If you own or manage an independent auto shop, you have your work cut out. Competing with chains and dealerships is no small thing. However, there are multiple advantages to being a small shop.

And you can make those advantages core elements of your marketing strategy.

Here are 5 auto shop marketing ideas that actually work – and even boost your bottom line

Define your audience

It’s tempting to cast the widest possible net when defining your target audience. Tempting, but not the best strategy.

Marketing to a broad audience just means your message will get watered down. Your uniqueness gets lost in the noise. And the perfect potential customer can all too easily slip through the cracks.

So narrow down your audience.

Do you have mechanics who know foreign cars inside and out? Or maybe employees who previously worked at a high-end dealership? Does your shop offer specialty services that are hard to find? Are you the cheapest? The most thorough? Is your waiting room luxurious?

What makes you different? And how can you use that difference to go after a specific audience?

If you try to be relevant to everyone, you’ll end up being relevant to no one.

Target online clients

There are a lot of possible online marketing strategies, but we’d like to suggest just two things. The first is essential. The second is nice to have because it will make you stand out.

First, your website should be clean, up-to-date, and straightforward. Make sure your services, fees and hours of operation are all easy to find. Don’t get creative with the layout. Keep it simple.

Second, consider value-add content. That can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it. A regularly updated blog with basic maintenance tips, for example, might be a good place to start. Or you could launch a YouTube channel with tutorials for small maintenance tasks.

If you show potential customers that you’re sincerely invested in helping them, you’re more likely to win their trust.

And, of course, if you launch a blog or post videos, be sure to include links in your social media accounts. A strong following on Facebook or Twitter can be a great way to build your customer base.

If folks can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, they’ll just hit the back button and check out one of your competitors.

Launch a customer loyalty plan

People love saving money. The easier you make it for your customers to save money, the better. If you don’t have a customer loyalty program, you’re missing out.

There are all kinds of small perks you can offer customers. The sweet spot is something that costs you little but means a lot to customers. Things like…

  • A free extra with first oil change, like tire rotation
  • A free oil change after 10 oil changes at full price
  • Discounts on used vehicle pre-purchase inspections for regulars
  • Courtesy rides for customers having major repairs done

Make sure you let your customers know that you take care of your regulars. Tell them about your customer loyalty program in emails, on your website and in social media posts.

If you don’t have a customer loyalty program, you’re missing out.

Ask for reviews and reward referrals

Another way to build your business is to encourage reviews and incentivize referrals. 

When a customer leaves your shop, ask them to write a review on sites like Yelp or Google. A surprising amount of the time, that’s all you have to do to get a positive review. Just ask.

Likewise, when a regular sends a friend or family member your way, give them something in return. (Like a discount on their next oil change, for example.) You’ll make up the lost profit with increased business and good word-of-mouth.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Get 5-Star Reviews for Your Auto Shop

Keep pace with the big guys

It probably goes without saying, but you’re not going to get too many 5-star reviews if your service isn’t top-notch. And most customers will assess your auto repair shop by comparing the way they’re treated (and the prices they pay) to the local dealership.

Large automotive dealers have some serious advantages. They get to establish contact with future customers when they buy their vehicle. That gives them a chance to offer discounts and service packages, as well as make the case that they know this particular make and model better than anyone else.

When a new customer comes to your auto shop, that’s your opportunity to show them just how well you can compete with the dealership.

To compete with dealerships in your area, try these tips: 

  • Train every member of your staff in customer etiquette.
  • Keep your waiting area clean and comfortable. Stock it with coffee, beverages, and small snacks.
  • Obtain an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification for your shop.
  • Make sure estimates are accurate and that work is completed on time.
  • Be willing to negotiate on expensive repair jobs or offer payment plans.

Most car owners are more satisfied with independent garages than dealership service centers. – Consumer Reports

The secret trick to all marketing

If you’re not sure what auto shop marketing ideas would be best for your business, that’s okay. We’ll let you in on a secret. All marketing is trial and error.

Try some of these suggestions. See which ones work for you… and which ones you can have the most fun with. (You’re far more likely to keep up marketing activities if they’re also fun.)

When something works, keep at it. When something doesn’t work, just shift gears and try something else.

The most successful auto shop marketing will evolve over time. So consider all of this a moving target. You’ll never be done figuring out marketing, but that’s half the fun.

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