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hello! i just opened a shop and am having a hard time gaining traction. im looking for some marketing techniques that work good for new business. i have tried social media and google add words with zero results. also are any of the social media marketing company's any good? the ones that call 20 times a day claiming to manage everything and create material for your pages. seems like the only people stopping by are the previous tenants customers and he did not have the best clientele. he marketed heavily discounted repairs, free estimates,  bring your own parts. everything i dont want. I would appreciate any tips to getting people into my shop

my shop is a 4 bay with just me and my wife. very clean and remodeled with all the tools a shop needs except an alignment rack.

thank you for your time!

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Your address shows up as a Rv Park? If that is right your near a lot of business going by the map. What is your Customer base right now consist of? What is your current ARO and car count per week? Just trying to get a fill of your situation. 

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i updated my profile. when i signed in using facebook it grabbed some bad info. my car count is only about 5 cars a week right now. my current business is coming from a few car lots (not the best paying ) that i used to work with when i sold motorcycles and a couple of small business. i have some cash to dedicate to advertising im just afraid to spend it in all the wrong places. i have feather flags and banners on the street, social media accounts, business cards, all the usual easy things to do. the local chamber wants 400.00 for a years membership and will run adds in the local paper. not sure if any one really reads them any more. I am really aiming to get more air conditioning work in the shop. my background is in Transit bus and fleet maintenance. my last job i managed 200 vehicles 14 buses and about 100 pieces of equipment. hope that helps a little.

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Hi Carl! Great question – and I have to tell you it’s one that I get asked a lot. Whether it’s a new shop – or a more established shop that hasn’t done any marketing, shop owners often struggle with where to start. 
So here’s some simple things you can do right away to get started. 

First things first – be sure you’re building your customer list. When I say that, I mean be sure you’re getting full contact information including complete mailing address (yes, mailing address! :), email address and mobile phone number. You should also have a way to store these customers – and that’s probably your “system”. As a TIP – you should also have a way to export that information to use in other ways. 

Then, remember to use follow up strategies. The best, and easiest one to start with is a simple “Thank You” card to every customers. They don’t have to be fancy – they don’t have to be elaborate – and be sure you’re not sending something with your logo and offers. Just a simple PERSONAL thank you card that is hand written and signed. *TIP* If you don't like your hand writing (or it's just plain ugly like mine!:) have somebody else write the body out - but sign them yourself. DO NOT use pre-printed cards. Remember this is PERSONAL. Here's a sample of one that my clients have used: https://amzn.to/2HIkYxc

Next, fix your business card. Cards are cheap. Of course, you’re going to have your company name, address, phone, website, etc. But on the back of the card you should have an offer! Yes – an offer to entice new customers to stop in. 
Also, you will need a customer referral system. Not some lame offer like “get 10% off your next service if you send us a referral” – it’s got to be an instant reward for your customer. Something like a gift card or some small “token” gift that you can send them as soon as their friend comes in. 

Then, get more customers from the ones you've already got! How? Create a customer referral program. Not some lame offer like “get 10% off your next service if you send us a referral” – it’s got to be an instant reward for your customer. Something like a gift card or some small “token” gift that you can send them as soon as their friend comes in. 

Last – but not least – and don’t forget this -  Craft your “elevator speech”. Yup! It’s got to be something that you can tell people about yourself that’s not boring. As an example, telling somebody you’re a mechanic or “own” a repair shop is (frankly) boring. Instead, tell them something like “I help people save money on auto repairs” or something like that. It’s got to be a statement that begs them to ask you “how do you do that?”

Hope this helps! And while you’re here, stop by my new YouTube channel and don’t forget to subscribe.

Matthew Lee
“The Car Count Fixer”
Join me on YouTube and subscribe!

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I am a customer of Matthew's and I agree with what he wrote.  But i don't think it is what you're looking for.  You need/want more immediate action.  When I first opened I sought marketing help from my local SCORE group and got the same advice, "Market to your customer base."  But what they don't consider or pay attention to is, WHAT CUSTOMER BASE?  At that time, I have a whole 50 names.  A great way to waste a bunch of money. 
Unfortunately for you, right now you are basically going to be marketing to "cold lists" as in the people do not know you, they have no reason to like you and they certainly don't trust you.  Not because they shouldn't but because you're just another one of those businesses that are sending them junk mail or droning on the radio.  You have to break through the noise.

I am NOT advocating radio, but if you ever plan to advertise on the radio I suggest you record what station your customers have playing on their radio.  If you want more customers like them, chances are the new customers will like those stations too.


Be VERY careful of mass mailings such as Mudlick Mail, (or promos like Groupon) because if they get you the response they promise, you can get overwhelmed before you can get spooled up.  For example, if you can handle 5 cars a day and you have 6 people calling, by the end of the week, you will have turned away 20% of your potential customers.  Those are leads you paid to get and then lost.  All that potential business is great until you figure how turning those people away is costing.  Eventually it will be your existing customers you are turning away. 

I can't exactly offer you suggestions of WHAT to do, but I can tell you what I have found did NOT work.  Never do those "new mover" programs.  In my experience the people they attract are NOT truly new residents, they are most often just moving around town and I had several give the certificates to friends or family.  Others came in just for the oil change, you know, it's free.  And they "know a guy" or they are a "mechanic" too.  I tried two different new mover schemes and got nothing in return, except a bunch of free oil change giveaways.  

There are many different ideas regarding heavily discounted oil changes, but like with most other "menu" items, you need volume.  Advertise a super cheap oil change and you will get super cheap customers.  Now if you are like one member who commented alot on "$18.98 oil changes,"  IF, and that's a BIG if, you can do enough volume like with a full staff of line techs and one lube tech, then all those cheap customers will be offset by the good jobs that you will get.  Say, if you have the 80/20 rule and you "lose" $15 on each oil change, okay.  Because out of, let's say 50 oil changes a week, 40 will be oil changes only, but you have "lost" $750 on those oil changes.  But for the 10 good jobs you got from them, at say an average $350 R.O. that means you have $3500 in gross revenue.  If you can't pull more than $750 in gross profit from $3500, then you need to close up shop and find work elsewhere.  But if you are like me, the only tech in the shop, you aren't going to be doing 50 oil changes a week and still have time for extra work.  For some reason, the lower the volume of something like the cheap oil change the lower the return becomes, more like 95/5 or 99/1.

And as Matthew, as well as most marketing coaches will tell you, TRACK EVERYTHING.  That way you can prove what works and what doesn't work.  Matthew cajoled me into tracking and I can tell you, what I thought wasn't working because of the feeling I had, was actually working.  I also proved to Matthew that the coupon book I was advertising in when I started with him was actually returning a good ROI.  And then when it wasn't, I was able to show the coupon book publisher the cold hard facts.  I had advertised in the coupon book from my 3rd month in business and felt a loyalty to it.  But when my ROI dropped in half one year from the previous and then dropped in half again and then went negative, it was a no brainer, the coupon book had to go.  TRACK EVERYTHING. I found that when I advertise in multiple forms, if I alter the offer (I use a standard $$ amount over a certain minimum RO) I can look back at my shop management report and see what offer was from where based on the offer.  For example, if you do ValPak (are they still around?  I would NOT recommend it) and you send an offer to your customer base.  Make the two offers slightly different.  That way you can look back later at an aggregate report instead of having to track each RO individually.  Like for me, I look at my report and sort it by the discount total.  If the discount is $25 I know it's from one offer, if it's $25.18 I know it's from a different offer.  If you want to do a specific offer, like A/C Recharge, discount from regular price.  That way you build a value that they are getting a discount off of instead of building a sense in your customer's mind that your work is worth less.  So, say your regular price is $149 and your offer is $119, that's $30.  To be able to track it from say the radio, your customer database and an "Every Door Direct" mailing, make your customer only offer $119, the radio $119.50 and the EDD mailer $119.75.  At a glance of your aggregate RO report you can see how many $30 discounts you have (your customers), how many $29.50 discounts (radio response) and $29.25 (EDD mailers). If your invoicing program will export to Excel you can set up multiple spreadsheets to track and compare a lot of different aspects.


I'm sorry I can't offer you advice on what to do to build your customer base quickly, but I hope I have given you good advice on what NOT to do, to avoid wasting your money. 

One last thing, NEVER underestimate the value and power of doughnuts.  Or pizza.  Or lunch.  I have a couple oil change places that are great referral sources.  Just make sure you don't undercut them on the work they do.  Like, if they charge $34 for a base oil change, don't advertise yours at $32. You are not trying to take business away from them.  Determine which ones are closest to you, research the ones that are most likely to refer customers, chain places owned by large corporations may not be good sources.  Take them lunch a couple times and ask if you can leave business cards.  You would be amazed at how the promise of pizza will keep you on the tip of their tongues.  Just make sure they follow one simple rule, DO NOT push your shop to every customer
who needs repairs.  Ask them to offer your cards to any customer who asks for a referral.  You would not want them recommending your competitor to your customers who get their oil changed at the drive thru oil change place.  But if the customer does not have a regular mechanic, BINGO, they're golden for the referral.  I used to send pizza, but that can upset the managers or the employees who aren't working that day.  Hot pizza shows up, everybody wants to stop and grab a slice, or compete for the best toppings.  That means either some employees get stuck with just pepperoni instead of the ham and mushroom they wanted or they have to eat cold pizza later.  It's more expensive but I give gift cards to nearby eateries.  That way everyone gets a reward and they can use it when it's convenient to them.  Or if there are specialty shops nearby, like I had a brake and front end shop, talk to them.  Then NEVER ever try to poach their customer.  Do NOT ask the referred customer for work that the other shop would do.  It's called respect.  If you want more air conditioning work, try talking to body shops.  Most will have the A/C RRR machines, but you never know until you ask. 


Good luck. 

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Thank you for all the valuable input. I really appreciate the help. My Local chamber has a mixer coming up next week and I will work on my "elevator Speech". I also worked up a customer referral program and will be getting it established this week. I feel the referral program will be my strongest resource right now. I have a couple of car lots i do business with and will giving them some good incentives to refer there customers.

If theirs one thing im good at, it would be finding the wrong way to do things. I guess that just comes with being in business...

I will chime back in a few weeks.

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Hey Carl, I hope you find the information helpful. Like TheTrustedMechanic (above) said, the problem is that without a customer list or contact base, you've got to start to market to a "cold" list. In other words, people that don't know, trust and like you. If you've got time before the meeting, see if you can work up a card with an offer to attract new customers. After all, print is cheap - and in a lot of cases, you can get them quick. You want to have something to give-a-way to everyone you meet. Match that with a good "elevator speech" and you should be good to go. 

As for the customer referral program, I just did a video on that here:



Also, there's a video about why you're not getting more customer referrals. You can see that here:


Hope this helps! Take a couple of minutes and watch those videos, I'm sure they'll help - and don't forget to subscribe, like & share!

Matthew Lee
"The Car Count Fixer"

Join me on Youtube

Edited by Alex
Corrected video embed
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I will tell you a couple stories about working “for” or “with” dealerships so hopefully you can avoid the hits to your reputation.

A friend of mine worked for a shop that did pre-purchase inspections for a local buy-here pay-here car lot.  The car lot would arrange the “inspection” for the customer.  The reason why they did this was that way the car lot was the customer, not the car buyer and could dictate what kind of inspection was performed.  The techs and shop could NOT find, report or write up anything that was not on the car lot’s inspection sheet.  Water pump dripping coolant?  That’s not on the sheet so the buyer wasn’t told about it.  When the buyer owns the car and finds the coolant puddle in their driveway, “But you just inspected the van before I bought it.  How couldn’t you see that leaking water pump?”  And then the shop is bad mouthed to all of their friends about how they were too incompetent to properly inspect the vehicle. 

I have had numerous car lots, including this one contact me about being their “referred shop” for customer pre-purchase inspections.  Every single one is told, “That’s great, I’d be happy to do it.  I’ll be happy to buy you lunch for each referral.  But MY customer is going to be the buyer. I will be working for them.”  Not a single car lot has referred any buyers to me.  They know from my “elevator speech” that I won’t cover for them, I won’t ignore a problem and not tell the buyer.


And a different angle, I used to work for a shop that did all of the used car inspections and repairs for a huge local car dealer.  I only did those inspections for a few weeks because I got so frustrated with doing an inspection, reporting the results and having the SAFETY items ignored because, “It won’t kill the sale from the driver seat.”  The boss stopped giving me the inspections because he didn't want to deal with my protests.  Another famous line when I would recommend quality parts was, “It only has to last 30 days.”  The shop was willing to be the patsy for the car dealer.  A customer bought a car, thinking it was fully inspected and repaired, inevitably a problem arose and the customer returned to the dealer.  The dealer sent them to us and were told that they bought the car as is or the favorite was the customer bought the extended warranty but were told the warranty didn’t start for 30 days.  So they would leave their car until the 31st day so they could get the warranty to pay for the transmission or the head gaskets ot whatever expensive repair was required on this "fully inspected" vehicle.  This shop got a very bad reputation as sleaze balls because they supported and defended and played along with the dealership’s games. Used parts, economy parts, corners cut, even SES lights broken instead of the cause diagnosed and fixed.  It’s all stuff even “The good” dealers will sometimes ask you to do.  So be careful relying on dealerships.  Make them aware that you will not lower your standards and do shoddy work.  Economy grade parts are one thing, but deceptive practices and actual illegal (breaking the SES bulb) steps can be requested. 

Another instance from this very same dealership, a customer of mine called me, his girlfriend had just bought a used Durango with the Service 4WD light on.  Most of us know what the cause was but I digress.  He said he didn’t trust the dealership when they said they would “Take care of the light” so he wanted me to check it out and tell him what was wrong.  “I know I will have to pay you for what they are going to do for free.  But I want to know what is wrong, not what they want to tell me is wrong, so it’s worth it.”  I had it confirmed and an estimate written in less than 45 minutes.  It needed a T-case control module.  The dealership didn’t like the $900 estimate so they sent it to “Their shop.”  THREE Weeks later “their shop” had it diagnosed.  Seriously, it was three weeks.  The dealership “fixed” the light by cutting the bulb off of the IPC circuit board.  That is the kind of stuff you can run into when you work for the dealership.  Good luck and take care.  Your reputation, long term isn’t worth the hits it will take now if you start down that path of unscrupulous, incomplete, low quality repairs that most dealerships want because, “It only has to last 30 days” or whatever the return period might be. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been a mechanic since 1979 and self employed since 1997. I've wasted a lot of money on useless advertising. If your in a small to medium size town, the local chamber of commerce can be your best friend, get to know the membership director (mine plays Mrs. Clause in our medium town for the PD and Fire dept.at our 3rd location) if your in a bigger town it's useful but not great. Specials like a discounted oil change seem to bring in usually result in customers that just want a cheap oil change. To increase your SEO without spending any money, look on the internet, find all of the free listings on the internet for your business, claim them and add the search words that might bring the customers to your website IE: Your city and county name, surrounding cities, words like timing belt, water pump, belt, belts, a/c, air conditioning, auto repair, independent auto repair, guarantee, warranty, best, ETC. You'll get a lot of calls and emails  from them, just say no thank you, not at this time, save your money. As far as used car lots are concerned I tell them I do not offer discounts to car lots, I do good work for a fair price, If you can't sell that consider another business.  I check out the car for the buyer, not the seller, Isn't that what you would want if you were the buyer? I also do not discount my labor to them, I tell em: Let me do my job for a fair price and by doing the work I recommend and using the parts I know will last and IF your customer has a problem I can afford to stand behind my work.  We make sure we never let a customer with buyers remorse, we explain what we did and have a little show and tell with example: their old brake pads and some new ones. I always ask how they heard about us, regardless of their answer (usually they found us on the internet or through a friend, family member or coworker, I make sure I thank them for our business, sometimes I review our warranty on the work done, Then I tell them almost all of our customers found us the same way and I tell them I've wasted a lot of money on advertising that just doesn't work for us and I say Our business is referral dependent, almost everyone finds about us through a good warm referral from an existing customer, I tell them we answer the phone 24 hours a day so if they have an emergency we can get their car here and get them home, then I say thank You for your business.

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Hey Carl! Just wanted to share this with you... because I did a Website Review of your current website. A few things that you can easily fix to get better search rankings as well as convert more visitors to a phone call, appointment or customer! You can see it here - and let me know if you need any help with the fixes. I'd be happy to help!

"The Car Count Fixer"

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