Sorry, We've Done Everything We Can

By Brian Jump

Many shop owners agonize over the best way to bring business to their shops: yellow pages, direct mail, newspaper, coupon book or newsletter? Heaven knows, a ton of money can be mowed through in a short period of time seeking the answer.

At best, we may get some good short-term business. At worst, we may draw in a whole bunch of undesirables that make us wish we could just take a job selling shoes.

Perhaps we focus too much on which medium we are going to use, when in reality, we should concentrate on the message itself. Case in point — ASA of Nebraska. I spent two years mailing to shop owners in Lincoln to get them to come to our monthly shop association meetings without much success. The message was, “We’d like you to come to our meetings and maybe join our organization.”

I was speaking with an owner on the phone one day, and he had a time conflict with the meetings. I asked him if he’d join if we just sent him a written summary of the activities. “Sure!” he replied.

Aim at a specific customer profile and offer what they seek in auto service.

It isn’t that hard.

It hit me then that I was asking for people’s most precious commodity — time. I took a lunch hour and hit five random shops with one question: “Would you join us if we just mailed you an update?” Three of the five quickly replied in the affirmative. I slapped my forehead in amazement.

I then changed the message. Now it reads, “You don’t have to fill out any forms, you don’t have to attend any stupid meetings, we just want your damn money.” This is really exactly what it says. We’ve gone from 12 members last January to more than 50 members statewide in less than eight months.

It’s very important to note the mailers have nearly an identical look. It’s still the same direct mail piece I used for two years with limited success. The message has changed only slightly. We still want them to join. Where we’d asked for significant time before, now we’re just asking for three minutes to write a small check.

I believe that, too many times, improperly aimed shop marketing attracts customers we don’t really want anyway. The lowball oil change offer attracts a lowball customer. Duh. We’ve spent money to make ourselves nuts. I believe we can do that for free.

Ask 100 of your best customers a simple question: “What do you like best about coming to our shop?” Listen to what they say, write it down and stick it in a mayonnaise jar.

My customers said, “You treat me like a friend. I can trust you, and the service is great.” That’s the message I use now. It doesn’t seem to draw too many wackos.

Use your marketing money to make yourself happy. Aim at a specific customer profile, and offer what they seek in auto service. It isn’t that hard.

Do your surveys, Grasshopper. Forget the medium, and focus on the message.

Stay tuned at

Happy Pushing!

Brian Jump