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If you own an independent bodyshop, this article is for you.

In case you run a bodyshop (or in fact any local business) you definitely spend time thinking of the way of advertising your business. In fact, in our digital era you may have already started building your digital footprint on social media, through a blog and a busness webpage. However, you need to keep in mind that people need bodyshop services usually when a collision accident happens. Not a very pleasant event. What do you do when you need a car repair specialist? You ask friends and relatives for a recommendation. Everyone has an uncle or friend who repaired his car after an accident. Usually  they  refer a bodyshop in the neighborhood.  Nobody wants to drive the damaged vehicle to the other side of the city. The key words are “reference” and “neighborhood”. In the past I have already stressed how the word of mouth” creates a competitive advantage for a paint supply business (8 proven ways to increase sales in a car body and paint shop). In this post I will elaborate further how to grow bodyshop’s positive word of mouth by giving back to the local community.

Car refinishing industry is going through times when larger organizations buy the smaller rivals or push the independent shops out of the market. Consolidation of the market share can be seen on all levels in our trade, starting from jobbers and warehouses to collision repair workshops themselves. In fact, an independent bodyshop has little instruments to protect its business. Nevertheless, the bodyshop can profit from its human touch and the perception of being part of the local community. An active and giving back part of the community. If the people in the area are feeling that you are one of them, they will prefer to bring their vehicles to you, regardless of where insurers want to steer them to.

What are the ways to genuinely serve the local community?

There are plenty of ways how bodyshop owners could contribute to the local community and build positive image for their businesses. Below I bring to your attention a few examples.

– Be a sponsor of the local sports team. It is an old and well-tested way to play an important role for your neighborhood. It doesn’t matter what sport it is. Team sports usually draw more attention, however you can support a talented tennis player or a boxer. Do not go only for the highest exposure sports, which may require significant funds. The earnest effort to support even one athlete will not go unnoticed.

– Offer to refinish free of charge some community vehicle. It could be a school bus, fire brigade’s vehicle, police or any other car of communal usage.

– Help someone in need to fix her vehicle. If you have noticed an elder person with an old car, offer to paint it for free. She will be your best ambassador forever.

– Give a free advice on car care for automotive enthusiasts. Show them how to polish their vehicles and to protect it from scratches. It will be your best move ever.

– Be involved in the local community life. I mean truly and genuinely involved. It is not only about giving money, but also time. By spending time with local people for the common good, you will earn respect and trust. Trust is the key in the collision repair business when people turn to you if a collision accident happened.

To finish, I would like to stress that giving to the community is not the same with advertising. These are two different things. Both are needed to build brand awareness and drive business to your shop. Nevertheless, do not confuse those two things. Giving back to the community must be done without crying for attention, because people can sense easily when the effort is not coming from the heart.

 

 

8 proven ways to increase sales in a car body and paint supply store. Number 5 is my favorite.

8 proven ways to increase sales in a car body and paint supply store. Number 5 is my favorite.

If you read this article, probably you are an owner or a manager in business, which supplies bodyshops with paint and all necessary consumables for the craft. In the beginning of each year we tend to make plans, put targets and allocate budgets. I do as well. Probably one of the key figures in this planning would be the expected sales growth. Whether you set a target in percentage of growth or in sales revenue figures, it must be backed with deep-laid plan how to get there. Below, I would like to share with you a few time-tested ways how to achieve your business targets in 2017.


prospects search

  1. Spend at least 2 hours per week by calling, emailing or visiting new prospects. I can bet you work long hours, but without organized, purposeful actions for new customers’ acquisition, your business will stagnate. It is imperative to find time for leads generation every single week. Even if you fill that your business is booming, do not lay back, because customers’ loyalty is not guaranteed or everlasting.

 

  1. Similarly, finding new markets for the products you sell will undoubtedly broaden your business horizons. Differentiate your customer base by targeting such potential customers as detailers, yacht and boat manufacturers and repairers, furniture producers, aerography artists. Take time to learn their needs and products they use, and then create a compelling offer based on the product portfolio you already trade. You will be surprised how many industries use the materials you have on your shop’s shelves already.

 

  1. Work on “digital word of mouth”. Let me explain what I mean. We’ve heard about the importance of word of mouth as a free and effective way to promote any kind of business. Happy customer will tell about your great service and products to about 3 or 4 other people (while unhappy one would talk to 10 people minimum). In the era of multiple communication channels, with social networks and various messengers, relying only on verbal referrals would be a huge mistake. If you have happy customers (and you better have), for example, a painter or bodyshop owner, then ask him to make a post on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter. Share or re-tweet it multiple times. Follow who liked your shared messages, and, chances are that you may find new sales leads without much effort.

 

  1. Hire a sales person. Many smaller stores do not actually have a sales person. The owner is a sales man, you may say. Yes he is, but also the business owner work as an accountant, purchasing manager, colorist and as delivery person. Hiring a skilled salesman is not an expense, but an investment. Your first employee ever should be a sales guy. Period.

 

  1. Start a blog. Have you heard about inbound marketing? Inbound marketing includes strategies for connecting with existing and potential customers by providing them with useful for them information. If you start a blog, not only it will boost your website’s rating (I hope you have a website, of course) for search engines, but also attract potential customers, who are starving for compelling content on the web. Creating quality content is not easy, and you should work hard to improve your writing skills, but payoff will exceed your expectations. For the beginning, start up as industry content curator. In other words, if you find interesting piece of information about car refinishing business, new products or events, share this information with your readers (invite your existing customers to follow your blog for a start). By starting a blog, you will build a reputation of an expert in your industry. And guess from whom people prefer to buy products from, especially in B2B markets, like ours?

 

  1. Create customers incentive and loyalty program. If you think that loyalty programs are only good for airlines or big supermarket chains, it is a mistake. Personally I saw various successful examples applied to our industry. One of the easy ways is to agree with the particular customer on turnover target (could be annual, quarterly etc), when, if achieved, the customer will have a bonus in cash, discounts or products free of charge. Another great example is to offer to the top performing customers a free trip for holidays or to an important industry event. One of my colleagues and a good friend has been arranging trips with his best customers to SEMA show in Las Vegas. I can bet such a trip will be unforgettable and build a strong bond between supplier and his customers.

 

  1. Advertise on Facebook. All types of advertising have as objective an increase in sales for the business. However, not all advertising means are equal. Effectiveness of an advertising campaign depends on how precisely the message is delivered to the target group. Facebook Ads has no rivals in accuracy. So, if you are a factor or jobber in a given area of, let’s say Chicago or Cardiff, Facebook can provide you with advertising solution for audience in your area, age group, based on interaction with your page and even behaviors and interests. I have seen numerous examples of paint supply stores, who found customers for their products on Facebook. It works!

 

  1. Build email database and launch a newsletter. Email is the most effective method to deliver any message in B2B markets. Email marketing is cost effective workhorse of advertising, which still outperforms any of social networks. No business can afford ignoring the importance of collecting customers and prospects emails, and creating a structured, properly segmented email database. Unfortunately many of paint suppliers in collision repair industry neglect the potential benefits of email as a channel to grow sales. Big mistake! In fact, nowadays it is very easy to launch regular newsletter or email campaign. Providers of email marketing services like Mailchimp or Aweber make the chore of creating newsletters and promotional emails distribution, easy and intelligent.

 

By all means I do not claim the exclusivity of the above list. Substantially there are many ways to drive sales up. My primary target in this article was to draw your attention that in order to prosper, automotive paint supplier should open his mind to new, perhaps unconventional moves. As Richard Branson said: “Listen. Take the best. Leave the rest.”

 

Quality of products or services in the car refinish industry comes only second to …

When we talk about collision repair industry (or, in fact, about any industry) the most frequently used word to describe a brand or business you hear is “quality“. Our clearcoat is of fineness, with that spray gun you will achieve the highest quality finish, in our bodyshop we deliver the highest quality refinishing job … While I has no problem whatsoever with the term, I do believe that quality is not the most important. How is that? Some of my esteemed readers or marketing specialists may not agree. Let me explain myself.

what-is-quality

The problem with the term “quality” lies in its vagueness. Apparently, perceived quality for different customers vary significantly. For example, a high quality clearcoat for a Greek painter may refer to the superior UV resistance, while in humid English Highlands quality has to do with fast drying; a salesman, the owner of hardworking Ford Fiesta wants fast delivery of his vehicle, while Ferrari owner requires the highest possible gloss level for his precious four-wheeled beast. And don’t tell me that you can have it all in one package. Not in this world at least. Let me bring another example, not from our industry. Do you believe that iPhone is the highest quality mobile phone in the market? I can bet that Samsung fans will find dozens of technical features in which the Korean brand is far more superior to its Californian rival. So what? Apple still has the most fanatic fans, which will spend their last savings on the newest model. I don’t remember anyone sleeping outside Samsung store to buy the last Galaxy model (I hope Samsung lovers won’t be upset with me). So, where is the difference? What is the secret? Well, whether you are selling paint, cellphones or spray cars, quality (perceived quality actually) comes second to … Hold your breath… customer experience. The difference between okay business and a thriving one is predominantly in great customer experience!

What is a customer experience in collision repair?

I have a simple definition for customer experience – it is a feeling, smell or taste a customer is left with after spraying  a X brand clear or driving away from Y collision repair workshop. If you understand which things particularly influence this feeling, what ingredients leave sweet taste, and then you can create a unique customer experience.

customer-experience-1

How can we understand what is a great customer experience for our business?

The one and only way to answer this question is to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Ask! Ask! And ask! Don’t rely solely on your perceptions and believes.

 

Great customer experience for a bodyshop.

One research I read a while ago, which was conducted by a big chain of bodyshops, revealed that satisfied customers remembered mostly good coffee in the reception, new car scent used by the bodyshop before vehicle delivery and free touch-up bottle with 10ml car color inside! Keeping acceptable refinishing job constant it is coffee and a small freebies, which made a bodyshop to stand out from the competition.

 

Great customer experience for paint supplier.

Here I will share some observations I have had throughout my career as automotive refinishing products supplier. Many of Etalon customers preferred our products because… they liked the horse image on our cans, because of fresh design and even because the paper in our catalogue “feels like velvet”, and, yes, our calendar is sexy… On the other hand, we had to change one product, because it smelled bad and a packaging company, because the boxes looked like Chinese! One of our customer switched to Etalon simply because we are not arrogant like salespeople of one big multinational competitor. Of course, products must be good and at reasonable price, but it seems that many of us miss the key point – the experience our clients have with us.

To sum it up, I strongly advice to conduct a research on how your clients actually feel when working with you. Fine tune your operations and have the edge on your rivals. And remember, your customers are willing to pay extra for outstanding customer experience!

 

Collision repair management 101: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Fixed costs.

For those of you, dear readers, who follow Etalon Refinish blog, it is probably clear that throughout the articles I try to convey a simple, but, from my point of view, very important idea. Collision repair workshop is first of all a Business, which was set up to make profits. Therefore, as every Business, regardless of size, type or location, the bodyshop must be managed as Business. All rules and axioms apply just as for a supermarket, a hotel or an airline. It is not enough to be a skilled craftsman. Period. The good thing though that business school is not necessary (though wouldn’t heart at all). It is never late to learn basics, which are applicable to collision repair workshop just as to any other enterprise. This blog post will be split onto parts, since it is rather difficult to analyze in depth all the vital aspects within the narrow frame of one post. I will try to bring examples from real life of an average bodyshop so it would be easier to relate business terms to existing everyday problems of an average collision repair facility.

Part 1. Costs

I strongly believe that a profound knowledge of your costs and expenses is fundamental for success. Throughout my career as entrepreneur and supplier I have seen a great number of bodyshop owners who had no clue about their costs level, their segmentation and behavior throughout the year. Remember, you can manage something only if you can measure it.

In the beginning, I would like to specify that we are talking about costs incurred during the workshop operations. Only business oriented costs. One of the biggest mistakes would be to mix business costs and personal expenses. Even if you are a sole owner without partners and employees, keep your two lives, business and personal, apart. Numerous companies have been shut down not because of business failure, but because of private financial mistakes. So, in all businesses and industries , two major costs categories are distinguished: fixed costs and variable costs.

Money

Fixed costs

If you google the term of fixed cost, you will find plenty of definitions, yet I prefer a rather simplistic one: “Fixed costs are costs, which a business pays regardless of the amount of sold products or services provided”. In other words, fixed costs will incur even if a bodyshop doesn’t repair a single vehicle. Usually those costs are not elastic and hard to reduce. The main examples of workshop’s fixed costs:

– Rental costs. If you rent the space, where your bodyshop is located, then it is a fixed cost.

– Mortgage interest rates (when a facility was purchased with mortgage)

– Salaries or fixed part of wages. Sometimes the compensation of an employee consists of a fixed part and bonus based on productivity, profit or achieved targets. Sometimes such costs are called mixed costs, yet for simplicity sake I will put them in fixed costs category. If your painter is working on commission base only, than assign this cost to variables.

– Loan interest rates in case equipment, for example a spraybooth, has been purchased on credit.

– Electricity/natural gas costs and other utilities. Electricity can also be viewed as mixed cost, because the more work is performed in a workshop, the more electricity will be confused, however, to simplify your analysis, you can consider the electricity and similar bills (gas, phones, water etc) as fixed costs for your bodyshop.

– Insurance. Be it insurance against natural disasters, health or occupational insurance, those must be put in fixed cost column of your list.

– Licenses and other legal permits expenses necessary for the bodyshop operation.

– Fixed taxes, be it property tax, local community tax or local chamber of commerce fees.

– Courtesy cars maintenance costs.

– Equipment depreciation. When a new piece of equipment is purchased, it is not put as a whole amount into the fixed costs column. Usually the expense is charged gradually over the useful life of it. For example, if a spray fun costs 360$, and you expect it to work for 18 months, then you should list 20$ every month to your fixed costs.

 

Note: The higher are the fixed costs, the riskier is the bodyshop’s position in case of significant drop of work load. Such a drop could be seasonal, like in some countries; also it can be due to the financial crisis in a given market or worldwide, as well as due to the increased competition. Keeping fixed costs as low as possible is a must for small business long-term survival.

5 traits of quality in auto body repair job

Everyday we are bombarded by advertising of various goods and services. In most of the communicated messages there is a reference to a high “quality” of advertiser. Quality is high, incomparable, excellent, unsurpassed and unbeatable. Car repair industry is no exemption. Bodyshops claim that their service is of high, incomparable, excellent, unsurpassed and, at least, unbeatable level… However, claiming something and actually being that something, are not the same thing. During my career I have had an opportunity to visit a great number of collision repair facilities, and I am convinced that the notion of quality is not just one simple characteristic, but rather a complex of traits. I identified five of them:

invisible
1. Invisibility. It sounds a little bit of controversy that quality should be invisible, but the very essence of car body repair has to bring the vehicle back to pre-accident condition. Nothing more, nothing less. If, for example, a bonnet after the repair has glass look, unlike the adjacent parts with OEM orange peel structure, than this job is highly visible and easy to spot, and hence it can not be characterized as top-quality.

time
2. Time. All good things need time, they say. It is even more valid in car refinishing industry, where flass-off times and drying periods affect in direct way the final result. So, high quality job needs proper time to be right (yet with not overstretched deliveries). Furthermore, a customer must be well-informed about time needed for the job, otherwise he won’t appreciate your accuracy in repair procedures.

etalon products
3. Materials. Paint job can be defined as high quality only if the finish quality will last for years after the repair. Given the correct application, durability can be achieved by using high-grade consumables and coatings. Note that quality materials are not necessarily expensive, but trusted and tested by the painter ones. Price alone is not an adequate parameter to judge any product.

customer experience
4. Customer experience. For a customer a high quality repair of his vehicle comes only with smooth, hassle-free experience throughout the entire process from the beginning to the end. Pleasant customer experience is a puzzle made of components like friendly staff, meat delivery deadlines, courtesy car, comfortable reception room and clean vehicle upon delivery. Only customer experience can spread a good word of mouth.

cost
5. Cost. It is a common misconception that a high quality repairs only come with costly price tags. No, the cost of the repair must be fair for both customer (could be insurance company alike) and a bodyshop. Overcharged customer will be unhappy, even if the repair is spotless. While poorly paid craftsman is hardly in the position to offer invisible repair, timely vehicle delivery, simultaneously using best materials and providing top customer experience… Win-win relationships are required.

And how would you describe a high quality repair job?

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