When people tell me that I’m “so lucky” to be in a city like Denver, to have so many potential customers so close, or to be close to a main road, I laugh — our shop is literally in a hole
In 1995, we moved our shop from the corner of a busy intersection to a sunken strip mall a half-block from the main road. We went from 100,000 cars driving by every day to 1,000 — maybe 1,500 on a great day. We went from a locked-in customer base to building a customer base from scratch.
If those numbers were the end of it — if our customer base had shriveled up and our shop had died — then yes, location is everything. But the shop didn’t die. In fact, within a few years, we had grown our shop from $1.5 to $3.5 million in that same “bad” location.
Our secret? It’s a principle I like to call, “How To Get Found When You’re In A Hole.”
How To Get Found When You’re In A Hole
When people tell me that I’m “so lucky” to be in a city like Denver, to have so many potential customers so close, or to be close to a main road, I laugh.
You see, our shop is literally in a hole.
We are in a sunken strip mall that cannot be seen from the main road. The sign out front might help, but it’s stuck behind a huge pine tree that blocks our name. (It may go without saying, but pine trees are conifers — they don’t lose their needles, meaning the tree blocks our sign year round!)
Every shop has a hole. Now, it may not be a literal hole like ours, but every shop has something working against them. Maybe you live in a rural community. Maybe you bought a shop with a poor reputation. Maybe an employee is damaging your relationships with customers. Even if your shop has great visibility on the corner of the busiest intersection in town, are they really seeing you?
The truth is location doesn’t matter nearly as much as it used to. There may still be advantages to having a highly visible location, but you can create visibility (and climb out of any hole) through marketing.
At its core, visibility means being found by potential customers. A shop sign on the corner of a busy street can create visibility, but so can being an active member of the community or dominating your market online.
Visibility means showing up where your customers are looking. Visibility is created with proper marketing.
Let’s start with the basics: Marketing doesn’t necessarily mean advertising. While advertising can be an important part of marketing, they are not one and the same.
Marketing is your brand. It’s your location, your building, your people, your uniforms — everything from the sign out front to the cars in the parking lot tell customers about your business.
If you haven’t already seen it, go back and read my article called, “Defining Your Brand Strategy & Telling Your Shop’s Story.”
The question isn’t whether you want to invest in prime real estate or marketing. Whether you’re in the ideal location or are trapped in a hole, you need marketing.
Your Digital Storefront
Maximizing your online presence starts with a good website. Your website needs to build your brand online, and it does this in four ways:
- A website provides the information your customers need, right when they need it.
- It makes this information easily accessible and easy to understand.
- It moves the customer to the sale and makes them want to do business with you.
- And, most importantly, your website sets your business apart.
You should care about your website as much as you care about the physical building of your shop. A website should be looked after and cared for every day. Just like you sweep the floors and wash away stains on a daily basis to keep your shop clean and tidy, your website must similarly be monitored, groomed and organized.
The problem is that your website in itself is a static thing. It’s not going to do all the work by itself even if it is perfectly designed. Just like you can’t open the doors to your business and expect hundreds of customers to instantly walk through the door, you also can’t expect traffic to your website to peak the moment it goes live.
Your website, like your business, needs to be marketed and supported.
If your business’s website is your digital storefront, search engines are online real estate. You can’t expect to “get lucky” and end up in a prime search spot (the first listing on a search engine results page, for instance). You have to work for it.
This means you need internet presence. Local listings, blogs, social media, paid search, etc., all work together to drive traffic to your website. Your online presence must perform all of those four functions, too. Providing information customers need that is easy to understand, moves them to the sale and sets you apart is critical.
The digital landscape is constantly shifting. It takes ongoing marketing effort to create, maintain and capture visibility online.
Be Seen By The Right People
You can pay the price for a high visibility location on the corner of a busy street in an affluent neighborhood, or you can create visibility that targets your ideal customer where they are looking.
Before you allocate your entire marketing budget into a campaign that will put your name all over the internet, television, radio and in every mailbox in town, consider this truth: Not every customer is a great customer; not every customer is one who you want.
Instead of attracting just anybody to your business, your goal should be to use targeted campaigns that reach and resonate with the right people. Good customers are sophisticated and intelligent. They have more money than time, generally don’t understand cars and want a technician they can trust. They want to buy from you.
They have probably been burned before, as well. Because of that, they do their due diligence before taking their car to a new shop. They’ll research online and find answers before they ever walk through your door.
Very few people will take the time to call or come into your shop to find the answers they’re looking for anymore. They expect to find them online, and if they can’t, they’ll take their vehicle and their trust elsewhere.
What is your customer looking for? Will they find it in your shop? Will they find it on your website?
You need to give them the answers they need. They want to understand how you do business. They want to quantify and qualify the statements you make. They want a relationship they can count on, so they’ll look for language that resonates with those values.
These things are so important, that they’ll seek it out online instead of relying on the highly visible shop on the corner that they see every day on their way to work.
Real Estate Has Gone Digital
Whether you are “lucky” enough to have main road visibility or your shop is hidden off the main road in a literal hole, your shop will have a blind spot. Businesses cannot succeed today relying only on drive-by traffic or word of mouth to attract new customers. You need marketing.
So, is location everything? Anyone can overcome the setbacks of “off-the-main-road” locations with the right marketing strategy. When you create visibility, you can reach the right customer in the exact place that they are looking.
Two Real Stories From Off-the-Main-Road Shop Owners
Shop No. 1: Temporary Sign
My shop is in the middle of nowhere in Illinois, with nothing but field next to us and across the street. The shop is part of a baby strip mall, probably 200 feet off the main road, but without a main tenant in the complex. Almost everyone drives by without giving us a second (or sometimes first) look.
I wanted to move several times. I’ve been tempted to get the heck out of Dodge and find a better location, but between the expense of a new building and the hassle of moving, I decided to stay put. Instead, I put up a sign.
Zoning laws prohibited where the sign could and couldn’t go and how big it could be, and they told me it could not be permanent. So, every day, I come into the shop and hang a vinyl sign with rope out by the road, and every night I take it down again. Sounds crazy, right? But guess what, it worked!
Combined with ongoing marketing, that sign means my new customers can find me now. It’s even brought in some drive-by traffic! It’s a hassle, but I saved the money and trouble of moving.
Shop No. 2: When ‘On’ Turns ‘Off’
For years, my shop was in a great location: right on the main road, close to the interstate, with high visibility from all the cars driving by every day. But without moving, we suddenly became off-the-main-road when construction passed through.
They shut down the interstate for months, and our very convenient shop soon became nearly impossible to access. Between the traffic cones and working vehicles, most businesses in our area were tempted to move or shut down until the construction was finished. That wasn’t an option, so I was forced to get creative and make the best of a bad situation.
My shop became an information hub and resource throughout the construction project. We sent weekly email updates. We added a section on our website about the project and encouraged people to call the shop — even if they didn’t need our services — for updates and information about the construction. We added a map to the website and made it easy for customers to find us.
The shop stayed busy! Sure, customers had to try harder to get to us, but everyone I spoke to was grateful for what we were doing. Not only were they willing to follow the detour, they were happy to do it if it meant they could keep bringing their cars to us.
David Rogers is chief operating officer of Keller Bros. Inc., president of Auto Profit Masters, Shop4D, and the award-winning Automated Marketing Group. David has a heart for service, a mind for perfecting systems, and an expert at consumer marketing. Reach David via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, toll-free at 1-866-826-7911, or online at https://autoprofitmasters.com.