Collision Repair’s Biggest Marketing Challenge

Only one challenge loomsargest when it comes to marketing a collision repair business.

That’s according to Tom Bemiller, the owner of three stores in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area that have total annual sales of $7 million.

“The biggest marketing challenge in this industry is that people don’t need us until they need us,” he says, explaining that auto body repair isn’t like marketing a cool new gadget – the need does not arise just because the product exists.

“Nobody says, ‘I need to get my car fixed,’ when it doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Bemiller, with about two decades of experience in the auto body repair industry, says he’s looked everywhere for a marketing tactic that meets this challenge.

“I’ve been experimenting with marketing my whole career,” he says, noting that no tactic has enabled him to reach customers when they need his stores, except for one.

The backstory

The backstory begins in a familiar way.

Bemiller says he started sweeping the floors of an auto body shop when he was 14, needing a job close enough to his home to be able to ride a bike.

He did this for a few years, going from heavy work in the shop to helping his boss in the office. He went to college to study pre-med while helping the store owner with presentations, spreadsheets and letters, working via email.

After graduating, Bemiller says, he realized medicine wasn’t what he wanted to do, so he moved back in with his parents and found his way back to the body shop, working on various projects. .

“That’s when I finally decided to pursue a career in this industry,” he says.

The problem

Bemiller admits he’s never been in cars, but, at 22 and with his mind made up, he says he saw an opportunity. And something else too.

“I saw an industry that kind of sucked,” he says. “I thought I could change the industry, find new ways of doing things. I thought I could do better, and that still drives me today.

After his work at that first store, he acquired Dave’s Autobody in Zieglerville, Pennsylvania, changing its name to Aureus Auto Body. Its three-shop operation is complemented by two other subsequent acquisitions: Mercier Auto Body in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and Ed’s Auto Body in Brookhaven, Pennsylvania. It retained the existing names of the last two stores (see box for details), and the three operate together under the Aureus Group umbrella.

“I’ve tried many different marketing tactics over the years,” he says. “Most marketers create what I call the ‘marketing cloud of confusion’.”

This cloud, says Bemiller, is made up of factors that don’t matter. He remembers that in his early days he worked with a website builder who always talked about the number of page views on his store. The problem, however, is that there was no evidence that the eyes on his site were helping his business.

“It hasn’t translated into income for me,” he says.

In his experience, Bemiller says, marketers are looking to get paid for the activity — digital ads, for example — but they won’t be looking to get paid for the results, i.e. the raises. of income.

With the industry’s biggest marketing challenge in mind — reaching people when they need collision repair — Bemiller says he came to this line of thinking.

“An accident is traumatic,” he says. “People call the cops, then the insurance company, and this insurance company grabs them and says, ‘This is what we want you to do.’ If I don’t catch ’em right away too, might as well light my [marketing] money on fire.

So how does Bemiller reach customers when they need its stores?

The solution

“Geofencing,” Bemiller says, “is the very first tactic anyone showed me that I can use to hit the customer when they need us.”

The way geofencing works is to track cellphone IP addresses as they come and go from digitally “fenced” properties, which in Bemiller’s case are the sites of its competitors. Those phones and IP addresses match people who may need collision repair, and after indexing that numerical information, Bemiller says he can then direct those people to his stores.

“If they have an accident and need a body shop, I can show them ads,” he says. “They click, they land on my website. Now I have an opportunity that I can convert into a repair order.

How did geofencing work in practice for Bemiller stores?

He says he’s been running a particular campaign for five months, seeing an average of 21 potential customers visit one of his stores after visiting a competitor. This equates to 105 people in total over a period of five months.

These potential customers were transformed into 83 jobs captured, which equates to a capture rate of 79%.

The average repair order for this work, he says, was $3,000, which represents a total campaign revenue of $249,000.

If those numbers hold, Bemiller says, he envisions an annual geofencing revenue of $597,600, at an annual cost to the marketing department of $24,000.

The following

With the success of his geofencing efforts, Bemiller says, his other marketing efforts all but ceased.

He says he still uses hyper-targeted Facebook ads and continues to support local teams and community organizations.

“It has an effect that’s harder to measure,” Bemiller says. “Over a long period, it is effective. Other than that, I really don’t do anything. I do geofencing and I continue to optimize my website.”

That optimization can come down to design tweaks, Bemiller says, such as whether a red button or a blue button prompts more potential customers to submit their information. He says he knows that if people fill out a form for his business, they’ll likely show up at his door.

“My biggest growth opportunity right now is to increase the conversion rate on my website,” Bemiller says.

Takeaway meals

The collision repair industry is different from many others, Bemiller says, so be careful how you spend your marketing money if you want it to be effective.

“I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years and a lot of time and frustration dealing with marketers,” he says. “If they really don’t understand our business, I would be shocked to see a digital marketer succeed in our industry. It’s very different from a lot of businesses.

Keep in mind when your customers will actually need your body shop, Bemiller says, and understand what happens to the money you spend to market your business.

“You need to understand the whole journey that your marketing dollar is going to take,” he says, “from when you spend it to when you’re going to get it back as revenue.”

Box: The name game

If Tom Bemiller had done a redesign early in his career, he says he would never have changed the name of his first store.

Owner of three Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-area stores, Bemiller says he struck out on his own with the acquisition of Dave’s Autobody in Zieglerville, which he renamed Aureus Auto Body, a name he now admits love more.

Bemiller says he learned two things from the experience: Don’t name a company something people can’t spell and can’t remember. The second thing is that when you buy a store, you buy a customer base, which is why he chose not to change the names of his next two acquisitions, Mercer Auto Body and Ed’s Autobody, in Kennett Square and Brookhaven, respectively. .

Shops: The Aureus Group

Owner: Tom Bemiller

Locations: Zieglerville, PA, Kennett Square, PA and Brookhaven, PA.

Number of staff: 25 in total

Store size: 21,000 total square feet

Average monthly number of cars: 160 in total

Number of DRPs: 8

Annual turnover: 7 million dollars in total