3 Do’s (and 3 Don’ts) for Small Auto Shops to Compete Against Big Brands

small auto shops

Small auto shops may often find themselves competing against national brands for new customers. While their bigger budgets and household brand may be cause for concern, it doesn’t mean that your shop can’t overcome those challenges. Instead of working harder, work smarter!

Here are 3 do’s and 3 don’ts to help small auto shops gain a leg up on the national competition.

3 Do’s:

1. Do target prospects with hyperlocal advertising.

National brands can cast a wide net when targeting new customers because, well, they serve a national audience. For small auto shops, focus on a hyperlocal area to ensure that your advertising dollars are spent where it counts.

What is hyperlocal advertising? Wordstream defines it as:

[…the process of targeting prospective customers in a highly specific, geographically restricted area, sometimes just a few blocks or streets…].

The ‘Hyper’ part of the targeting means that cities and even zip codes may still be too broad for your advertising! There is an auto repair shop on nearly every corner. How far would one of your potential customers travel to get an oil change? Maybe 3-5 miles? If your advertising is sent to people who live 10+ miles away from your shop (and not being seen by those who live within 1-5 miles), then your advertising budget is spent reaching people who are very unlikely to become your customer.

By targeting car owners over and over again within a very small (hyperlocal) area, you are much more likely to gain their business and get a positive ROI on your advertising spend.

2. Do search for advertising with exclusivity.

Searching Groupon for oil change coupons results in a long list of ads for auto shops. Independently owned and national shops alike are seen side by side, duking it out for the business of a new customer.

group on oil change ads indoor media


When put side by side, consumers will likely pick the name they know rather than the name they don’t. When a prospect can identify a brand name, it takes a step out of the decision making process.

Instead, search for advertising that offers exclusivity by category. I.e., ad space is limited to a certain number of businesses within the same industry.

Exclusivity can be a part of the advertising medium. For example, register tape advertising only allows two ads for each industry on a single grocery store’s receipts. Or, purchase exclusivity as an “upgrade.”  Either way, exclusivity prevents small auto shops from competing against hundreds of other shops at one time. This can give you a much needed advantage as consumers weigh their options.

3. Do find your riches in niches.

By targeting particular brands of cars or specific services, you will become the de facto expert in your market. Don’t worry, just because you specialize in Honda’s or Oil Changes doesn’t mean that people won’t ask for other offerings. Once you are established as an expert in your field, you will get a perceived transfer of expertise in everything related, including brands and services outside your “specialty.”

3 Don’ts:

1. Don’t target broad phrases with PPC ads.

Here’s the thing, bigger brands have more money. At the end of the day, there are just some marketing tactics where outspending your competition isn’t a profitable strategy.

That’s okay! You can be more strategic with your advertising and make sure you see positive results from a paid ad campaign.

Paid social ads (like Facebook) and paid search ads (like Google Ads) are solid options for businesses looking to advertise to a relevant audience. In theory, PPC is extremely profitable because it is highly targeted. A person types in a phrase like “quick oil change” into Google, and your auto shop shows up at the very tippy-top of the list. You are seen by everyone who searches for that phrase, and you only have to pay when someone clicks on your ad. Sounds great!

Unfortunately, the reality of PPC advertising is that you compete with everyone who thinks that those keywords apply to them. Ads for everything from oil changes to blogging sites might be competing for those keywords. National brands targeting a wide area and your next-door competition are all on the same page, bidding up the ad. In the end, the real winner is Google or Facebook. That will make it really expensive to be one of the three auto shops at the top of the search results page.

(Note: the first position will get close to 30% of all traffic, and the 1-3 positions will get around 50% of all the traffic.)

Big brands have deep pockets. Instead of trying to outbid them, follow our #1 Do and make sure that your PPC ads are targeting an extremely hyperlocal audience.

“Quick Oil Change in Katy, TX”

The more specific your keywords are to your local area, the less likely there will be competition. By doing so, you can keep a reasonable budget, generate leads, and get more cars in the shop without overspending because of national competitors.

2. Don’t neglect your online presence.

Potential customers need to find your website, social media profiles, and google maps listing with just a few clicks. This helps them find valuable information such as location, hours of operation, and phone number, and it also solidifies that you are an established shop.

Fly-by-night mechanics wouldn’t put in the effort to have a website, so a substantial online presence builds trust with potential customers as much as it educates them. Plus, the more content you have online, the more likely it is that Google will bring up your website organically when someone searches for “car repair near me”.

google small auto shops near me

This helps you compete with national brands by ensuring that your auto shop shows up when consumers search for “auto shops near me” online.

3. Don’t forget to ask for reviews.

Word-of-mouth is just as important as it always was; it’s just taken on a new form. While big brand dealerships and auto repair shops may have the benefit of their name, their online reputation is just as vulnerable as anybody else’s. Yelp has made sure of that. Don’t underestimate the value of a 5-star review. Once you get 10, 15, or 100 of those, your online reputation will be rocking!

The problem is, happy customers don’t tend to shout their love from the rooftops. Meanwhile, angry customers will push people out of the way to do so. Small auto shops have the benefit of creating real relationships with their customers. Simply asking your regulars to take a second and leave a review (without any incentive attached) can be a surefire strategy to build your online reputation. Big brands without this detailed customer service can suffer, and believe me when I tell you, online reviews influence decisions. Not even the biggest named repair shops can build trust when their online reputation is in the pits.

Being an independent auto repair shop means that trust is likely the most important factor for your success. Interestingly, asking for a review actually builds trust, and not just asking for a 5-star one. Research shows that by asking for a favor, a person is more likely to feel obligated to help the asker, and this builds your relationship. Not only does it get happy customers to write reviews, but it can mitigate bad experiences as well.

Strategy Helps Small Auto Shops Compete

Competing against big brand competitors isn’t about working harder or spending more money. It’s all about working smarter! To create a marketing strategy that can outsmart your national competitors, make sure to:

  • Stick with hyperlocal advertising that makes the most of your advertising dollars.
  • Look for exclusivity, either as part of the medium or as an upgrade.
  • Focus on what you do best, there are riches in niches.
  • Establish your online presence, so local shoppers can find you easily.
  • Value the positive power of a 5-star review.

Read more posts about advertising your Auto Shop.

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