The Buddy System

Dec 3, 2009

Do you have fleet clients, a full service retail operation, robust dealership accounts and contracts with all levels of government departments?

Does your business serve not only local customers but also interstate and even international business via telephone and internet marketing and sales?

It is doubtful that there are any restylers who are all things to all markets. So if a customer asks for a product or service that you don’t offer do you lose the sale?

What if you recommend another restyler – do you still lose a sale but gain a client? And when another restyler makes a sale as a result of your referral are you helping a competitor or are you enhancing a mutually beneficial relationship?

Just where do business-to-business relationships show up in your success formula?

Add to your considerations the benefit to the customer. Does a mutually cooperative relationship between two businesses also match or balance the client experience?

So many questions to ponder (nothing new to a business owner), and I would argue they’re well worth your time to consider. Complementary business relationships by definition benefit all parties involved in the relationship, including the customer, and including you.

Psychology of ‘word-of-mouth’

The point here is cooperation versus competition. Both concepts are healthy and both may contribute to your bottom line. Sometimes we can get caught up in competition to the extent that cooperation isn’t developed as a tool. A well-rounded advertising/marketing plan includes multiple outlets to promote your products and services. Your interaction with other shops should be pursued with an equal plurality – a more dynamic approach than simply competing for customers or giving the “best” price.

A lot of effort and resources can be consumed by competition, particularly if a pricing battle ensues. Redirecting some of that competitive energy might result in higher returns than what would result from just trying to beat the other guy’s price to close a single sale.

We all have strengths and weaknesses; the ability to identify and partner with other shops to improve upon or enhance your shop’s offerings can be as important as what you specialize in. The somewhat intangible “word-of-mouth” marketing phenomenon is a psychological experience that is hard to crack. It results, in large part, from the perception of customer service and customer satisfaction. Clients who observe their restyling handled by two shops acting in concert and demonstrating dedication to the satisfactory completion of their restyling goals will feed the nebulous pool of “word-of-mouth.” As previously observed, one-stop shopping is rare in our industry, yet the public is conditioned to seek a one-stop experience. Simplifying the steps to accessorizing a client’s vehicle by completing the project at one (your) shop or by accurately directing the client to another partnered shop to cohesively continue/complete the project can make the difference between a true customer and a tire kicker.

Job it out

By way of example, consider two restyling shops, one a vinyl graphics operation, the other a window tint shop, both exercising a complementary business relationship. The tint shop cuts its projects the “traditional” by-hand method. A client indicates interest in a custom tint package using colored film to feature an intricate tribal flame theme behind a layer of tint. Talented tinters might be able to hand cut such a request, but using an established relationship with a vinyl graphics shop that utilizes computer-driven vinyl plotters with a rapid, material-efficient output seems the better way to go: This speeds the way toward a completed installation, a satisfied customer (with word-of-mouth potential) and revenue for both shops.

Without a symbiotic business-to-business relationship, the tint shop might have lost a customer to a direct competitor, and the vinyl shop might never have picked up another job – and both shops would have lost profit.

In my example two different restylers used their individual strengths as a team to meet the goal of any successful shop -” making the sale and creating a satisfied customer. If I were to modify my example a bit and instead use the scenario of two tint shops, this might beg the question, “Why should I work with the competition?” Again, if one shop offers the computer cutting that the other shop doesn’t, both shops can still benefit from the same outcome.

Maybe not a custom project like the example above, but consider perhaps that the same tint shop gets a large order for all the same vehicle types or a large amount of flat glass and the cooperation results in a project that would otherwise have been passed on. Or perhaps the detail that closes the deal for the graphics shop to add company graphics to a fleet of service vehicles is the coordinated installation of both the graphics and the vehicle windows being tinted.

Additionally, cooperation with a shop offering similar products and services can serve as a relief valve in times of heavy business flow.

There is another element to complementary referral relationships that deserves comment: paid or commissioned referrals. There is a clear distinction between a complementary business relationship and a purchased referral arrangement. While there is definitely a time and a place for paid “bird dogging,” clients acquired as a result of a commission put them in a different context. These type of clients should, of course, receive no less a degree of customer service than those who come to your business directly on their own or from a referring partner company; but recognize that they are more expensive to get in your door and, in addition to the commission, there also is the time (and, therefore, cost) of managing referral programs and commissions. Paid referrals are valuable to the bottom line to be sure, but rarely are they as strategically important as cooperative business relationships.

Follow ‘hidden’ leads

Looking beyond fellow restyling shops, there can be found complementary relationships among many different types of service providers and your shop. Consider the connections between the primary vehicle you restyle for a client and what, for example, it tows or is towed by, how and where that vehicle is serviced and what unique products already are installed on the vehicle. Follow these connections between the customer’s vehicle and the broader world to illuminate untapped cooperative resources.

Marine repair and parts shops are asked constantly about a wide variety of accessories for customers’ boats. Vinyl graphics, PPF, custom boat license-number packages are a few examples of services most boat shops don’t offer. And for further accessorizing, keep in mind that every boat comes with a truck or SUV towing it – potentially expanding the restyling sales and service opportunities. And, of course, the same goes for the ORV, RV and towable markets, as well; the potential for restyling opportunities and relationship developments are very broad.

Body shops are another great relationship opportunity for the restyler. If one of your clients is in need of collision repair, he or she may seek replacement components that you originally supplied. In contacting you for those parts, you might be able to refer a body shop where you’ve developed a relationship; and vice versa, the body shop will experience a consistent need for a variety of replacement parts spanning the entire restyling industry. Give that body shop a reason to choose you, reward them with referrals for collision repair work, and a partnership where both shops win is formed.

Fleet department managers and commercial truck resellers can be lucrative contacts to have in your address book. Serving commercial clients is often a cornerstone of a restyling business’ success. As a trusted industry member you can be consulted  about where to buy vehicles. That referral can become a valuable sale to the dealership. Presumably, your client (say, the dealer) also will utilize your shop to outfit his purchase. A fleet sale often will include interest in outfitting the vehicle or vehicles with a wide range of accessories, sending sales your way. Another positive aspect of restyling sales at the dealership level is the opportunity for the client to finance or bundle your product/services with the purchase, presenting an attractive financial benefit, as well. This favorable exchange may generate a new client for your shop and/or the fleet seller while reinforcing and sustaining the relationship between businesses.

It’s symbiotic

In nature and the sciences there is the concept of a symbiotic relationship. Business symbiosis is a cooperative relationship between or among groups that is mutually beneficial. Contrary to this state of existence, a complementary business relationship does not prohibit each restyling operation from thriving on its own.

This type of arrangement is not simply a technique to employ during difficult economic conditions; complementary relationships should be a standard part of your formula for business success. Explore and develop complementary relationships as a natural extension of the services you provide to your clients. Customers will use you and your company as a base of support for their greater needs as a result of their positive experience with your company, and because they respect your integrity and expertise.

Revising the term “competitor” to “partner” improves your professional image and broadens your market. Time and again, you and your partners will realize a profitable residual from a satisfactory referral and an act of cooperation on behalf of the client.