If you’re an auto repair shop owner looking to grow your business by bringing in new customers, what’s the best way to spend your marketing budget?

The first question you should ask yourself is how much do you need to spend versus how much you want to spend, says Eric Goodstadt, chief executive officer at UpSwell.

“That means figuring out how many new customers you need based on the number of bays and technicians you have. For example, let’s say your normal monthly car count is 120, but you have capacity to service 160 cars a month,” he says. “You just need to get enough people to come in to fill up those 40 car slots on a month-to-month basis, and that’s what should dictate your marketing budget.”

Once you’ve nailed down your budget, these are three of the most tried-and-true auto repair marketing strategies for bringing in new customers who will rely on your business for routine maintenance services and necessary repairs for many years to come.

Direct Mail: A Must for Auto Repair Shops

“The best way for an auto repair shop to find new customers is to get in front of them, and the number one way to do that is with direct mail,” says Jeff Snyder, executive marketing consultant at UpSwell. “You want to pull in the majority of your customers from within a 2-to-3-mile radius of your shop, and that’s who you should be mailing.”

The beauty of direct mail is that it stimulates an action, Goodstadt adds. “Human behavior is such that you always look at a direct mail piece, even if you’re about to put it in the trash,” he says. “So if you see a postcard with an oil change offer, it makes you think, ‘Oh, I haven’t gotten my oil changed in a while. Let me put this aside.’ The postcard is what stimulates that action.”

Mailing consistently, ideally once a month, is important, Snyder says. “If a shop has budget constraints, then we can push that to every other month, but you don’t really want to go longer than that. You have to get in front of them when they need your services, and if you’re out of sight, out of mind for more than two months, that’s not good enough.”

UpSwell has the ability to link up its direct mail programs to about 35 different POS systems, which allows the company to use that data to generate penetration reports. By doing so, auto repair shops can concentrate their mailing efforts on those carrier routes where they know they already have a good percentage of loyal customers.

“We can also use that data on the back end to see which addresses we mailed came into your shop, and how much money they spent,” Snyder says. UpSwell can also see how many of them were new customers, how many were “win back” customers — meaning people who had brought their cars to your shop but not in the past 12 months — and how many were loyal customers.

“It may be that the postcard prompts the loyal customers to come in sooner,” Snyder adds. “On your time, rather than on their time.”

Paid Search: Crucial for Attracting Customers with Immediate Needs

While direct mail is ideal for attracting customers looking for routine auto maintenance, there are better tools to get in front of people with urgent auto repair needs.

“If someone’s driving and they start to notice a grinding sound in their brakes or, worst-case scenario, their car doesn’t start at all, they aren’t going to start looking through their pile of mail for a postcard,” Goodstadt says. They’re going to go to their phone or laptop and search for an auto repair shop online, and that’s why the number two channel for auto repair marketing is paid search, also known as pay-per-click advertising. (Pay per click means that you only pay a fee if someone clicks on your ad and reaches your website.)

“To make sure potential customers are finding you when they search, you need to own and dominate search in your local market, and Google search allows you to do this specifically within a 3-to-5-mile radius of your shop,” Goodstadt says.

With auto repair shops, the best way to dominate the search marketplace is to use long phrase keywords that include your town or area. If your shop is in Westfield, New Jersey, for example, the most effective keywords would be “auto repair in Westfield, N.J.” or “brake job in Westfield, N.J.” because those are the phrases that people will most likely type into Google when they’re looking for an auto repair shop.

“If auto repair shop owners do nothing else — if they have a limited marketing budget and want to focus on the most effective marketing methods — then they should spend it on direct mail and paid search,” Goodstadt says. “These are the two key channels for auto repair shop marketing.”

Digital Marketing: Boosts the Effectiveness of Direct Mail

Auto repair shops can make their direct mail campaigns even more impactful by combining them with digital marketing programs.

One option is UpSwell’s Mail2Mobile program, which is a combination of direct mail and mobile ads that are delivered using geofencing (also known as geotargeting) to the same houses that receive the mailer. “So someone could be sitting on their couch and scrolling through scores on ESPN and see a banner ad for the exact same offer that was in the mailer the week before,” Goodstadt says.

Mail2Mobile is also inexpensive — about 5.5 cents per impression — but Goodstadt says it can boost the effectiveness of the direct mail program by as much as 8%. Another relatively inexpensive add-on to a direct mail program is an email prospect marketing program, which can increase direct mail response rates by up to 10%.

“It’s the repetition that makes it more effective,” Goodstadt says. “We’re so busy with our day-to-day lives that if we get hit with one communication, it’s somewhat easy for us to filter it out. But when we get hit with two different communications for the same thing, that instigates us to take action.”

The key with email marketing is to work with a company that will ensure the email lists you’re using are going to the people who are most open to and in need of the services you provide, but even more importantly, have opted-in to receiving your messages.

CAN-SPAM laws are a real thing, and small businesses can’t afford to get hit with a lawsuit or have their URL blacklisted,” Goodstadt says. “That’s why it’s important to use a reputable organization like UpSwell to make sure you’ve obtained those email addresses legally.”

The beauty of using both direct mail and digital marketing, Goodstadt says, is that auto shops are able to draw a direct line from John Smith receiving a communication from their business to him coming in to get his brakes changed.

“Department store owner John Wanamaker used to say that 50% of his advertising spend worked, but he just didn’t know which 50%,” Goodstadt says. “In today’s world, we’re able to tell you what 50% of your marketing budget worked, if not all of it.”

Ready to attract new customers to your auto repair business? Contact the team at UpSwell for a free marketing assessment.

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