies to Retain Existing Customers
Think about your own experiences as a customer. Maybe you have a favorite Italian restaurant in town. There are various reasons why you might keep frequenting that restaurant instead of seeking out a new one. Maybe that Italian restaurant has your favorite spaghetti carbonara and they always bring you a free cup of your favorite soda whenever you stop by.
The restaurant owner knows you're a regular, but also likely understands that your future business isn’t guaranteed. Your friend might introduce you to a new Italian restaurant or you might just quit eating out altogether, for instance. Knowing that losing your business is a possibility, the restaurant owner might implement different strategies to encourage you to come again. Perhaps they give you a 10% discount after every five visits, or they give you free dessert every once in a while (the more gelato, the merrier!).
Auto repair shops and Italian restaurants are very different places, and the strategies that’ll work to get customers to come again will vary. Like that hypothetical Italian restaurant owner, you can roll out certain marketing strategies for your existing customers to increase the likelihood that they’ll stop by again and become loyal customers—and ardent promoters.
Any time they need a repair, they’ll come to you. And any time someone they know needs a repair, they recommend your shop, just like you recommend that Italian restaurant to anyone looking for a good place to grab a bite.
You might be able to start some of these auto repair shop marketing strategies today, while others may take some more planning. Let’s start with what you can probably do right now.
1. Sell Declined Jobs
The easiest way to get more business from existing customers is for one of your service advisors to look at the proposed repairs they declined during their previous visits, and call up the customers to check in with them and remind them of repairs and maintenance work that may be needed soon.
Maybe a customer came to your shop a month ago with an engine problem. But while inspecting the vehicle, a technician found that the brake pads were starting to wear thin. At the time, the issue wasn’t severe enough to warrant a brake pad replacement then and there, but the technician noted that it would need to get resolved in about a month or so.
If a service advisor calls up that customer to ask if their brakes are making noise, or how their brakes are holding up, there’s a very high chance that the customer will say, “Yeah, I’ve noticed they’ve been acting up,” and your service advisor can get them on the shop’s schedule.
You already have an “in” with that customer; they’ll probably want to finish the repair where they started the repair, rather than hunting around town for a new shop. Plus, the customer will appreciate your team’s attentiveness and diligence by reminding them about their repair.
They’ll think something along the lines of, “Wow, that team really paid attention to me, remembered me, and cares about my wellbeing.” That positive impression will then increase the likelihood that the customer will come back again and again in the future whenever their vehicle needs work.
2. Give Them Something to Take Home Each Visit
If you’ve ever gone to the doctor because you had the flu, or taken your kids to the doctor because they had the flu, the doctor might have given you a handy printout about what to do at home during the recovery process.
You probably referred back to that printout at home, and it may have been a valuable resource to have while you or your kids got better. And your opinion of that doctor might have become even higher because the doctor was professional and helpful by providing you with a nice little resource you could refer to back home.
It’s a similar deal with your customers. If you can give them a little something to take home during visits, like a flyer on “Engine Maintenance Best Practices” or a pamphlet that details “What to do When You Have a Flat Tire,” your customers will have a useful resource they can refer to at home.
And whenever they do, they’ll remember that you went above and beyond to give them a great repair experience—and they’ll also see your name and logo. It’s a win-win.
After all, the goal of brand marketing is to stick in the heads of consumers. You want to be the first company customers think of when they think about auto repair. So if they end up having a flat tire down the line and pull out your pamphlet to figure out what to do in the interim, they’ll likely think, “I should give them a call and take my car in.”
3. Send Holiday Gifts or Other Timely Gifts
It’s safe to say that everyone likes getting free things. If you’ve ever gone to an industry trade show, you know what we’re talking about—the neat nicknacks different companies hand out at their booths to grab your interest. Even if they’re handing out something small like keychains or pens, you probably wanted one!
Giving small gifts to your customers during the holidays or during other times of the year is a great way to show them that you appreciate their business.
Of course, the joy of gifts is in the giving, but if the gift you give has your name and logo on it, you might get some free advertising out of it, too (depending on what the item is. For instance, giving T-shirts with your logo means other people will see your shop’s name when customers wear those T-shirts and walk around).
Some ideas for when to time your gifts include sending gifts to celebrate:
- The holidays: You’ll be spreading some holiday cheer!
- Birthdays: Your way of saying “Happy Birthday!” to your customers.
- Special occasions (like wedding anniversaries): You’ll show your customers that you care about them as people, and don’t just view them as another number.
As for what you should gift, some ideas include:
- Tire pressure gauges: A useful gift that’s directly connected to auto repair! Customers will find these handy, and if their tire pressure is low, they’ll see your logo on the gauge and be more likely to give you a call to fix their vehicles.
- Sunglasses: This is a fun, handy gift! Many people drive with sunglasses or wear them once they’ve arrived at their destination.
- Glove-compartment friendly first aid kit: Many customers likely have a first aid kit at home, and having one in the car would be especially helpful during long drives.
- T-Shirts: Another useful gift that’s great for marketing your shop because customers can wear these while they are out and about and others will see your shop’s name and logo.
- Pens: While we’re all for going digital, a lot of people still use pens, and a pen would be a great way to have someone remember your shop.
- Keychains: Cool keychains are always a plus. Customers might even keep yours on their car keys as a friendly reminder that they have a shop that they can count on.
- Coffee mugs: Each time a customer picks up your shop’s branded mug, they’ll be reminded of your great service while they sip their coffee or tea.
Of course, you’ll want to be mindful of costs. One way to ensure that you’re making the best return on promotional investments is to decide when to give certain gifts to certain customers, and measure the impact they have on shop profits. If you want to give every customer a small gift whenever they visit, you could have something as simple as a bucket of candy.
Customers can pick their favorite candy to eat while they wait for their repair to be finished. Or, if you want to give out branded gifts, you might decide to only hand them out to customers who meet certain criteria, such as those who’ve regularly been coming to your shop for a year or more. For customers you know especially well, you might want to get something a bit more customized, like a gift card to their favorite restaurant or ice cream parlor.
We’ll discuss business partnerships more down below, but if you do decide to give customers gifts to other local businesses (like a pizza joint or your favorite Italian place), see if the business would be open to partnering with you. The partnership could be as simple as them allowing you to leave business cards at their hosts’ greeting area so that their customers can see your card, in exchange for you giving them business by passing out their gift cards to your customers.
4. Create a Loyalty Program
Have you ever been part of a loyalty program? Maybe your favorite ice cream shop has one, and with each visit, you get a stamp on a card. Ten stamps equals a free ice cream! Or, maybe you’re a member of your favorite clothing retailer’s loyalty program and get access to exclusive offers.
Now, there’s a caveat—people enjoy going to ice cream shops and clothing stores because those purchases are generally wants, not needs. As much as your auto repair shop is a wonderful place with wonderful people, most people don’t get their cars fixed because they want to. They do it because they need to. After all, who actually enjoys it when their car doesn’t function?
So, the loyalty program you start will likely have a different tone and feel than the loyalty programs that other types of businesses offer. But what all loyalty programs have in common, at their core, is that they give customers a specific reason to come back to your business (other than you and your team’s stellar service, of course!).
Customers will know that with each visit, they’re building up to a reward or a perk. Or they’ll know that by being a member, they have access to special material, like exclusive repair how-to videos that your team puts together.
By starting a loyalty program, you can increase the chances that your customers will return. Some perks you can add include discounted oil changes, roadside pickup or a free annual tire rotation.
5. Create a Referral Challenge or Program
One of the best ways to give and receive is to create a referral challenge or program where you incentivize your existing customers to refer people to your shop for a reward.
For example, during a particular time range (like during summer months), you can run a referral challenge where for every three new customers an existing customer brings in during that time range, the customer who made the referrals gets a gift card or a certain percentage off of their next repair.
Or you can create a referral program instead, where existing customers can get rewarded year-round for meeting your shop’s referral program criteria.
Whether you go the challenge route or the program route, you should have a system in place that makes it easy to track who referred new customers.
The easiest way to track customer referrals is to train your service advisors to outright ask each new customer who walks in if anyone referred them to the shop, and if so, who. That way, you can easily track which of your existing customers need to get their rewards.
6. Give Customers More Ways to Engage With You Online
Of all the different ways to market to your existing customers, creating engaging online content that they can interact with might be the most complex of the auto repair shop marketing strategies.
It requires carefully deliberating factors like what kind of content you want to put out there, which platforms you want to put that content on, and who will create that content.
Some content ideas you might decide to tackle include:
- Running social media highlights featuring testimonials from current customers. You can post photos of them with their sparkling, newly-repaired vehicles. Many people like getting shout-outs online, but you should always still ask customers first if they’d like to be featured and have their photos posted.
- Sending marketing emails that give your customers relevant updates on your shop, information on repairs, fun facts, and more.
- Putting together short videos of daily life at your shop, so customers can feel like they have an “inside” look at what happens. These videos don’t have to be super serious; they can be lighthearted!
- Getting technicians to give some basic “repair-how-tos” in front of the camera, and posting those short videos on social media so customers know what to do in a pinch if, for example, they get a flat tire on the road. But be sure to ask your technicians if they’re comfortable appearing on camera first.
- Creating short “fun fact” videos or articles about vehicles, such as the history of pickup trucks or what parts in a car can be recycled.
Auto Repair Shop Marketing Strategies to Attract New Customers
Alright, so we know that some of the tips we gave on how to retain your existing customers can also apply to how you attract new customers (specifically, tip five about creating a referral program and tip six on giving customers more ways to engage with you online). But you should still consider implementing specific strategies to attract new customers in particular.
While walk-ins are certainly a thing, you shouldn’t depend on them as your sole way of getting new customers. Instead, here are some approaches you can take to gain a steady stream of new customers coming through your doors.
1. Get Involved In Your Community
One of the most fulfilling, fun ways to attract new customers is to get involved in your local community. Think about all the various events that happen in your neighborhood, town, or city during a given month: school fundraisers, networking hours, football games, animal shelter adoption showcases, cook-offs…and the list goes on!
For example, if you and your team are really into football, you can partner up with a local high school and sponsor their football team. From there, you can market your business in various ways, like getting your logo on their helmets and handing out special coupons to the players and their families.
If you want to give back even more, you can partner with a nonprofit to raise money for their cause (like offering to match all of your customers’ donations to that charity up to a certain amount), or help them raise money for a cause (like hosting a parade, a cookout, or a carshow, like Casey’s Automotive did for Ellie's Hats).
The best part of getting involved in your local area is helping people, in turn strengthening your community. So get excited about helping people! When you see the football players on the team you sponsored secure athletic scholarships for college, or the marathon you sponsored get more runners than ever to participate, or the nonprofit you raised money for roll out a new program to help more people, you’ll feel such an immense level of happiness. It’s not all about gaining new customers. It’s about having a positive impact on the people and places you call home. If you do good things, good things will come back around to you.
2. Run Special Promotions For First-Time Customers
Have you ever decided to try out a new subscription because of a special promotion they ran for first-time customers? Mobile carriers in particular frequently run these types of promotions; for instance, some offer a new cell phone when you switch over to one of their plans. You can run special promotions that are similar in spirit. For instance, you can offer new customers a certain percentage off on their first repair, or run an oil change special for them.
However, if you run special promotions for new customers, be sure to run similar promotions for your existing customers. You don’t want your existing customers to feel left out and like you’re only interested in getting new business as opposed to keeping their business. You don’t necessarily have to run the special promotions for both groups at the same time, but it’s a consideration worth making.
If you set up a loyalty program alongside special promotions for new customers, not only are you showing your loyal customers that you care about them too, but you may also find it easier to turn some of those new customers into lifelong customers as well.
Out of the different auto repair shop marketing strategies, running promotions that feed into your loyalty program is one of the best for creating a steady pathway for people to go from new customers to lifelong ones.
Also, consider this: Make sure that the discounts you offer don’t cut into your margins. If you offer 50% off of a certain repair, for example, you might end up losing money instead of making money! Carefully evaluate how much you want to discount certain services.
In fact, there are some industry leaders who don’t like the concept of giving discounts for various reasons, one being that it sets an expectation with your customers that they’ll get discounted pricing at your shop, possibly long-term. Ultimately, whether or not you want to run special promotions to get new customers to walk through your doors is up to what your own comfort level and philosophy on the matter is.
3. Partner Up With An Adjacent Local Business Like a Body Shop
One of the most effective ways to generate new customers is to partner up with another local business, ideally one that offers an adjacent service to your shop like an auto body shop or collision repair shop.
For example, you can set up an arrangement where if a customer who goes to the body shop needs repair work, the body shop refers your shop to them. And if a customer at your shop needs work done on the body of their car, you can refer them to that body shop. Another win-win! Both businesses benefit.
Tekmetric does this, too! We recently partnered with Advance Auto Parts to bring better parts ordering and shop management to more repair shops, and we partnered with Mechanic Advisor to help repair shops offer real-time online scheduling to their customers.
However, before you enter any business partnership, do your due diligence to get a good feel for the other business and the team that runs it. You don’t want to refer your customers to a body shop with tons of bad reviews and complaints about unpleasant customer service. The reality is that when you refer someone to a less-than-stellar business, it reflects poorly on you. They’ll think that you are okay with that poor quality of service since, after all, you made that recommendation.
Additionally, be sure to reach a mutual agreement with the other business owner about ground rules. For instance, you might want to specify to the body shop owner that you don’t work on certain types of vehicles so that they know not to refer those owners to you. You should also weigh other factors, like what your time and resource commitment will have to be, and if your partner will genuinely be invested in your success before you make the leap.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, either. While it might make more sense to partner with a business focused on another aspect of auto repair, you don’t have to stick within the industry. Like we mentioned earlier, you could partner with a pizza shop and display their business cards at your shop’s front desk (and conversely, they can display your shop’s business cards at their checkout area). And of course, you can have more than one partnership. Just be sure you think carefully and evaluate your options before you move forward with any business partnership.
4. Advertise Locally
Advertising locally is one of the most effective auto repair shop marketing strategies to draw new customers into your shop. After all, if they don’t know about your shop, how will they know to come to you for repairs?
Think about all of the local avenues you can advertise in or at: the local paper, small magazines, school mailers, networking events, poolside cook-offs, and sporting games are just a few!
If you decide to advertise in a publication, like a newspaper or a magazine, research rates to determine what size ad makes the most sense. Also, if the publication doesn’t already provide it, you can ask them about the size of their readership to get a sense of how many people your ad might reach. As for advertising at local events, just be sure to follow any and all guidelines, and use your best judgment.
You might even decide to send out mailers of your own, like those local ads you get in your own mailbox. Again, research the costs and go with the provider that makes the most sense for your finances.
5. Run Targeted Social Media Ads
Running a targeted social media ad campaign might require hiring an external expert. But essentially, when you run targeted social media ads, you can run ads for your shop on different social media platforms that target people in your desired demographics (like people in a certain age range).
A social media ad expert can help you determine important factors such as:
- Your goals for paid social media ads
- Your budget
- Which social media platforms you want to run targeted ads on
- Which demographics you want to target
- How often you want the social media ads to run
- What span of time you want the social media ads to run during
In short, paid social can help you reach new customers that you otherwise might not have reached. Think about this way: relying on people to find and share your shop’s social media pages on their own limits you to a specific set of people; those you have already followed or liked your pages, or those who happen to stumble upon your pages by chance. With paid social, you widen your net to customers who don’t follow you yet.
6. Up Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Game
We’ve talked a lot about ways you can reach new customers, but we’ve saved the most effective—and arguably, the most challenging—of the auto repair shop marketing strategies for last.
Remember how we talked about how people these days get their information from different sources and places? Well, if there’s one place that the vast majority of people turn to when they have a question or are looking for a service, it’s Google search.
People turn to Google to find out all kinds of information, like which auto repair shops are closest to them, which auto repair shops near them have the best reviews, which model car is the most fuel-efficient, and which auto repair shop marketing strategies work best for their business. The results that dominate the top of the search pages got there with smart Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics.
A simple explanation for SEO is this: well-written, authoritative, useful content that answers peoples’ questions on a given topic will have a greater chance of ranking on page one of Google and bringing in more unpaid web traffic. For example, when you Google “puppy care” there’s a reason why organizations like the American Kennel Club and WebMD’s pet division tend to show up at the top of the search results; they are reputable organizations that produce quality content about taking care of puppies.
The simplest thing you can do to improve your shop’s SEO is to list your business on Google in the first place. However, like with targeted social media ads, you’ll probably want to turn to an expert for guidance on how to achieve better SEO for your shop’s website.
You might be wondering, “Which keywords should I target?” Every situation is unique, but as a rule of thumb, it’s not a good idea to put all your energy into creating content that will target broad keywords like “auto repair.”
Trying to target a broad, popular keyword means you’ll be faced with steep competition for that ranking. And even a top ranking won’t guarantee that you’ll reach your target customers. Someone thousands of miles away could look up “auto repair,” see your website on the first page, click on it, but then not take any action because they’re thousands of miles away.
Instead, a more efficient approach to SEO is to create valuable content that potential customers in your area will find by targeting a keyword like “auto repair [your city].” You can also target keywords that are specific to the types of repairs your shop does, as well as the kinds of vehicles you work on.
“BMW repair Katy,” for instance, would work really well for a shop specializing in BMW repairs in Katy, Texas. With a more narrow focus, you’ll maximize the chances of the right potential customers finding you—people who are only several miles away rather than thousands of miles away!
In addition to creating new content, you’ll also want to optimize your existing content to target specific keywords. Your website is a good starting point for this; by making several updates, you can improve your search result rankings for specific keywords.
However, keep in mind that these are general SEO tips. In fact, there are some technical elements to SEO (like 301 redirects) and a lot of time-intensive writing that SEO experts and content writers will be best equipped to help you with.
Auto Repair Shop Marketing Strategies
Your plate is already full with running your shop, and you might be thinking, “I don’t have time to implement all these different ideas!” That’s totally understandable, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to get all these ideas rolling at once. Instead, you can kick things off by trying a few of these auto repair shop marketing strategies, and seeing what the payoff is like.
It’s generally not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. While we do recommend a well-rounded, multi-pronged approach, you might conclude that a few of these auto repair shop marketing strategies really pay off and decide to stick with those moving forward.
Two other things you should consider are what your team’s current bandwidth is and what your growth goals are. If your team is already feeling pressed for time with your existing customer base, adding 15 new customers a week on top of that workload will likely lead to your team burning out. Instead, you should think proactively and start looking into hiring additional team members once you hit a new amount of customers, and once you can afford to do so.
While we encourage shop growth, it’s okay if you don’t want to expand your current location or open a second shop. You might be relatively happy with where you are but would like to safeguard your business by bringing new customers into the mix and retaining your current customers.
If that’s the case, you don’t need to embark on an aggressive, multi-tiered marketing strategy that will bring you more business than you want. It’s more than okay to keep your marketing efforts to a level that works best for you and your team.
Ultimately, no matter which of these auto repair shop marketing strategies you decide to use, remember to put a process in place for tracking the results you’re getting out of them. For instance, you might run the numbers and see that one of the promotions you’re offering is actually cutting into your margins. With that knowledge, you can tweak the promotion so that it helps your margins instead of hurting them.
With regular, careful analysis of the actual results you get from the auto repair shop marketing strategies you choose to use, you’ll put your shop in the best possible position to generate more profits as cost-efficiently as possible. Tekmetric’s various real-time reports are a great way for you to track which marketing strategies are paying off at your shop.
As you generate new customers and win repeat business from your existing clients, showcase the great service you and your team provide by asking customers to leave reviews on Google and Facebook. Positive reviews will further bolster your shop’s reputation, providing social proof to new and existing customers about why your shop is the place to go when they need their vehicles fixed.