If just the word alone didn’t send you running for the hills, then this latest article is for you!
In all seriousness, though, we’ve received enough positive feedback on our various marketing materials (ebooks! Webinars! Countless blog posts!) to know that a lot of shop owners (and maybe more than a few employees) have at least a passing interest in marketing their operation. Often, though, they end up stopping because they aren’t quite convinced about how to take the next step. Should they do all this stuff themselves? Or offload it onto a new employee?
To help nervous shop owners make the right choice, we brought in two contrasting viewpoints:
In one corner, the excellent Jimmy Wall, General Manager of Donahue Truck Centers in California.
In the other, the marvelous Ashley Sowell, CEO and Co-Founder of Integrity Fleet Services in Texas.
Both of them recognize the inherent value in marketing—essentially putting your shop in front of people—but approach it in very different ways. Ashley handles Integrity’s marketing herself; Jimmy hired a marketer.
We’re not going to delve too deeply into their actual metrics. Both operations have seen success from their marketing efforts, and continue to do so; what we’re looking at here is why they opted to handle marketing the way they did, and how they did it. Our hope is that shop owners who are still not feeling all that confident about marketing will read this and come away with a better idea of what to do—or at least feel like, “Hey, I can give this a shot!”
HIRING A MARKETER
“I’ve always been interested in marketing,” Jimmy says. “I’ve wanted a marketing person for years … I think we’ve always had that need.”
But in the last two or three years, he says, the steady growth of digital marketing convinced him that he wanted someone to work full-time on the marketing angle. “It’s more important than ever before,” he says, remarking that many companies are seeing a shift in leadership—more and more decision-makers are now looking online for answers to their problems. He wanted to expand his company’s online footprint, and he wanted a professional, full-time person to work on it.
He did not require someone with, say, a marketing degree. “The schooling’s not as important as the experience,” Jimmy decided. And digital marketing has made it easier for people from all walks of life to get their foot in the marketing door. Yes, there is still a learning curve, and it often takes a lot of trial and error to see real results, but you don’t need to go to school for it.
Smaller operations in particular should look for a marketer with plenty of experience. When a larger marketing department hires a new staffer, they typically have the time and resources to train up someone more entry-level. A mom-and-pop repair shop doesn’t have that—they need a person who can hit the ground running.
When it came down to actually hiring the person, Jimmy knew he wanted the following:
Something that wasn’t on his list: experience in the diesel industry.
“I never set out thinking I would find someone that had a previous job in my industry, so I didn’t even set that expectation in my mind,” he says. One of his applicants was highly skilled in graphic design but not analytics; another had a background in analytics but no real experience with content creation. What they had in common was a lack of experience in the diesel repair industry.
That was not a problem.
Here is where a few eyebrows might go up: But Fullbay, some of you are saying, shouldn’t we look for an industry expert?
Not necessarily. Don’t get us wrong—if you can find a marketer who knows the heavy-duty repair industry well, then go for them! But a solid marketer can usually learn about whatever industry they land in. If you limit your search to someone who is an expert marketer and an expert in the diesel industry (or any other field), then you’re going to have a pretty narrow (and probably really expensive) field of candidates.
So, if you decide to cast out your net, look for someone who has a willingness to learn. You should also be willing to pay a good salary for your area, if you’re hiring locally—you should be able to compete with local marketing firms. Jimmy went a step further, too, by setting aside money to be used for marketing in the months and year before he actually hired anyone.
Here’s one last piece of advice from him: “I asked [my interviewees] to tell me what the purpose of marketing is.”
The answer he wanted, and the answer that will benefit most repair shops, is that marketing is to get the word out. They develop leads for the sales team to help them develop business. Marketing helps you generate customers. If you and your marketer(s) understand that, you’re already starting out on the right foot.
But Fullbay, you may be saying, I don’t have the budget for a marketing person.
It’s okay. We get that not every shop can do that. If you’re in a position where you can hire or contract out work to a marketing person, that’s great! But if you’re like a lot of owners, you might need to stick closer to home.
THE OWNER AS A MARKETER
All right, friends. It’s storytime.
If you get upset with your usual service provider, what’s the first thing you do?
(After venting to your friends/spouse/pet.)
You go to Google and find a new one.
That’s what Ashley keeps in mind as she handles the marketing for Integrity. “If you’re not fresh on someone’s mind, they most likely aren’t going to keep calling you or using you,” she says. “When these companies look for a new provider and go to Google, I want our name to come up first.”
Like many repair shop owners, Ashley wears many hats—marketing is just one of them. Because she has numerous duties to attend to, she looks for marketing tactics and strategies that don’t require retouching every day.
For example, Integrity wraps its trucks—”That’s a rolling billboard every day, and I’ve got 10 of them!”—and gives out apparel like T-shirts to techs and customers alike. Her husband and co-owner used to poke fun at her efforts until the day he went to three of their yards and almost everyone had on Integrity gear. More billboards!
She sees marketing as an extension of being an informed owner. “Part of working on the business is making sure you stay relevant and making sure your imprint is large,” she says. Digital marketing makes it easier than ever for someone to learn the basics and start getting the word out. She didn’t take any courses or classes; instead, she took what she knew about her business and started experimenting.
That means a presence across almost every social media platform (she notices a lot of connections on LinkedIn), but also all kinds of goodies with their shop’s name and phone number across it. Think keychains, notepads, pens. She’s also on the lookout for conferences and shows—places where Integrity can set up a booth and do some in-person conversing.
But when does she get all this done? She divides her marketing work into AM and PM: if it involves talking to people, she handles it in the morning. If it’s creating content or updating the digital platforms, she hops on the computer at the end of the day, after the kids and husband are asleep. This can mean some long hours—she’s seen some of her best work cranked out at two o’clock in the morning.
Current owners may be nodding in recognition here. Even if you aren’t touching the marketing, you’ve no doubt pulled some late nights. That’s the reality of running a business sometimes. If you do decide to add marketing to your to-do list, you can expect to spend some time figuring out what works and what doesn’t, setting up various platforms, and, yes, maybe even some late nights hunched over a computer.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
What you end up doing with your marketing is, as ever, up to you. We can provide all the suggestions and advice in the world, but it’s going to come down to how much time you’re willing to commit and/or how much money you’re willing to spend. Hiring someone comes with its own difficulties (payroll taxes, amirite?), but at the same time, not all of us can keep our eyes open past a certain hour, much less crank out awesome marketing content.
So, friend, we leave you with one last bit of advice: do what’s right for your shop by putting the right person in charge of marketing. Maybe that means you take the reins yourself. Maybe that means one of your TikTok-loving techs helps you out on that platform. Maybe you’re ready to bring in someone at least part-time. Whatever you end up doing, we wish you the best of luck—and we’ll keep rooting for you!