by David Rogers
Will you be caught unprepared when the free car count comes to an end?
How quickly will you realize when your car count starts dropping? There are 40,000 fewer bays now than there were in 2016, thanks in large part to the enormous burden caused by COVID that put a lot of shops out of business. But, fewer bays doesn’t mean fewer drivers, meaning that for the past couple of years, the shops that survived COVID have been the recipient of a lot of free car count.
But, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that a slowdown is coming. Inflation is driving up the cost of everything, and a full-blown recession is next. The more grim things become, and the more scared consumers get, the more likely it is that drivers will prioritize spending their money on things that aren’t auto repair.
In other words, the last two years of free, abundant car count are coming to a close. If you haven’t been actively working to upgrade your customer base and fill it with as many customers as possible who understand the value of maintaining their vehicle and have the resources to do so, the coming weeks and months are especially dire.
That’s because you can lose a few cars per week without even realizing that business is slowing down. It might even come as a relief! Many shop owners had to head back into the bays to help the shop get the work out the door.
But, the nasty fact of the matter is that by the time you notice that car count is dropping, you’re already weeks behind in getting control. If you’re like many shop owners who saw the easy traffic as a reason to cut back on advertising – why spend money if the traffic is free, the thought goes – then you’re staring at weeks of ramping marketing and advertising back up.
For a long time, it was common knowledge that it took seven marketing touches before customers took action. This is no longer true. It now takes an average of 15 touches for marketing to convert customers, which of course means that it will often take far more than 15.
If you shut down your marketing over the past year or two because of all the free traffic, how long will it take you to engage with a marketing company, approve advertising, start sending it, and get to the average 15 touches it takes to start driving traffic?
Unless you’re uniquely positioned to endure weeks and weeks of idle technicians, minimal sales and rising costs, that means the time to act is now…before the slowdown hits.
But, this is just the bare minimum for survival. If you do nothing more than restart your marketing so that you’re not caught off guard when car counts start to slip, you’ll be better able to survive the coming downturn.
But, is survival really the goal?
Making sure you have enough cars to survive when car counts start dropping off for other shops is the absolute minimum baseline. But, the old adage is as true as ever: in business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Somebody in your market is going to grab the best customers. One of the shops in your area will look around and see that everyone else is content to survive. They’ll see some shops cutting their advertising budget to save money and see others in survival mode trying to attract any warm body, and they’ll know: this is the time to take what I want.
They’ll see the rest of their competition leaving their most important asset – their best customers – unprotected, and they’ll seize the moment. They’ll upgrade their customer base and increase their sales and profits while everyone else around them sticks their head in the sand.
Will that be you?
Because the reality of the situation is that it doesn’t cost more to send high-quality marketing to great potential customers if you understand the financials. Any increase to your marketing budget directly translates to a constantly improving customer base that follows more of your recommendations, better understands the long-term value of preventive maintenance, refers your shop to more friends and family, and is more loyal.
These kinds of customers yearn for a relationship. They want to trust one shop with all of their needs and know that they’ll be taken care of. And, when shops settle for whatever free traffic wanders in instead of actively marketing to keep great customers coming back, that shop gives up. They forfeit that customer to the next shop that actively earns their business.
There is a storm coming. The free, easy car count is ending. Shop owners are left with three choices:
One, they can do nothing and watch the storm wash everything away.
Two, they can see the tornado bearing down, grab an umbrella, and hope that surviving will be enough.
Or three, they can gear up and prepare for the storm by upgrading their customer bases with the best customers who will help their shop grow, no matter how bad it gets outside.
The industry lost 40,000 bays in the last five years, many from shops where the owner tried to hunker down and ride out the storm. Now, a worse storm is brewing on the horizon. Repair shops can survive this next crisis far better than the last one…but only if the shop owner takes action.
The events to come are clear, and the choices are plain as day.
What will you choose?
Originally published in Shop Owner Magazine here