Cars powertrains are built more durably than ever before, and that keeps vehicle owners repairing their otherwise perfectly fine vehicles rather than cutting and running at the first sign of car trouble. In fact, the average age of cars on the road reached 11.6 years in 2016. That’s good news for auto shops, which are enjoying and can continue to expect a steady stream of new and repeat business for the foreseeable future.
However, this ultra-positive outlook doesn’t mean repair businesses can rest on their laurels. Local advertising for auto shops is as important today as it was during the clunker era—and perhaps even more so in this age of Yelp reviews and automatic service notifications. The competition in your area may be fierce, but effective marketing can give you an edge. Here are nine types of local advertising for auto shops you may consider:
1. Direct mail
With direct mail, you advertise straight to people’s homes usually through the mail, hoping residents see the delivered coupon and bring it into your shop for business. While some find success in this medium, it has plenty of warts. Any good advertising needs the right repetition, exposure, and targeting. So first be prepared to do your direct mail multiple times. Direct mail advertising is often thrown away without hesitation by the recipient—there’s a reason “junk mail” got its unfortunate name. Without a second or third or even seventh mailing, your message may never been seen. Second, unless you have a comprehensive customer database, you might need to purchase a mailing list (especially because something addressed to “Resident” is likelier to be tossed). Third, bulk postage isn’t cheap, and neither is the cost for printing the mailers. Add these factors together and the challenges of Direct Mail need to be carefully weighed..
2. Social media
Digital marketing is almost synonymous with social media. The strategy seems not only effective ,but cheap as well. Further, it gives you a mobile presence in which customers and potential customers can connect with you from their smartphones. However, engaging in social media entails being highly active on your channels—you can’t let your Facebook page languish for months without any updates, because followers won’t come back, effectively diminishing any impact you hoped to achieve. That time spent equates to an investment on your part, and many auto shop owners find a lack of time to already be a significant challenge.
3. Paid search
Paid search, such as Google’s AdWords, brings up an ad for your business on websites and search engines based on a user’s search queries, browsing history, location, and demographics. Some paid search is pay-per-click—a user clicks on an ad and the business is charged, usually around $1 or $2 for small businesses. When done right , paid search can be an effective complement to traditional print advertising. One of the challenges with paid search is that you are competing with everyone, from the smallest mom and pop shop to national brands. Geographic targeting can also be a challenge for desktop users since ISP’s don’t report home addresses. Mobile users may have a more accurate location, but then the question becomes - are you catching them near where they live or work?
4. Auto Events
Setting up a table at local auto shows and classic car events can be a great way to meet customers and hand out coupons. Some events might charge you to do this, so carefully calculate whether or not the effort will be worth it. Keep in mind that your time is money, so the time you spend away from your shop is time that could be spent doing something else.
5. Referral programs
Your loyal customers can be your best advocates, and with referral programs, you provide incentive to take their advocacy to the next level. One of the best ways to get referrals, surprisingly enough, is to ask for them! Make sure you train your staff to ask customers to refer friends if they had a good experience.
Billboards (both traditional and digital) have long been a staple of advertising since the days of hanging out your shingle.With careful placement and good messaging, they can help increase the visibility of your location and ultimately sales. Billboards, along with the other mass media listed below, do have one major challenge, which is how to track the ROI. Did a sale come in from the massive sign, or did they talk to a friend. All of this means that determining the ad’s effectiveness may have to be taken on faith.
7. Newspaper ads
Newspapers were once the gold standard of local advertising for auto shops, but the digital age reduced readership while sending more ads online. As a result, the return on investment for print ads isn’t what it once was. Weeklies and alternative newspapers may provide a less expensive option but, of course, will be seen by fewer eyes. Interestingly, newspaper ads have a similar challenge with social media marketing. Do readers really see your ad when they are reading about the latest news or learning about some local interest event?
Producing a television or radio ad, and then buying time to air the ad, is another advertising strategy that often doesn’t live up to expectations. The difficulties in measuring ROI have already been mentioned. But TV and Radio really are a challenge when trying to target a specific audience. How do you run TV or radio spots that hit just the right neighborhoods?
9. Register Tapes at Grocery Stores
Local advertising budgets for auto shops usually are not unlimited, so finding channels that reach a wide audience at low cost is imperative. Register tape advertising, in which coupons are placed on the back of cash-register receipts given to customers at grocery stores, is one such channel that auto repair businesses are finding great success with. A simple coupon on the back of the receipt for a discounted oil change not only reminds them that they need an oil change but also informs them that a local business can provide this service, perhaps at a better price than they are paying now. Aside from being a proven way to increase sales for over 30 years, perhaps the greatest advantage of register tapes is cost—usually no more than $6 to reach 1,000 customers. This rate is far better than that of some of the other local advertising methods for repair shops discussed in this article, as well as more effective. That’s a return on investment that’s impossible to ignore, with an added bonus of more customers in your shop.
What local advertising channels has your auto shop found success with?