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Seasonal Marketing – Plan Now for Fall’s Slowdown

Summer is the shop owner’s best friend. People have their cars out and racing season is in full swing. Car count is high and things are looking good. But there’s a hammer waiting to drop. The end of summer means the fall slowdown. Here’s what you can do to fight it.

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Summer is the shop owner’s best friend. People have their cars out and racing season is in full swing. Car count is high and things are looking good. But there’s a hammer waiting to drop. Not to be a downer during the best time of year to own a shop, but just as surely as Independence Day means fireworks and Thanksgiving means turkey, the end of summer means the fall slowdown. And while it doesn’t happen overnight — just one fewer car here and another there — by the end of August the fall slowdown will be in full effect.

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I’ve seen it happen year after year, and it’s not just at my shop or in my town. It happens in shops all across the country.

We hear it from fellow shop owners all too often. In the summer, they’re feeling fat and happy…“I don’t need to do anymore marketing — business is great, car count is high, everything is working!”

But the fall slowdown is always there, the specter waiting at the end of August.

Fortunately, you can beat it.

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Planning For the Fall Slowdown

If you’re going to beat the fall slowdown, however, the key is bringing in enough new, high-quality, high-value customers.

That’s where a Seasonal Marketing Plan comes in. Internal marketing alone won’t cut it. Sending more reminder cards to your customer base, trying to get one more visit when you need it — even if that works, it won’t be enough to bring up your car count and you’ll risk ruining those relationships. Your customer base is like a lemon — you can keep squeezing the lemon harder and harder, but, eventually, it will run out of juice and you’ll be left with ruined fruit.

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Deep discounting won’t cut it either. If you send out coupons offering your services at little-to-no-profit, it doesn’t take much imagination to know what will happen. How does giving away your work for free solve your problems? You might get a few new people through the door, but are they really the type of customers you want?

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So forget what you’ve been told or what you think you know about advertising. Start with a fresh slate. Think about your best customers, and aim higher.

Marketing is about laying the foundation for a relationship. When you know slow times are coming — before the slow down hits — is the best time to use marketing to attract new, great customers.

Building Relationships With Direct Mail

Direct mail is king when it comes to branding small, independent shops because it lets you target a higher value relationship customer to get results. I’m not talking about activity that the marketing “gurus” throw out about clicks or coupon redemptions. I’m talking about real results — attracting long-term, referring customers who provide real value to your shop.

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One hit wonders might be good enough for the radio, but they won’t cut it in your shop. You need a relationship with your customers, a mutually beneficial partnership. You need customers who want that, too — customers who will work for you, who trust you and who you trust. Direct mail lets you seek out these people, through targeting, research and list grooming, and send them the right message.

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But direct mail isn’t fast-twitch advertising. You have to plan ahead. From crafting the right message to designing the art to grooming the list to printing to distribution…there’s a lead time for any good piece of direct mail.

That reinforces the value of a seasonal marketing plan. If you wait until after the shop is slow and your techs are standing around to start thinking about a direct mail piece, it’s already too late.

Planning Your Marketing Schedule

On average, it takes seven touches before a customer will act on a marketing message. That means you need to put your shop in front of the customers you want seven times before you will start to see real results.

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This is where online marketing can play a huge role. From social media posts to email blasts to website landing pages to blogs…all of these provide another opportunity to get in front of your customers and reach them with your message.

Whether you use every venue available or are selective in your strategy, what matters most is that you’re staying in front of your customers, creating multiple touch points and sending a consistent message.

If this just sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, it’s really simple: Show them who you are, that you care and that you’re not going anywhere.

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Laying the Foundation For a Relationship

The best marketing isn’t about getting just any new customer through the front door — it’s about laying the foundation for a long-term relationship with the right customer.

The message you send is the groundwork, showing that you understand your customer, that you know what’s important to them and that you truly care. Then match this with your unique value proposition; how you represent your business. Show you are offering what they need. Repeat and saturate this message with deep penetration and as much frequency as you can afford.

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Marketing isn’t an ­expense, it’s an investment. It is the best way to grow your business, to attract new customers and to build stronger relationships with your customers.

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Marketing as an Investment

I have a magic number for my own shop — a percentage of gross profit that we set aside for marketing. You probably do, too, and your number might not be the same as mine.

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When times are tough, the first instinct might be to pull back on ads, to reduce spending to save money. That is wrong. When your competition is pulling back, it’s the best time to send out your message.

Laura Pasternak, a marketing expert from Market Point, says it clearly: “When the stability of the economy is in question, the knee-jerk reaction for many businesses is to pull back on their marketing ­efforts until a bull market returns. In reality, there isn’t a better time to market…an economic downturn can be an opportunity rather than a death sentence.”

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Whether you’re talking bull markets or fall slowdowns, that advice is absolutely true for engine shops. When you need to attract more customers, do not pull back on your marketing.

You know your market well. There are times every year when the shop slows down, car count drops and fewer customers call each day. If you measure and track, you don’t even have to guess…you’ll see the annual trends. Know when these are coming, and ramp up your marketing before they hit.

Start planning your seasonal marketing strategy now. Pull the trigger on your next direct mail piece now so that it drops when you need customers most. Also launch your online campaigns now to start spreading your message and reaching potential customers. Get your seven touches in early, and drive customers to your shop when you need them most.

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Don’t let the hammer drop and catch your shop in its blow. Be strategic, plan ahead and get more miles out of every marketing dollar this fall!

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