You decided to take the plunge into owning your own shop! Congratulations. Now, you’ve got a ton of work to do!

If you haven’t heard the story of when Brian and I started our first shop – let me share it with you. First of all, we were young and dumb. That’s important to know.

There we were: lying across our bed – dreaming. Brian had been a diagnostic technician at the local dealership and he knew it was time for him to take his professional career to the next level. For him, that meant the world of entrepreneurship.

So, with a pen and a post-it-note we wrote down our “expenses”. They included rent, electricity, trash, internet, and phone service. Are you laughing yet? I can laugh, now – 17 years later. We were not thinking clearly with such a short list. A list that did not include one penny of marketing, insurance, tools, equipment….shall I go on?

I would certainly not say we were setting ourselves up for success with that post-it note. I swear I wish we had saved that. It would be framed as a constant reminder of where we started.

We’ve had the pleasure now, at Shop Marketing Pros, of having clients who are brand spanking new shop owners. Smart people who knew to find help with marketing from the beginning. They knew they were good at fixing cars but not marketing.

As auto repair-focused marketers, we are often asked about what the most important marketing tactics are for a new shop.

“I’m opening a shop, what’s my first steps?”

“When I open my shop, what should I do first?”

“After I open, what kind of marketing do I need to be doing?”

The approach I’m taking here in this article is to break it down for you in a way that is not only easy to understand, but also in“bite-size-chunks” of marketing you can break off and do one at a time. Consider it a “New Shop Marketing Checklist”.

YOUR FIRST STEPS

When it comes to marketing a business – specifically an auto repair shop – there are some things you will want to take care of immediately. And, if you’re like many, you’re a mechanic by trade so marketing is probably not your cup of tea giant can of Monster. That’s why we’re here. We know what is often overlooked or passed over to be done at a later time. These “first steps” will help you build a solid foundation for your shop.

Define your brand. Who are you? That’s the first thing to do. Make some decisions about what you want people to think when they see your company. It’s time to meet with someone to design your brand. I’m not talking about a crappy, hand-drawn piece of clipart. No. Come on! This is more important than you think. Your brand speaks volumes about who you are and whether you believe it or not – has a big influence on whether someone creates a positive or negative first impression of you. Let’s first start with a discussion of what is your brand? What does that even mean? What it’s NOT: your logo alone. That’s a mistake many people make. The correct answer is that your brand is everything that makes an impression on the public. That includes: 

  • Logo
  • Colors 
  • Fonts
  • Messaging
  • Culture

There are the things that you intentionally create to be your brand, and there are the things that just become your brand. For example, if we look at Harley Davidson, there are so many things that have become their brand without intention. Those would include the rumble and vibration of a V-Twin engine, black leather and patches, and overall lifestyle. All of those have become part of the brand.

When selecting someone to help you develop your brand consider someone who knows and understands your industry. The professional you hire should ask a lot of questions to understand who you are, who you are trying to reach and what you want them to feel when they encounter you and your company. These questions will guide the development of your brand.

Purchase your domain name! That’s the www.whatever.com your website will be housed at. It stinks to find the perfect name and then find the .com is already taken. This goes for the Facebook business page too.

  • Read: Building a StoryBrand. Oh, how I wish I had access to this book when we had our post-it-note. Our first shop was named “Behind The Star”. We thought it was brilliant. It was not. We were a Mercedes specialty shop and the name came from a saying that when you’re driving a Mercedes, you’re “riding behind the star”. Mercedes had an award for dealership personnel for the “People Behind The Star”. To us it made sense. To our clients it was confusing and did not speak to who we were or what we offered like we thought it did. Thankfully God presented us with an opportunity a few years later to change our shop’s name (when we moved to a new location). If we had read this book by Donald Miller, so much would have been different from the beginning. I know you’ll be very busy getting the new shop ready but you’ll never regret a moment of reading this book. I consider it one of the foundations of opening your shop! Read it. After that you’ll have a great understanding of what your messaging needs to be.
  • Read: They Ask You Answer. Yep, another book. Again, I promise you will find your time spent reading this well worth the knowledge you’ll gain! Reading They Ask You Answer will provide you with numerous ideas for blogs to write, videos to record, and content to share with your customers. We love inspiring our customers with this book because it removes the fear and frustration of not knowing what to do with marketing. This book will teach you to listen (and I mean really listen) to your customers: their fears, concerns, curiosities, etc. When you know what they want to know then you can record a video answering their question, turn it into a blog, put it in your email campaigns, create a social media campaign, put the video on YouTube and much more. All of this from reading one book!

Build your website. I think it’s funny that I hear people saying that websites are not relevant anymore. Fake news, friends. Fake news. In fact, the truth is that your website is one of the ONLY pieces of online marketing that you own. Most everything else can be taken away. But not your website. It belongs to you. It’s your content. Now that you’ve got your branding in place, it’s time to put it together on your website. Some things to consider including in your first website are:

  • Location, hours, contact info
  • Types of repairs/maintenance
  • Invite to visit/follow you on social
  • Offer something of value in exchange for your prospect’s email address, and your site visitors get something of value in the form of a pdf, video, etc. Grow your email list before you even open your doors! Some things you could offer of value:
    • Free car wash to first # visitors
    • Coupon for % or $ off that’s offered on your site for the first few months you’re open
    • Answer a question they are asking.

Customer Avatar Worksheet: Define your audience. Most new shop owners think their clients are going to be anyone who owns a car. You may be right that those people can all be clients, but are they the clients you want? Do they drive the cars you want to work on? Do they fit with your culture? Can they afford your services? Something you’ll learn in due time is that all clients are not created equally – and you can’t be everything to everyone. But don’t worry; the clients that aren’t a great fit for your shop are the exact clients that another shop in town will be looking for. Every shop has their niche, whether they know it or not. The Customer Avatar Worksheet will help you discover who your perfect client is, and how to market to them. This may be a difficult exercise for a brand-new shop. If it doesn’t work for you now, give it 6 months to a year and then come back to it. I promise it will make sense then.    

Define Your Unique Selling Proposition. People choose different shops for different reasons. We are all attracted to something different. So let’s start with helping you to define your difference. Who are you? Why are you different? Why would someone want to come to your new shop/leave their current shop, etc? When you know what makes your shop unique it will help you when you start marketing. You’ll know what to say, where to say it and who to say it to. Be careful not to get caught up in trying to be a one size fits all type of shop. Know what makes you, you – and share that!

Create your Google My Business Profile. Once you have your address nailed down it is time to get your GMB profile created. We’ve got a class that will teach you how to create and manage your Google My Business listing. See the class here. This is your real estate on Google. It is where new customers will find you and where existing customers will visit to capture contact information and more. On this profile you’ll have all of your contact information, a map to your shop, special offers, photos, reviews and more. Don’t skip this step. You’ll also need to go through the steps to “verify” the business. This solidifies your relationship with Google and allows you access to make changes to your profile. 

Start networking now. It’s NEVER too early. The early bird gets the worm. There are an endless amount of networking opportunities for a young business. Just a few to get you going include joining your local Business Networking International Chapter (BNI), Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Professional Groups, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. Get comfortable with networking. Slow down, hold on, don’t get stressed out. I’m not saying you need to be in ALL of these. I am saying you should consider visiting all of them to see which ones will fit you, your personality, and lifestyle. Some of these groups I like to compare to gym memberships: if you join the gym but you never go… you’re wasting your money. If you invest your money, you’ll most likely need to invest your time to see real results. From our personal experience as shop owners, I can tell you that we saw an incredible return on our investment of money and time with the BNI chapter and our local chamber of commerce.

BEFORE YOU OPEN

Congrats! If you’ve made it this far that means (hopefully) that you’ve already accomplished the items listed above. First things first, check! ✓ Now, the next “first” things are below and they’re the marketing pieces of the puzzle that must happen before you even open your doors. That’s right, before the doors open.

Create your citations. Citations are the places on the internet where your business is referenced (or “cited”). If there is a reference to your business that includes at least the business name, phone number, and address – it’s a citation. Most citations are going to come in the form of a directory listing. Directories are business listing websites like Yelp or Merchant Circle. They can also include local directories like your Chamber of Commerce or BNI website. Specialty directories like CarTalk.com or BimmerShops are also directories you’ll want to get listed in if it makes sense for your shop. When creating these directory listings, you can do it manually by visiting each website, creating a profile, and adding all of your shop’s information – but a better way is to use a service like Yahoo Local, Moz Local, Bright Local, or Yext – to automate the process. This will only work for the larger directories. You’ll still need to manually do the local or specialty directories. An important thing to note about creating citations is this: You need to choose a format to use for your name, address, and phone number. If your shop is named “My Shop, LLC” then spell it out like that everywhere. Either always use the LLC or always omit it. It’s the same for your address. Always abbreviate or spell out things the same way everywhere. It you use “St.” instead of “Street” – do it everywhere. If you have a suite number, pick how you’re going to express that (Ste, Suite, #, etc) and be 100% consistent with it.

Create your social profiles. You may be wondering which social profiles to use for your shop. That’s a great question. The answer depends entirely on your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Start there. Then, depending on who is handling your social media will determine if you should go with one profile or more. For some shop owners, it may be too much to handle more than one social media platform from the beginning. If that’s the case for you then let’s just start with one: in most cases that will be Facebook or Instagram. If you’re using a marketing company then they can handle more than one profile. If you’re using an agency or a marketing services company then you’ll probably want to utilize Facebook, Instagram, and possibly LinkedIn.

Print collateral is a necessity. This could be a variety of assets from business cards, brochures to banners, fliers and more. Talk with your automotive repair business coach or mentor, other shop owners, and/or your marketing company. But to get started, you’ll most certainly need business cards. 

Design an opening campaign. When we say “campaign” we mean that you will put together a unified marketing plan to promote the opening of your shop. Come up with messaging and a strategic list of when and where you’ll put your message. It’s important to really invest here. Put your time into planning and invest in a strong budget to see success. Here are some ideas of what to include in this campaign:

  • Post on social – build excitement – 10 different posts/different times. Create a series of posts all dedicated to announcing your new shop. Each post is focused on the idea of your business opening but each one will be different. Consider one focusing on the location, one on introducing your team to the public, one that focuses on what makes you different, etc. Be sure that you don’t post them all at the same time or you’ll likely reach the same audience. Let’s instead share those posts over different days – some during the morning, some midday and some in the evening – attracting a different viewer set each time. Always include a call to action and your website or phone number or both!
  • Update your FB Cover image, and when you do, be sure to click on it and enter in a description.
  • Utilize teaser posts. Before you open, consider sharing posts about construction, the move, and more to build anticipation and get people excited about what’s to come.
  • Grow your email list. Yes you can be building your email list even before you service the first customer! Start by using your social media to run contests and giveaways (please be sure to follow Facebook’s guidelines for giveaways). Have fun, be transparent, be real, and engage with your audience. Considering giving away things that are popular in your community. Cross-promote with another business. Allow folks to enter to win by filling out a form that asks for an email address. Then use your email list to keep subscribers up to date on your opening.
  • Billboards can be really helpful to an opening business when utilized properly. Be thoughtful and considerate about what you include on your billboard. Maybe share a car care tip from your mechanic and put his/her face on the billboard. Make yourself known and useful to the community. Don’t focus on being sales-y at this time. Just focus on brand awareness and letting folks know you’re in town. Offer an incentive to come in. Do you offer free popcorn or cookies? Will you check tire pressure or fluid levels for free during this introductory period leading up to when you open?
  • Radio. I’ve heard the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to radio. Just like any marketing this can be a huge waste of money if not done thoughtfully, with a goal and a way to measure it. One way we’ve really loved using radio is by having the radio personality do live endorsements. These are often more expensive but when the personality talking about you has a solid following, they trust them. They think of the personality as a friend and believe what he/she says.
  • Direct Mail piece to the community. Introduce yourself to the surrounding area!
  • Utilize a healthy budget. What does that even mean? Let me explain. While opening a new shop is certainly costly, don’t skimp on your marketing budget right now. It’s critical that you let the world know you’re here, you’re open, and who you are. Go big, or go home. Isn’t that the phrase? Well, it’s perfect for this particular situation. Do what you can and maybe even stretch yourself. Talk to your marketing partner, agency, friends in business and develop a budget that will truly set your shop up for success.

Plan a Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting – work with your local chamber of commerce to plan a ribbon cutting and grand opening. We talk more about this here in our article on what to do when you move your existing shop to a new location.

  • Promote Grand Opening with press release
  • Ad in local paper>
  • Post in local/community FB groups
  • Have a bouncy house, food, drinks, make it a party, Radio Remote
  • Send a Press Release about the opening of your new business
  • Coming Soon banner or yard signs for those curious minds watching the build/construction/move
  • Photography: Document the construction/moving before, during and after
  • Join industry specific professional organizations. This can be national, state specific or even via your parts supplier. Seek out and get involved in groups that will challenge, encourage, and make you better. This could be a coaching or mentoring program as well. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” This applies to you, your shop, and the industry as a whole.

YOUR FIRST WEEK/MONTH

It’s a good time to send out another press release announcing that you are now open for business. If you need a sample press release contact us. When you get the press release ready you’ll want to put it on your website as a blog, post it on social, send out in an email, share it with your local media, and with organizations like your Chamber of Commerce.

Create some attention! I’m not joking, sometimes these cheesy things drive me a little nuts but the fact is…. They do their job of getting attention. So go ahead, wave your flags, have fun, go all out. Some ideas include: Feather Flags, Inflatable Waving Man, Inflatable car on roof, if you’re a patriotic group then consider lining the front of your building or driveway with American Flags. Do what needs to be done to create attention and grab the eyes of passers-by.

Let people know you’re open. When you’re driving down the road and you suddenly see some new activity at a piece of property or location, don’t you get curious? Doesn’t your nosey nature start wondering what’s coming? Well, when you open, consider contacting your local print company and get some inexpensive yard signs that say “Now Open” and put them out! Be thoughtful of the space on the yard sign. Don’t go wild, keep it simple and be conscientious of colors that do not work well together. Need some help? Let us know.

Get people in the building. It’s hard to open a new business and then find yourself being super slow those first few days or weeks. It’s the perfect time to think differently, to do things differently. Let me encourage you to do the work to get folks in the building even if they don’t need your service right now. One of the things we did when we had our shop was that we hosted events. Lots of events. We wanted people to see, explore and know our facility was nice, clean, organized and available. It might seem like a strange place to host an event but people really enjoy attending an event that’s in a non-traditional space. Try hosting events such as:

  • Neighborhood Meetup
  • Women’s Car Care Clinic
  • Teens Safe Driving Workshop (Partner with local popular insurance agent/agency)
  • Girl & Boy Scouts Badge Earning Event>
  • Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours
  • A Car Show

There may be other organizations in your area who may be interested in using your space as an event venue for an event they have coming up

Get to know your neighbors! Set a day on your calendar to make the rounds. Distribute bottled water, flowers, pizza, coffee etc to neighboring businesses and leave them with a brochurce and a business card. Offer them a discount or special offer to come visit your shop.

Send snail mail. Some people have moved on from direct mail, and honestly, we did too for a time – BUT we’re back in the saddle again. Why? Well, it works when done thoughtfully and with care. So consider utilizing a direct mail piece sent to the most well-known members of the local community. Make this an introductory “meet our team” or “get to know you special” type of collateral. Use good imagery of your shop to connect people’s minds with the building they’ve seen as they’re passing by. You want them to think “oh, I’ve seen them!”. Be intentional about the call to action and make the mailer engaging. Will they text to join your email list and receive a special offer? Will they scan a QR Code that brings them to the “schedule an appointment” section of your website or opens an email to you? (I know, but, hey – QR codes are becoming popular again – just do it well!). Or will they be encouraged to bring the mailer in for a prize or discount?

Strategically sponsor local sports team(s): Think about your customers. Who are they? Where are they? Sponsor their kids teams. If you are targeting soccer moms who drive a Honda Odyssey then think about where they are. Is it your local elementary school? Is it the local soccer team? Maybe it’s the local gym. Figure out where they are and get involved there. Sponsor a team. Host the Parent Teacher Organization meeting and supply pizza and drinks for their meeting. See where I’m going with this? At the beginning of your opening you want to do what needs to be done in order to introduce your brand and be known. It’s basic brand awareness! Let people know who you are.

BEING A CONTRIBUTOR TO YOUR COMMUNITY

In case you don’t know this, I was first an elementary school teacher and then an elementary school counselor. It wasn’t until my husband opened his first auto repair shop and outgrew the space that he decided to move the shop to a new location. At that time, he asked me to join him in the business to do our marketing. I didn’t even know what marketing meant. I swear. True Story.

Fast Forward >> I taught myself what to do, when to do it, and how to do it well. My first step in marketing our repair shop was being involved in our community, getting to know people, and being known. We were active contributors. Our company, family, and employees helped others. We were pioneers, thought-leaders, and innovators in how to be involved.

I remember the very first “chamber business after hours” event I went to. Terrified. Confused. Lost. And, y’all, I’m an outgoing person. I love people. I love chatting. I can talk about a water bottle for 45 minutes. It doesn’t bother me. It all comes naturally – BUT, I was a fish out of water at this networking event. I now know that I broke all of the networking rules.

HA HA HA

The thing is, how many times did Michael Jordan fail at the free throw? A lot. But he’s remembered for his successes. The saying is to “fail forward”, so that’s what I did. I went home, had a good cry, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning fresh and ready to conquer a new day.

As a result of the numerous ways we were involved in our community we became very well known, respected, and liked by the folks and businesses around us. We could be counted on. We were dependable, kind, compassionate, and friendly.

People do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Be that person/organization to your community. It happens by being involved and being known.

Is it exhausting? Oh, yeah, for sure. 100%. But it’s worth it. Well, worth it.

CONNECTING TO YOUR INDUSTRY

It’s important to not only be a contributor to your local community but also to the community of your industry. It took us a few years to even realize this was a thing. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, right? Well, we honest-to-God did not know there were groups, at the time, such as the Automotive Service Association, the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina (where our shop was) (IGO-NC) and professional coaching groups. No matter your location, there are groups you can lean on for inspiration, education and networking. For instance, the Midwest Auto Care Association (MWACA) and professional coaching organizations such as AutoFixSOS and Automotive Training Institute. Interested in finding a professional coach then you’ll want to take a peek at the Coalition of Automotive Management Professionals to get training and connect with a coach or trainer.

Our first introduction to the industry was actually attending a coaching company’s Saturday event in our town. Our eyes were opened – big time! We ended up signing on with that company and, at the time, it was a big help to us. They pushed us where we needed pushing. They held us accountable in areas where we needed that accountability.

From there we were introduced to the national and state groups. Before you knew it Brian was the Mechanical Division Director for the NC chapter of ASA, I was the state chapter President, and we were well on our way to giving and receiving from others in our industry.

Where we once felt like we were on an abandoned island, we ended up realizing we were part of a large community of independent auto repair shop owners who were all experiencing the same things. Some had already been through what we were facing at the time while others were coming up behind us. We were able to learn from others but also be there to help and support others who would soon be enduring the same experiences as we had.

You are not alone. Do yourself a favor. Learn from us. Don’t wait 3-5 years into being a shop owner before you get involved in your industry. A rising tide lifts all ships. They need you. You need them.

Friend,

I hope and pray that this article has given you some ideas of what you can do, both free and paid, to get your marketing off the ground BEFORE you even open.

Being an entrepreneur is hard work, but marketing should not be something you struggle with, and you can’t open a brand-new shop and get customers by just showing up and opening the doors.

Build your confidence, think bigger and get to work.

You know what I’d love? I’d love you to email me and let me know what you loved about this article. And, honestly, even if there’s something you hated! Let’s talk about it 🙂 So shoot me an email and let’s chat. I’ll even help you brainstorm and pick which items make most sense for YOUR shop.

Let’s talk.

Oh, and hey, if we don’t talk – no worries, I’m cheering you on from here! Good luck, no, really good luck! I know you’re gonna kill this!

About The Author

Kim Walker

In addition to being co-owner of Shop Marketing Pros, Kim is a Master Certified Solution Provider with Constant Contact and a StoryBrand Certified Guide. Kim is a past shop owner and has served as President of ASA North Carolina.