Put That Best Foot Forward

Dec 3, 2009

“How can I generate more business for my shop?” That’s a question on shop owners’ minds most of the time, and particularly now in this economically tightened marketplace. Getting your business image “out there” and putting your best foot forward is a process with a beginning but without an end.

Keeping awareness of your business prominent in the marketplace and in the minds of potential and repeat customers, or branding, requires a constant effort. Trying new tactics can refresh your efforts or reach new clients, while revisiting existing methods with a new perspective may also benefit your shop.

Marketing is a science which observes a number of “laws,” but also is comprised of a significant amount of gray area. Choosing which directions to market or brand your business is no easy task broken down by clear right-and-wrong choices.

Beyond traditional advertising on radio, television and print you can reach out to enthusiast clubs, owners groups and other specialty niches to access a focused clientele.

Your business might partner with other businesses to form complementary relationships. Manufacturers of the products that you sell to your clients might be tapped for marketing assistance, as well as new products and technologies. Membership in trade organizations and industry groups serves as a highly effective networking opportunity.

Within your shop you might hold product seminars, open house events or product promotions. Electronic technology offers additional avenues for branding, as do community and charitable organizations and events. It’s a complex and diverse list of ingredients to draw from and combining a variety of overlapping methods will greatly increase your sales opportunities as well as the quality of your business image.

Burnish your image

In a previous column (“Building a Professional Image,” Restyling, June 2008, page 52) I discussed the importance of creating and maintaining a professional image for your business. Now, if I were to use the analogy of a restored muscle car, say a ’68 Camaro RS/SS, I might draw a parallel between the appearance of said Camaro in the appreciative eyes of a classic car enthusiast and your carefully developed professional business image as experienced by a customer. That Camaro needs some waxing and other routine maintenance to keep up its “wow” factor. And so does your business image. The highest-quality customer service provided consistently is the foremost tool in keeping your shop’s image highly polished. Always train, always evaluate employees’ performance and always perfect the first impression.

And don’t just polish your business internally; polish your clients – people react well to being educated about topics they may have an interest in but have not been exposed to. Create knowledge with the perception of no strings attached and you can expect people to take note and seek you out to fine tune their knowledge and make a purchase from your shop.

Promotional events that serve you, too

Expand your customer service experience by participating in charity and community events. Meeting potential clients on their “turf” presents the opportunity to offer a handshake you might not otherwise have been able to offer. Here in Arizona, where my shop is located, our state Department of Transportation holds community events when a new section of freeway is about to be opened. These unique events allow citizens to stroll on the same pavement they will be commuting on in the following week. Not only are citizens invited out, so are businesses – for free. As a shop owner I can set up a display to promote my restyling products and services, conduct giveaways and hold contests, all for hundreds of vehicle owners.

We’ve all been to one type of community event or another; these are voluntarily attended events that tend to have a festive air about them. Your shop’s participation will cast a favorable light in your direction and attach a great first impression in the minds of the attendees. Seek out these types of events as they offer unparalleled access to a broad population of potential clients. Your presence will go a long way toward putting your business into the forefront of the public’s mind.

Involvement in charitable events creates goodwill with event organizers, the charities’ beneficiaries and attendees alike, resulting in the gold standard of marketing: word-of-mouth buzz. Donating gift certificates to fundraising auctions or as door prizes is a good method of getting unique and fresh clientele into your shop. The amount of the gift certificate should be an “appetizer,” enough to be valuable, but also requiring the certificate holders to “chip in,” effectively turning them into a client.

Consider outfitting one of the charity’s vehicles with a restyling product in exchange for your company’s logo to be displayed on that vehicle. Tint the windows of the vehicle or of the charity’s office front (or provide computer-cut vinyl lettering) and request that your shop name and contact info be mentioned in the charity’s list of community sponsors.

Be proud of your contribution and share that info and pride with your clients. You will notice a positive reaction resulting from promoting your shop’s donation of time, labor and product to a community need.

There is never a shortage of vehicle owners seeking a sponsorship either via cash or products. Like all marketing and partnering decisions, one must be cautious when weeding through these opportunities; carefully choose who you feel will be your shop’s partner.

If your shop commits to such an arrangement, be sure to follow through; be present at events that your sponsored vehicle participates in. Spotlight your specific contribution and its performance in order to connect your product or service to the occasion, illuminating your shop, your products, your services and your crew. Be tasteful – everybody knows very little is done in a true benevolent fashion. Enthusiastically highlight the organization, event and/or the sponsored team vehicle. And be sure that the supported vehicle is displaying your company logo and that you have business card or brochure dispensers available for inclusion in any display that accompanies the vehicle or team.

Use the Web

It is not news that the Internet is an incredible tool for businesses and clients alike. However, there is more to using the Internet as a tool to promote and drive your business than just having websites and e-commerce. My shop targets RV owners specifically, and I have found RV owners’ groups thriving all over the Internet. Most of these discussion forums and chat boards frown on explicit business promotion, but positioning yourself as a commentator on common issues that fall within your range of products and services will allow you to subtly introduce solutions to restyling needs and problems. Often you will then be asked where these solutions can be attained, at which point you can carefully direct the potential client to your shop or a partnered business. This technique is a nuanced difference between selling and promoting; when a person feels that their questions or needs have been addressed in an honest manner without sales pressure, they are then more likely to become a fan of your approach and a customer or a word-of-mouth “buzzer.”

Blogging is another method of discussing your shop and presenting your business image to an interested public.

Use a blog to illustrate specific products by featuring a recent project vehicle (with photos). This accomplishes two things: One, you delight a customer by showing off his/her project vehicle – and, as restylers, we all know how eager our clients are to stand out from the rest of the crowd with their vehicle; and, two, you demonstrate (read: advertise) your business’s range of products and services while also showing potential clients that their vehicle may too be featured on the Internet.

Talk about getting a truck owner excited about seeking out your business! Without directly advertising, blogging can allow you to promote new accessories and restyling products in the form of a “for your interest” setting – an educated public is a buying public.

Your blog should always feature links to your website; and while you are linking, you should consider including links to any charities you support as well as sponsored vehicles, and of course the community events where your shop will be on display.

E-mail lists are another facet of the electronic approach to getting your image out there. Maintain an e-mail list that customers and interested people can voluntarily join, then use e-mail software to send out newsletters, product promotions, event announcements and, perhaps most importantly, general interest pieces that act as client educators.

Our e-mail inboxes are overflowing with real and fraudulent selling; take the high road and simply note topics that spotlight your shop without making your recipients feel like they are being sold to. Keeping your products and services in the minds of clients without pressing a sale is a refreshing and productive exercise.

Get branded

Returning to the original question, “How can I generate more business for my shop?” I might answer with one word: branding.

It’s easy (and dangerous) to get nickel-and-dimed by advertising expenses. While traditional advertising is a passive marketing approach, branding is a dynamic technique. Branding isn’t just having your logo on your company vehicles and uniforms; it is a comprehensive approach to getting your carefully and deliberately crafted business image out to the public, and generating that invaluable word-of-mouth buzz.

So polish up your business and get the word out there. And maybe throw a coat of wax on that Camaro while you’re at it.