Should an Auto Repair Shop Use a Local Marketing Company or Marketers Who Specialize in Auto Repair Shops?

There are so many choices today when it comes to marketing your auto repair shop. I see shop owners posting questions in various industry Facebook groups like The Auto Repair Marketing Mastermind, and they’re asking about choosing the right marketing partners.

These questions often revolve around the types of strategies they should use, be it digital or traditional, direct mail or Google ads, or getting opinions on the many companies who provide marketing services for auto repair shops.

The question I’m going to answer today is whether you should choose a marketing company that is local to your business or one that specializes in auto repair.

It’s no secret that I own Shop Marketing Pros, a company that specializes in marketing auto repair shops. But what many of you don’t know is that Shop Marketing Pros used to be 5 Stones Media, a marketing agency that was local to Hammond, Louisiana, and performed marketing services for local businesses of all kinds. It is my goal to write a completely unbiased article and to share the pros and cons of each of these types of companies so you can make your own educated decision.

Understanding The Options

Let’s start off by defining and explaining each of these types of companies a little better.

Generalist Marketing Agencies

Generalist marketing agencies are agencies that don’t have a specialty. They will do marketing for any type of business. They are normally hyper-local businesses that do marketing for businesses that are located in the same town as them, or are at least fairly close to them in proximity. Their clients are of all types, so one minute they may be doing work for their local coffee shop and the next they are doing work for the local homebuilder.

Specialty Marketing Agencies

Specialty marketing agencies are exactly what they sound like. They are marketing agencies that specialize in marketing certain types of businesses. Most agencies of this type have a single specialty, but others have 2 or 3 specialties. At our agency, we work specifically with auto repair shops and we have no other specialties, but after the pandemic when some agencies went out of business because the industry they served was essentially shut down (restaurants and gyms, for example), many specialty agencies built additional specialties as a safety measure.

These two different types of agencies are very much like what you see in the automotive industry. There are generalist auto repair shops that work on most types of cars, and there are specialty shops that work on certain brands or categories of cars.

The Pros and Cons of Each

Meeting Face-to-Face and the Overall Relationship

Working with a local company means you can go to their office, or they can come to your shop, and you can sit down across the table from each other and meet in person. You will likely see the owner of the marketing company at Chamber of Commerce and BNI events, and it’s easy to have lunch with them or network in other ways.

Working with specialty companies means you will typically meet with them over the telephone or via a web conference app like Zoom. That being said, we go out of our way to build relationships with our clients. The truth is, we meet with our clients now more than we ever did as a local company because we’re intentional about it. Also, let’s face it, web meetings are easy, convenient, and have become the standard. Many local companies are meeting over the web even though they are only a few miles away from their clients. We also travel a lot and meet our clients when we’re in the area. We have visited many of our client’s shops and we see them at conferences and training events throughout the year.

We work very hard to have great relationships with our clients, but not all companies do this. If you want to meet in person and have the closest relationship possible with the people doing your marketing, working with a local company is the way to go.

Industry Knowledge

When we were a generalist agency, every time we took on a new client we had to learn their industry. We didn’t know the terminology or the acronyms, we didn’t know how they made their money, and we didn’t know what we could do on our end to lead to the success of their business. We had to rely on our clients to teach us as much as they could or were willing, and we had to research the rest. Generalist agencies don’t understand ARO and DVIs. They don’t understand that your diesel specialty shop isn’t looking for people searching for “mechanic near me.” That being said, we always figured it out. But there was a learning curve.

Agencies that specialize know your industry. At Shop Marketing Pros, we take the knowledge a step further because Kim and I used to own auto repair shops. I was a Mercedes Master Tech. We’re the only agency in the industry that I know of that has the first-hand knowledge that we do. When I talk to shop owners I talk from experience, not theory. I have actual empathy for them because I’ve lived the life they’re living. But the other marketers in our industry still have tremendous knowledge simply because all they do is marketing for auto repair shops. Generalists don’t have the industry expertise that specialists do, and no matter how hard they try, they’ll never have it on the same level simply because of the time we spend in the industry.

I’ll use the same analogy as I did earlier and compare to generalist vs specialty shops. A technician who works at a generalist shop and works on a different make and model of car every time he pulls an R.O. cannot be as proficient as a tech at a specialty shop who works on the same brand of car all day every day. The generalist tech is possibly a better overall technician, but within his specialty, the specialist will outperform the generalist every time.

For industry knowledge, the specialty marketer wins.

Local Knowledge

When it comes to local knowledge, this one is going to be pretty obvious, the local marketing company is going to have the advantage. The local marketer knows about local events and happenings in your area and they can work that into your social media presence. If they’re willing to do it, being local also allows them to stop in at your shop and grab photos or video when they need it, but understand this is probably out of the scope of work for your local marketer – though I have had shops tell me this was part of the arrangement with their local marketing company. The local marketers know the social classes in the various neighborhoods around your shop and can adjust targeting to market to the clients you want to attract.

Specialty marketing companies rely on their clients to give them this information. All kinds of things can be done in your marketing to relate to your local community through those local events and happenings. But we don’t know about those things. We have clients that are great about sharing those things with us, and others who… well let’s just say they’re not so great about it. The clients who talk to us about these things see every advantage in their marketing that those using local marketers do. But it does take some work and foresight on their part.

If you want your marketing to serve as a community hub of sorts, you’re better off working with a great local marketer, or you’ll at least need to communicate these things with your industry specialist.

Overall Results

who knocks it out of the park. But this relates back to the industry knowledge section and hones in on the industry-specific marketing knowledge.

Generalist marketers not only have to learn a new industry every time they take on a new client but they have to learn how to make the marketing work for that industry. At first thought, you would think people make all buying decisions the same but they don’t. Marketing an auto repair shop is a lot more like marketing a dentist than it is marketing a plumber. But most people would think just the opposite because they want to lump the blue-collar service businesses together. If you’re a generalist agency that makes an assumption and tries to market an auto repair shop the same way you would a plumber, your auto repair shop client is going to lose. And this is what often happens. Sure, they figure it out in time but at what cost to the client?

On the other hand, when you market all the same types of business, you know what works and what doesn’t. I don’t want to act like there are never differences in marketing one shop to another, and we certainly get our butts kicked here and there with marketing that’s not performing the way we want it to, but it’s WAY less as a specialist than when we were generalists.

When we were a generalist agency, towards the end we started losing clients to specialty agencies. The final straw for me was when I lost my first client who had been with me for almost 10 years. They were a rapidly growing HVAC company and we helped build them from a startup to doing about $12M at the time. They left us for a company that specialized in HVAC, and I couldn’t blame them for doing it. Around the same time I left my generalist coach for a coach that specialized in agencies. I got it. I understood. And I was tired of being a generalist losing clients we’d worked hard for to specialists. But I couldn’t provide the same results they were providing for their clients. So we became automotive specialists.

For overall results, the specialty marketer wins almost every time.

That Time We Did Marketing For A Dumpster Rental Company

I’m going to leave you with a story to drive home my point, and it shows advantages from both sides of the local vs specialist argument.

Back when we were 5 Stones Media, I used to do marketing for a local dumpster rental company that was part of a franchise. The franchise required the franchisees to work with their in-house marketing company.

When they would build a website they would always make the web address [city]dumpsterrentals.com. So in this case the web address was neworleansdumpsterrentals.com. 

To help you understand what I’m about to tell you, I need to set the scene. The greater area around us is a triangle of sorts. New Orleans would be the east point of the triangle, Baton Rouge would be the west point of the triangle, and the Northshore would be the north point of the triangle. Lake Pontchartrain sits in the middle of the triangle. It’s a big triangle and traveling from any point on the triangle to the other is a good 45-minute drive.

This franchise owned the rights to this entire area and he has locations in each area. But people in Baton Rouge aren’t going to rent dumpsters out of New Orleans, and it was the same sentiment in all 3 directions.

I found that the domain geauxdumpsters.com was available and when we suggested the change to the franchise marketing company they thought we were crazy. But they were located in Canada and had no idea that geaux (pronounced “go”) is a Louisiana thing. If you’re an LSU fan, you proudly say “Geaux Tigers!” And we use it in all kinds of different ways. So no matter if you were in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, or the Northshore, you would happily rent a dumpster from geauxdumpsters.com.

But only local marketers would know that.

However the franchise marketers were the ones who marketed dumpster rentals all day, so they were better overall marketers for his dumpster rental company.

In Conclusion

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. You have to look at what’s most important to you. You also need to vet the marketers you are interested in working with, because there are great generalists and terrible generalists – just as there are great specialists and terrible specialists.

Figure out what’s most important to you, make a decision, and move forward with it. Do the work you need to in order to set the marketers up for success, which of course leads to your own success.

If you have any questions along the way, feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to help!

About The Author

Brian Walker

Brian Walker is the Owner and CEO of Shop Marketing Pros, a marketing agency specializing in marketing independently owned auto repair shops. Brian is a Mercedes Benz Master Technician and has owned multiple shops and served as the Mechanical Division Director for ASA-NC.

He's a mechanic at heart who loves fixing things that are broken, which is why he loves marketing so much.

"Digging in and figuring out why a business' marketing isn't working is a lot like it was when he was elbows deep into a car that no one else could fix. When you figure it out, there's nothing else like it."

To get to do this for auto repair shop owners combines his passions, and he couldn't be more excited about helping shop owners.
Shop Marketing Pros branded green and blue logo
Looking for something?
Let’s help you find it!