As most restylers have learned, establishing and maintaining relationships with local dealerships can be a valuable asset in their day-to-day accessory business. And that same truth applies to shops that choose to add paintless dent repair [PDR] to their arsenal of aesthetic services.
But while many restylers already have the benefit of existing dealership relationships to call upon when pitching their PDR services, a growing number of freelance and franchisee techs are hitting the market and providing formidable competition-both in adding new accounts and keeping the ones that restylers already have onboard.
To help you stay a step ahead of the competition, we talked to three prominent industry insiders and asked them for some helpful tips to attract and keep these valuable dealership accounts.
Tom Harris, president and co-founder of Little Rock, Ark.-based Dent Doctor, has been repairing dents and training new techs [many of whom own Dent Doctor franchises across the country] for more than 20 years.
Mel Craig, an inimitable salesman with years of experience in the PDR market who currently serves as director of new business development for Rightlook.com, San Diego, Calif., trains aspiring and established techs on how to better identify and target potential wholesale and retail accounts.
And Michael Hand, a Vale-certified master craftsman, operates a retail PDR shop in Boulder, Colo. and is the video editor and producer of the TNT Tips & Tricks PDR DVD series available through www.pdrvideo.com.
Together, their tips-ranging from how to find potential new accounts and what to wear when pitching them, to using established accounts to track down new ones and how to stand out from the growing crowd-can provide a valuable head start in an increasingly competitive market.
Here is what they had to say:
1.) Start Small
New PDR techs-or restylers either just getting involved with the PDR market or without pre-existing dealership clients to call on-may be well-served to begin by targeting small and mid-sized dealers focused on used vehicles [or pre-owned vehicles, in the current parlance], as opposed to hopping right into the big time, says Hand.
By starting small and working up to larger clients, techs have an opportunity to hone their sales pitch and avoid competing with seasoned techs that have their sights set on larger, higher-profile dealerships.
“If it’s a newbie tech, they’re looking to get themselves established and get their skill level up, so they should probably leave the new car dealerships to the more experienced techs for now,” says Hand. “New guys [should] go to the smaller used car lots or auto wholesalers who trade vehicles back and forth to different dealerships.”
2.) Focus on Account Quality,Not Quantity
Harris notes that techs should ultimately be calling on client accounts about once a week when things are up and running, so there won’t be time to pitch every dealership in a tech’s area.
There are only so many hours in a day, he explains, and that makes which dealerships a tech services more important than how many.
“Rather than have a lot of accounts, it would be better to have a few accounts that have enough volume to justify their time,” he says. “Once they’ve narrowed it down to those accounts, the tech can then just knock their socks off with amazing service.”
So, how do techs determine which potential clients are worth their while?
“It would be a function of how large the dealership is and also what the volume of their business is that deals with used car sales,” he says.
3.) Do Your Homework
Once a potential dealership client has been identified, Dent Doctor’s Harris says that techs should find out as much about that dealership as possible before scheduling an appointment to pitch them on PDR services.
He suggests talking to the dealership’s other mobile vendors-such as paint touch-up techs, wheel repair techs and interior restoration techs-to determine the volume of sales a dealership is closing, the status of its relationship with any current PDR techs, and who’s the main decision-maker.
Once a tech has determined who has the authority to sign off on PDR work-which most often is the used car manager-and scheduled a meeting, he should then find out everything he can about that person, both personally and professionally.
“Then, when you walk into the office, besides looking him in the eye and having your sales pitch together, you also need to look at the walls and determine who this guy is and what his interests are,” Harris adds. “Then play into whatever those interests are. People want to do business with people they like.”
4.) Make a Great First Impression
Once a potential account has been identified, background research has been done and a meeting scheduled, techs should ensure that their physical appearance for that first introduction conveys a sense of professionalism, says Hand.
He suggests clean, business-casual clothing-such as a polo-style shirt-to ensure the tech conveys a professional image. Just don’t overdo it, he says.
“I would suggest that a tech be well-groomed-no piercings, no tattoos showing,” he says. “But, you don’t want to look too formal, either, because you don’t want to look like a salesperson. You are a technician, after all.”
Rightlook’s Craig adds that a professional appearance can even offset sub-par skills for newbie techs.
“If you’re a professional businessperson, people will like to deal with you and will give you an opportunity to bring your performance to [a certain] level,” he says. “Wear a nice uniform shirt, whether [it’s] a polo or button-down shirt. Your logo should be on the front, embroidered, maybe with your name on the other side. Wear a cap with the name of your company on it or even have aprons made.”
5.) Sell on Quality and Service, Not Price
Once a tech has made it past that crucial first impression, he would be well-served to pitch the dealership on the quality of his customer service and the quality of his work-not on a lower price than the guy down the street.
With competition for PDR work increasing every day, competing on price is a slippery slope, says Hand.
“You need to be careful not to undercut the price just to get the account, because you might come in so low that the other guy counters to keep the work,” he says. “Then you’re in a bidding war. That’s counterproductive for the industry.
“A lot of times they’ll ask what you charge, but you only want to give them a general price, typically for your smallest and easiest dents,” he adds. “You want to let them know that you can do a variety of dents and that the price is determined by how much damage is there to be fixed.”
6.) Deliver the Quality Promised
Once a tech has sold a dealership on his skills, he’ll most always be asked to back it up by doing a demo-so the tech should usually offer to do so in his sales pitch, says Harris.
“The best way to convince someone you’ve got the skills to do the job is by proving it to them,” he says. “You can talk all day about how great you are, but if you can’t do the dent, then you’re not going to get the account.”
Hand agrees, noting that most dealership contacts will know good PDR service when they see it, because they’ve seen plenty of it already.
“You’ve got to make sure your skills are good, because they’re probably already used to having a good technician,” he says. “I don’t know of any dealerships that don’t have a PDR technician available for them.”
7.) Use Referrals to Maximize Your Efforts
Once a tech is established with a dealership, he or she can leverage that relationship to garner others in the area, says Harris.
“If you’re doing business with the guy at the Lincoln Mercury dealership and he is thrilled with your work and thinks you’re the greatest dent guy out there, ask him to put in a call for you to the place down the street,” he says.
Sales managers often know other sales managers in town and can put in a good word for a new tech, he says.
“The sales manager for the job you’ve already got can say positive things about you that you really can’t even say about yourself,” he notes. “And then when you walk in the door, you’re not a stranger and you don’t need to sell yourself quite as strongly, because you’ve already been given an introduction by someone they trust.”
8.) Be Persistent and Follow Up Regularly
While it may be disheartening for newcomers to the PDR market to find that there are many competitors already targeting the same potential accounts, Rightlook’s Craig notes that turnover is also high, creating new opportunities all the time.
The key, he says, is to be persistent and keep checking back with dealerships regularly-even as often as once a week-until work becomes available.
“The guys who are consistently walking in the door and asking for work are the ones that will have a successful business,” he says. “If you’re not calling on them once a week, you might miss some opportunities.”
Craig adds that techs can also send a letter of appreciation as a follow-up to ensure that, even if they haven’t received work from the dealership yet, the tech’s name will stay on the manager’s radar.
“Whether you’ve done business or not, don’t close the door,” he says. “Down the road, they might have something for you, so leave on a very good note. Ninety percent of guys aren’t doing that, so if you do, you’re going to stand out.”
9.) Make Yourself Available
With plenty of competition for dealership work, techs trying to work their way into the market are advised to go above and beyond to make themselves available to clients on short notice, says Hand.
“If they initially turn you down, but then call you, you need to be able to make it in,” he says. “That gives you the opportunity to be the hero when the dent is a deal-breaker for someone buying a vehicle from the dealership. If you come in, they can make the sale and you’ve just proved yourself to be reliable, professional and capable. Your price is no longer so relevant.”
10.) Add Additional Services
Another surefire way for techs to place themselves ahead of competitors is to add additional mobile tech services-such as paint touch-up, wheel repair or mobile detailing-which allows dealerships to avoid hiring multiple techs, says Rightlook’s Craig.
“The guys who offer multiple services-say, a detailer who offers PDR and paint and wheel repair-are going to have a better opportunity to get in the door,” he says. “Multiple services are a very valuable commodity when it comes to dealerships, because they love giving all the work to one person when they can.”
11.) Utilize ProfessionalMarketing Materials
Professional marketing materials such as high-quality business cards, promotional flyers and brochures can be a huge benefit to a new PDR tech looking to establish himself with area dealerships.
Hand notes that these materials should be left with as many people as possible at the dealership who could reasonably influence the decision-maker.
“I would suggest that techs use some nice, UV-coated, color-printed cards if possible,” he says. “They should be providing cards to all the salespeople, the new car manager, the service department-basically anyone who might possibly influence that decision.”
Craig adds that photos of prior work can sometimes influence dealerships, as well. At the very least, it can’t hurt to have such photos available if and when they are requested.
“Anything a guy can bring in to help sell himself and his company to these dealerships is worthwhile,” he says. “If you can show some before-and-after photos, that’s a great opportunity to show your skills.”
12.) Show Your Appreciation
Once a tech or shop has succeeded in establishing a new account and has completed a few jobs, it’s important to show that dealership a due amount of appreciation, says Hand. After all, there are plenty of other techs gunning for those jobs.
“It’s really an ongoing effort to build those relationships,” says Hand. “Once you get some business from them, to thank them you might buy them some bagels or doughnuts on a Saturday as a gesture to remind them that you appreciate their business.
“That little step separates you from the vast majority of techs,” he adds. “A lot of them, once they get good at the art of removing dents, they either lose their humility about it or just don’t pay attention to the finer business aspects of it.”