It’s a familiar theme throughout the automotive industry: Word-of-mouth advertising is the most effective way to promote your services.
That is especially true in the glass-repair business, according to industry professionals. But it can be risky to rely solely on the good words of others to stimulate business.
Sources say a mix of top-notch customer service, skill and targeted marketing is the best way to make sure glass repair shops survive and thrive. Referrals may serve as the backbone of that approach, but combining word of mouth with other avenues can bring even more business to your door.
Among those avenues, the Yellow Pages are still a staple. But maybe not for long, as the Internet is quickly gaining ground as today’s go-to source for service providers.
“Print advertising is taking a backseat to Web advertising as more and more people are finding solutions via the Web and search engines,” says Glass Technology Inc., Durango, Colo., general manager Rory Most.
“Websites are extremely important,” adds Mike Henley, retail development manager for Rightlook.com, San Diego. “Every year they are more and more important. The Yellow Pages will be going by the wayside-”internet is the new tool for the next generation.”
Still, the more traditional methods of paid advertising can help get the ball rolling for glass repair technicians looking to stimulate sales. GlassPro, Rockford, Ill., owner Michael Curl says he tried several such marketing methods when he began his glass repair business.
“I handed out business cards and left them in Laundromats,” he says. “I gave them to every person I talked to. I started advertising in local shoppers or Thrifty Nickels and started advertising on the Internet.”
Once established, Curl says, customer referrals then kept him busy.
News Travels Fast
Nearly every aspect of the auto industry depends on word of mouth-and bad news travels twice as far, and as fast, as good news.
“Word of mouth gets out so well that people call me on referrals all the time,” says Curl.
It’s customer service that will guarantee both positive word of mouth and a repeat client, industry professionals say.
To create that word of mouth, according to Henley, potential customers have to know a technician is out there and offering glass repair services. He recommends “getting out and pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, shaking hands, letting people know you exist.”
From there, it’s up to the tech to make sure customers come back, through quality work and excellent customer service.
“In any service-oriented business, it’s all about how you treat your customer,” says Most. “It’s not so much about the tangible aspect of the service -it’s about how they feel when you’re done; 100-percent satisfaction for your customer should be your number one goal.”
Henley agrees, citing phone manners as one area that’s important.
“Customer service is central. Answer your phone respectfully and politely right away,” he says. “Talk to the person as if you’re really interested in having him as a client. It all starts there.”
Most reminds techs not to forget existing customers in pursuit of new accounts.
“I would spend more keeping my customer base happy and educated,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who spend more time developing and growing their business on the new customer side, but the customers you already have in place are the core of your business. Grow your business from the inside out, rather then from the outside in.”
Some techniques that help keep those customers coming back include sending thank-you cards and birthday cards with a coupon for discounts on service, says Henley.
A Competitive Field
The glass repair trade is a competitive one, according to Curl. That leaves techs little room for error; one instance of shoddy work or one missed appointment could lose more than one customer.
Punctuality is key, he says. Arriving on time, every time, proves a tech’s trustworthiness to his or her customers-especially dealerships, who prize dependability.
“It’s highly competitive,” he says of the industry. “You have to be able to show the difference between what you have and what the other guy does. Show the customers you’re reliable and on time. That’s highly important. If you’re not going to be there, get someone to cover for you. They depend on you to be there at a certain time.”
Dependability also means a flawless repair. Make one mistake, and a disgruntled customer will tell everyone he or she knows. That’s why industry professionals recommend focusing on the quality of repairs.
If a repair is done incorrectly, Most says, “not only does it put a dent in the industry, but [the company] is not going to get that word of mouth marketing that’s the cheapest and most-effective marketing that anybody knows of.”
Equipment is part of that equation, according to Most and Curl. Outdated, poorly maintained or sub-par equipment can lead to shoddy repairs-and lost customers.
“Get the right equipment-there’s a lot of places selling equipment,” he says. “The older equipment doesn’t cut it for consistency. You might get a good-looking repair, but it’s not necessarily a strong repair. I firmly believe the older equipment is out the window.”
Glass Technology’s Most agrees, saying that a good repair is what will bring in those customer referrals.
“Buy good equipment. It’s better to spend an additional $1,000 to buy good windshield repair equipment to start with, because it will pay for itself over and over and over again. As long as you’re offering windshield repair service, good equipment, training and support will turn into dollar signs for the business owner.”
Some manufacturers of glass-repair equipment may also provide technicians with marketing materials, including flyers and brochures, that they can have imprinted with their own contact information and then distribute. Glass Technology, for instance, offers brochures and flyers designed to educate the end-customer, as well as small stickers that techs can place in the corner of a customer’s windshield, similar to oil-change reminder stickers.
Cultivating Dealer Accounts
Some repair techs may choose to focus solely on servicing auto dealerships, while others maintain a mix of dealer accounts and retail business. The competition to land a dealer’s business can be fierce, but the amount of work available may be worth it.
To land those lucrative dealer accounts, Curl suggests providing a dealership’s service manager with a free glass repair demonstration.
“The most effective [marketing] is free demonstrations to businesses who haven’t used [your shop] before. Almost all the dealerships have someone doing glass repair,” he says.
Persistence is key, according to Henley. Dealerships may already have someone doing glass repair for them, but there might come a day when that other tech can’t make it in, and the dealer may call you-if you’ve done all you can to make sure he knows you’re available.
“Be persistent to get your foot in the door. If you keep going back and going back and going back, they probably will use you,” Henley says.
Events such as parking-lot demonstrations and car shows with exhibit booths provide the glass repair technician with a place to show off his skills and make yet more face-to-face contacts.
Another tactic to try is partnering with high-traffic businesses, such as oil-change shops and car washes, and offer demonstrations.
“Places like that have a high volume of customers and that’s a great form of offering service as well as marketing product,” says Most.
All methods of advertising have some benefits, but not all are effective for every business. For instance, Curl says he received good response from newspaper ads, but Most stays away from them, citing a short lifespan and high cost that doesn’t offset the number of readers the newspaper will reach.
“We push our customers toward a product that has a longer life cycle,” Most explains.
Neither Most nor Curl suggest TV or radio ads, especially for a newer technician, but Henley says they have their place-just not as the primary buy.
“There is a decent return on that type of marketing, but it has to be used in combination,” he says. “If you have radio ads, then you need to run them in combination with newspaper ads and direct marketing. You need to mix them up to make them more effective.”
Most suggests distributing flyers and contacting regional chambers of commerce to seek out local trade publications.
“There are unique trade publications for the auto industry in specific markets,” says Most. “Those options are also profitable, targeting a niche you’re already in.”
Networking associations can also help a glass-repair tech. Henley cites the Toastmasters International club as an example, and also recommends working with chambers of commerce for communities in a given region. Conventions and trade shows also give techs a chance to network, he adds.
How Much to Spend?
Glass Technology’s Most suggests 20 percent of a shop’s budget be directed toward advertising, but admits that a beginning business might not want to contribute quite that much in its formative stages.
Budgeting often means looking into what types of advertising will give technicians the most mileage for their investment. Television and radio ads are expensive and typically only older, well-established businesses should advertise there, according to both Most and Curl.
Curl also notes that sometimes TV ads can work too well.
“I wouldn’t go with TV advertising unless you have a large enough structure to handle a large amount of customers. You can’t overextend yourself.”
Henley recommends a stepped approach to marketing expenditures.
“Start off very small. Go out and shake hands-that’s free,” he says. “Once you start making money, invest in a website and send direct mail to customers at least three times a year. Put more expensive forms of marketing on the back burner.”
Each shop needs to find the mix of marketing methods that works best for its particular situation. But whether it’s the Yellow Pages, Internet, print or broadcast ads, printed literature or some combination, the point is to get people to give you a try.