Growing Your Auto Repair Business in a Risky Environment
There are now 1.1 registered vehicles per person over 16 in the U.S. There are more cars in the U.S. than licensed drivers. Many of those vehicles will be more than 12 years old by 2020. Despite the boom in older vehicles, the automotive repair industry continues to be a challenging environment as repair shops must compete with aftermarket online part sales and even the sale of services online. Capturing the repair business on those older vehicles should be a priority for a savvy auto repair shop owner – how can you grow your automotive business in a risky environment?
Have a Plan
Those stories about a guy who builds a shop and customers just line up are mostly unicorns. Growing a business takes effort. More importantly, it takes a plan. Craft a plan to develop portions of your business and to increase your marketing. Set milestones and guideposts so you know what is working and what isn’t. For example, if you’ve always specialized in repairing domestic vehicles, consider staffing up and purchasing diagnostic equipment to capture some of the repairs on imported vehicles, which make up 47 percent of the cars on U.S. roads. Don’t forget to craft a marketing plan as well. More customers than ever use websites, reviews, and other online resources to choose an auto repair shop. And, capturing younger customers may mean taking technological leaps, like creating or buying software or applications that allow customers to schedule oil changes online and check on the progress of their vehicle repair from mobile phones.
Interact with Existing Customers
Part of your marketing and development plan should include holding onto your existing customers. This can be as simple as doing quality work and having excellent customer service. But more often, that requires staying in touch with existing customers. Establish ways to connect with your current customers. This can be through a monthly electronic newsletter with special coupons or deals, a social media presence or by creating a scheduling system to remind customers of when it’s time for an oil change, or by simply sending Christmas cards and a calendar.
Having the right parts on hand—or immediate access—when you need a part is critical in the auto repair industry. Managing your part fulfillment partners will play an important role in your success. Parts suppliers are internal customers, and savvy repair shop owners maintain good relationships with those partners, while continually seeking better prices or service.
Prepare for Unexpected Expenses
One thing that can be expected when running a business: unexpected expenses. Whether diagnostic equipment breaks, or you run short on critical parts at the worst possible time requiring you to pay full price, maintaining cash flow so you can pay employees, fix problems and continue plugging away at your marketing plan is one of the most important things you do as a manager. In addition to maintaining some sort of savings account for the financial emergency, experts recommend having a plan to borrow or create quick cash flow when you need it. Sources like National Business Capital, which offer cash flow based on future sales, and a line of credit at your local bank are great ways to ensure cash continues to come through the door when you need it.