Any business worth unlocking the front door should be looking over its marketing ideas on an almost regular basis-especially in these tough times.
From traditional advertising on radio, TV or flyers, to holding or attending car shows, to maximizing exposure in-store and on the Internet, there are many avenues speed shops can pursue to attract new customers and build their business.
But with so many entities competing for limited marketing dollars, what’s the best way to go? We asked some industry suppliers their thoughts on the subject, and their answers include some simple-to-apply suggestions that may help get business going in 2010.
Finally, we also checked in with an aftermarket marketing firm, to get the same take from a media group perspective.
Tried and True
We first asked the manufacturers their thoughts on speed shops using traditional advertising such as Yellow Pages, billboards, radio, TV, etc.
Mike DeFord of Bully Dog Technologies says, “It is mandatory for any business that is selling to consumers. Yellow Pages are essential for any business selling or servicing consumers. The challenge is determining a budget and then picking the right placement for your budget.”
Ken Sink of Milodon notes that his company continues to have success using traditional advertising.
“We still use printed media quite a bit,” he says. “We have done TV and we have used radio a bit for an event of some kind. The bulk of our marketing has been printed in the past.”
Tom Miller of Design Engineering Inc. (DEI) also uses his own company as an example of successful traditional advertising.
“We have for several years been placing 15-second ads on national cable programs such as HorsePower TV, MuscleCar TV and other programs. Reaching millions of potential customers using electronic media is a powerful tool and has proven to be an excellent method to reach the masses.”
The company has also benefited through those spots by taking advantage of “how-to” product installation opportunities on some of the shows, and also “tags” its TV spots with”where to buy” logos to drive consumers to aftermarket retailers.
Of course, most local speed shops and builders don’t have the budget-or the need-to market so broadly. But regardless of the available advertising dollars, an effective place to start a branding campaign is inside your own shop.
The manufacturers are sold on the power of showroom displays and other point-of-purchase materials as an effective tool to stimulate add-on sales.
“We do more of the plan-o-grams instead of P.O.P,” notes Sink. “We do specific plan-o-grams that are designed for stores and those do very well.”
DeFord from Bully Dog adds, “A proper storefront design is very important to any business. The design will direct consumers to the areas that you want (them in). Every store needs flow, which requires a lot of thought and testing.”
His suggestion is to mix it up from time to time to keep things fresh.
“Do not get settled in. Changing the look and layout of the showroom will lead consumers to believing they are seeing new things and products, thus sparking interest,” he says. “P.O.P. displays are very valuable, but again they must be used in a way to create sales. If you are just stuffing it in the corner, (then) it is doing nothing for you.”
Miller also believes showroom marketing tools are effective.
“We have been successful with marketing a few in-store standalone product displays. This year, we introduced a new display with our 15 fastest-moving thermal tuning products. We added value to the display by offering the display grid panel and all the hardware free. Plus, we added a factory-direct $25 rebate to participating retailers/dealers with proof of purchase. (This) year, we are going to make available product displays for our major thermal protection lines such as a display featuring a small sample of the various exhaust wraps we offer, along with exhaust wrap accessories such as stainless steel locking ties used to secure wrap. Other displays will include our line and hose sleeving products, heat reflective material and shrink tubes.”
Get on the Web!
Our third question asks about online marketing such as websites, online forums, etc.
DeFord from Bully Dog says, “The Internet is a large part of this industry and keeps getting bigger. Jobbers must have an online presence of some sort (and) that presence is going to depend on the business and the goals of that business. We hear from a lot of jobbers that they don’t have a Web presence because they don’t have the skills needed or understand how to maximize the Internet. That may have been the case 10 years ago, but today the Web is very easy, with simple-to-use programs and publishing options.”
Miller from DEI agrees.
“If you don’t have an Internet presence today, you’re doomed,” he says. “Whether customers are searching for product information, installation help or trying to find a way to complete a purchase, being online is a necessity in today’s business environment.”
He notes DEI’s own website is designed to help educate and provide answers to help site visitors make their final buying decisions, and averages more than 1 million visitors a month.
He’s also a believer in social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and others as a new, cost-effective way to reach enthusiasts.
“The importance of online social marketing can’t be ignored and has never been greater,” he says. “Design Engineering has embraced this multifaceted communication technology of interacting with customers and potential new customers. Listening, measuring and engaging are key elements of social marketing and we will continue placing a major emphasis in viral marketing. Listening to customer’s needs and areas of interest has helped give us the opportunity to further develop brand loyalty through participation in online forums, blogs and communities.”
Sink from Milodon adds, “In the last five years, we have been doing more and more on the Web. It’s been working exceptionally well for us. We’ve been using websites and forums.”
Our last question deals with other effective approaches such as email lists, flyers, direct mail, car shows and various sponsorships.
DeFord notes, “Again, this really depends on the way the business operates. There are endless ways to reach consumers to expose your business and pull sales in. However, not every option will make sense for every business.”
In fact, there are so many choices out there that his company is offering help sorting through them all to its clients.
“All of these topics are what has led Bully Dog to form an internal marketing agency of sorts to serve our customers at no charge,” he says. “We can assist in everything from store front layout to website design and management. To handle the added work we have hired some of the best marketing people in the industry.”
Miller notes that electronic delivery has led some companies away from printed direct-mail campaigns.
“However, we do maximize the use of distributing information via email on a consistent basis. The importance of grassroots marketing can never be underestimated and Design Engineering has always taken part in car shows both locally as well as some of the large national events. We have been offering various levels of product sponsorships over the years and it has been a proven method of building brand awareness, two-way communications between the factory and racer for valuable product feedback while cultivating long-term relationships with racers and vehicle builders alike. We make every attempt to develop some type of sponsorship connection with any interested racer or show vehicle builder.”
Milodon, too, has entered the sponsor arena.
“We’ve always sponsored NHRA and IHRA, but not cars,” Sink says. “That way, it gets to all the racers. We consider all our contingency programs as advertising. We do some off-road stuff, yes. We do offer different programs.”
A Media Group’s Perspective
Finally, Kipp Kington of KTC Media Group answers these same questions from his position on the media side of the automotive aftermarket. As such, his input comes with more of an overall marketing flavor.
On traditional advertising he says: “I think the days of the Yellow Pages are numbered. Billboards can have a place, as can radio and TV, but the lead time and cost can be extensive and the commitment has to be well-planned.”
On in-store marketing: “Once a customer gets into the store, good P.O.P. displays are essential. Getting customers comfortable in your store is a key to keeping them there and accelerating the buying process.”
On the Web side of things: “We are starting to see pay-per-click, when combined with a good SEO (search engine optimization) program, to be one of the better choices as more people look to the Internet for buying information. PPC is instantly scalable, (the) message can be changed, you get an accounting of how many people clicked to your site and you can change the budget on the fly. The key to a good SEO and PPC program is that the site itself must draw the customer into the buying process.”
On additional online marketing: “As I have said, the Internet is having a major impact on buying decisions. Having a good, clean, professional site, with easy-to-use menus is essential-an essential basic. A good SEO program to get your site ranked on specific words and a good pay-per-click program to either a local, regional or national basis can be a very cost-effective way to market your store. Carrying products with a strong brand loyalty backed by major national advertising will help as you can tag onto their message.”
On other approaches: “We have seen a low response from email lists, depending on the actual quality of the lists themselves. Flyers, properly distributed at events, can work well. We like both shows and racing events, but again conveying the right message is essential. This means good-quality, professional literature, posters and overall presentation.”
As a bonus, Kington offers his thoughts on the recent SEMA Show.
“I was impressed by the SEMA Show this year,” he says. “Going in with low expectations, it was much better that I had hoped for and I think that many shared those feelings. Many of our clients are now proceeding with projects that have been on hold for a few months, as they are starting to experience a mild upswing.”
So here are some real-time marketing ideas from manufacturers and a professional marketing expert to get your sales off on the right foot this year.