Building Brand Awareness for Your Auto Trim Shop

Published by Naseem Muaddi on May 21st, 2012

We’ve all been there before – standing around, scratching our heads, trying to figure out why business is so unusually slow. When suddenly it hits us: “Putting an ad in the paper will bring customers in!”

So we contact our local newspapers, pay for an ad and wait. But after a few weeks, the response is merely lukewarm. Fed up with wasting money, we pull the ad and that’s that.

The fact is, with this type of marketing strategy we’ll never get ahead. Auto upholstery shops are better off investing their time and money into building brand awareness than chasing after quick bucks.

In our line of work, it’s naïve to expect an instant flood of business from a single advertisement. Even if there is an initial marginal increase, we have to stay with it in order to keep customers coming in. Year-round advertising campaigns are a better way to go – as they attract folks who currently need our services and serve as a constant reminder to future customers that we exist.

This is how to build brand awareness. And for auto upholstery shops, it’s vital to our success.

In fact, studies have shown that the public equates awareness with confidence. Consumers regularly purchase products and services from businesses simply because they’re familiar with their brand names, and – therefore – feel like they can trust them.

By focusing on brand awareness, you can insure that when a person goes shopping for an interior repair, your shop is the first they think of.

So how do you build brand awareness? 

What it all boils down to is constant repetition of name, backed by quality work. Brand-awareness campaigns don’t need to be expensive or groundbreaking in any way. All they require is a bit of common sense and a clever use of resources.

Below are five easy ways to get started building your campaign – all of which you’re already familiar with, but just need to be proactive in seeing through.

1. Run Newspaper Ads: People may see your ad in the paper, but they’ll forget about you if they don’t currently need your services or it isn’t there every week. Set aside an advertising budget at the beginning of the year, and use it to keep your ad running. Not sure if it’s working? Tell customers to “mention this ad” in exchange for a discount.

2. Invest in Proper Sign: Don’t discount the value of a well-placed and professional-looking sign. Too many businesses undervalue their signs potential by hanging barely legible ones in the least visible places. Mount a two-sided sign at the edge of the road facing traffic to get the best results. If you’re not on a main road, rent a billboard that is. Signs are a great way to catch the attention of thousands of commuters.

3. Utilize Mobile Billboards: If you can’t afford to rent a traditional billboard, have a magnetic sign made for your car or truck. Doing so transforms your vehicle into a mobile billboard for thousands of drivers to see. Every time you stop at a red light, park at the mall or leave your car on the side of a busy street, you’re reaching potential customers. Best of all, magnetic signs only cost about $100 to make.

4. Support Your Local Car Community: Involving your auto upholstery shop with a local car club can provide you with the opportunity to directly interact with those most likely to need your services – folks who you know already have a strong interest in vehicle interior restoration and design. By becoming a member of a car club or sponsoring regular events they hold, you insure that your upholstery shops stays on their minds.

5. Remember the Yellow Pages: Research shows that print yellow and white pages still outrank search engines in terms of trust and accuracy – especially among older, less tech-savvy customers. Advertising in the big yellow book might not be as in-your-face as a billboard, but it’s smart to place ads where customers look.

There are also less expensive methods of marketing – like flyer-ing, sending direct mailings and e-mail blasts. Interacting with potential customers through social media is also a great way to reach customers, especially if they tend to congregate on a few select websites.

All of these methods can be effective, but only if you keep them going. Remember that the key to building brand awareness is consistency.

So what are you doing to build brand awareness? Tell us in the comments section below.

8 Responses

  1. All of these things are important. However, there is something I feel is much more critical to branding – the artwork. Find a graphics designer/artist that understands company identity and branding in the area we work in. Your logo art is the recognizable, consistent symbol of your shop. I hired an established artist that produced a lot of designs I liked and that represent what I want in my design.

    Once the logo is sorted out then we worked on business cards. Something I did to make my business cards simple and a little different is had them printed on thicker than normal stock. People are always commenting on the cards design and rugged feel.

    The last thing I did was have the artist design a t-shirt. My original motivation was to have a shirt to wear in the shop with my logo on it. The shirt artwork incorporates a vehicle of mine that a lot of people seem to like. I am nearly sold out of my initial order of shirts. I took them to a small show yesterday and sold several of them. People dig the design on the shirt and want one.

    I had some variations on the basic shirt design/layout made for me to wear so I am not wearing the same shirt every day. The variations get noticed when I am out and about. I’m about to have the artist make another shirt design.

    Lastly, I am having a door sign for the shop made that closely resembles my business card design. My thought here is they will recognize the design on the door from the card and know they are in the right place.

  2. Nadeem says:

    You raise a good point Working Class. Before investing time, energy and money into building awareness around your brand, make sure your brand image is where you’d like it to be.

    I’ve seen your logo and t-shirts – they’ve very well made.

  3. stitcher_guy stitcher_guy says:

    Ugh. Oh Lord, my splitting head. “Branding” makes me ill. I got sucked into that whole scheme when I first started out. The yellow pages just won’t function unless you go bigger each year. The radio HAS to get you out to every single person who flips on their station. Oh wait. They have three different stations in that radio group, so you’d better triple your exposure….just to make sure.

    It’s all a bunch of crap. We are NOT wal mart. We are NOT Walgreens or McDonalds who caters to every tom, dick and harry with a couple bucks in their pocket. We are niche-market oriented and we only want the people will bring money through our door with the lowest amount of wasted time talking and selling.

    Branding does not offer this. Consider the radio — I know I did, for more than a year. I sponsored weather forecasts and a saturday morning radio show. I got lots of calls. From the tire kickers with old clunkers thinking I’d set them up for a few bucks. That doesn’t keep the doors open. Branding splatters your name across everyone like brain matter after a shotgun blast. And it’s just as gross and unwanted. It will drain you dry, suck out the life of you shop, and ruin you in the process.

    And the response from the newspapers and radio stations? …. shoulda advertised more.

    Bunch of hooey.

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly stitcher_guy!

    I am proud of my shop. I want recognizable business cards, shirts, website, fb page, shop signage, etc. My initial motivator for paying a pro designer is I wanted shirts with the shop name on them to wear while at work in the shop. That lead to the other design related items in short order. In this case, branding means some simple avenues to help make me and my shop recognizable to those guys you mentioned – the one that will actually be your customers.

    Well said! We are NOT wal mart!

  5. Nadeem says:

    Stitcher_Guy, it sounds like you went a bit overboard – more of a media blitz than a brand-awareness campaign for a small, independent shop.

    I think that the types of channels Naseem is talking about are the relatively low-cost options – like newspaper ads, a proper business sign, a magnetic car/truck decal and the Yellow Pages.

    The signs are a one-time cost. The ads aren’t, but – depending on where you’re located and what kind of ad you’re placing – can be relatively inexpensive.

    Of course, you shouldn’t buy a 10 second spot during the Super Bowl. But sponsoring local events and investing in good, well-placed signage is a good start. And, for many shops, all they really need.

  6. Nadeem says:

    The average car owner will only need the services of an upholstery shop once or twice in the time he or she owns the car. When the time comes they usually have no idea where to go. The goal of brand name awareness is to make sure consumers know exactly where to go. The best part is, if they’ve heard of you and not your competition you’re much more likely to get the job. Awareness = Confidence

  7. stitcher_guy stitcher_guy says:

    Some of the previous comments are mixing approaches. Branding and Guerilla marketing are two different approaches. Branding blankets the market, using campaigns to make your name synonymous with your particular field. Everyone within hearing/reading/knowing range thinks of (in my case) PRO Stitch when upholstery comes to mind. Guerilla marketing takes a more budget-minded (cheapskate) approach to getting your name out there. T-shirts, flyers, signage, Vista Print business cards. Micro campaigns and constantly presenting your business as the leader in the field, but without the high expense associated with “branding.”

    Local radio and tv is not a good option for a small, one/two person shop. And most of our shops appear to be in the realm. There’s no middle ground. You either have to buy a package that is beyond the budget of the shop and don’t generate the income necessary — and when you get a dirt-cheap price on an advertising run, you can bet that a majority of those spots are not running in morning drive. They get tossed in on the midnight and overnight programming. Or(and it is a problem, whether we admit it or not), you actually have success with your radio/tv campaign and the traffic flow increases beyond the scope of your shop. Backlogs and piled up work can put us into a frenzy, force us to expand when we can’t handle it or hire in workforce that is not competent. And I know all the arguements about increasing prices to weed out the chaf, but when you’re just trying to keep from being swamped it’s hard to focus on a logical business plan.

    Ad reps hate guerilla marketing. They hate to have to admit that, yes, that approach can be just as successful as a full onslaught approach of branding that assures them of a steady commission for the length of the contracted advertising period.

    Nadeem, I didn’t go overboard when I fell into the advertising rut. I was sensible with my money (because I didn’t have very much). But what I did do was listen to the ad people and believe that everyone needed to know my name. And after months of paying out the ad budget while STILL doing my own guerilla marketing, I began to see the light that my approach was having as much affect as the radio advertising and newspaper placement and Yellow Pages ad…. and for FAR cheaper.

    I am by no means a grizzled old veteran in the field or in the business ownership arena. But I have kept my doors open even through our current administration (both on a federal level and in my own larcenous state of Illinois). I have learned that the only people who NEED to know about PRO Stitch are the 20-30 customers per month who put the money where their mouths are and sign up for work. And really, it’s not even THAT many. It’s only imperative that a scant few people are exposed to any advertising for PRO Stitch, because the rest of my clientele come through word-of-mouth and my reputation. As other have said, I let the work speak for itself.

    I’ve had to laugh in recent months. I have no patience for Yellow Pages anymore. Any time I get a phone call, the nicest thing I say is that I only run whatever is free, and then hang up. We had a visit from a Directory salesman a couple months back. He knows my shop associate, so came out. Apparently I was a hazing event for this guy. He was warned at his office that I am mean and grumpy, I cuss and rant at whoever calls about advertising in Yellow Pages, and no one has the guts to come and try to sell me. This guy was sent out. LOL. We all got a chuckle.

    My local newspaper rep is also an old family friend. He knows not to try to sell me any flights of regular advertising, because it’s just a waste of all our time. But he does call for the Car Care Edition, or other similar specialty things. Sometimes I take it, other times I pass.

    One of the worst traps a shop can fall into is the kneejerk approach to advertising. Business slumps and you dump all your budget into radio. It just doesn’t work. Any advertising being done right now (start of summer) should NOT be thought of as generating immediate business. Advertising now is to draw in jobs for the fall and winter. It takes 15-20 repetitions of hearing your name and message before the “branding” sinks in. By that time, the budget is blown, the ads are off the air, and the classified section is highlighting your going out of business auction. Scheduled advertising demands advanced planning and establishing a futuristic outlook to getting the message out. I personally don’t have an ad manager who can keep all this in mind and plan accordingly. I’ll leave that to Wally World.

  8. Nadeem says:

    Stitcher_Guy, I don’t think we’re disagreeing much in what we’re saying. Rather, we have different definitions for the terms we’re using.

    Branding is the act of creating an associated image and/or perception for the product or service you provide.

    Raising brand awareness, on the other hand, is the act of making that image or perception known so that customers choose you over the competition.

    Guerilla marketing is not the opposite of branding. It is an approach by which you try to raise brand awareness. Generally speaking, the cheap, grass-roots way (as you correctly pointed out).

    Businesses can also raise brand awareness through the approach of mainstream marketing – like TV, radio, etc. This, however, tends to be more expensive than guerilla marketing.

    Of course, there’s overlap between the two approaches. The point is, however, branding and guerrilla marketing are not opposites.

    That said, I think it’s great that you rely on your reputation to bring in customers. I suspect that most shops do. It is, after all, the most effective form of advertising (and a form of brand awareness – albeit less controlled).

    A lot of shops, however, don’t have the luxury of relying solely on a reputation – as they may be new to their respective areas. For these shops, implementing a brand-awareness campaign may be a necessity. Whether they choose to go the guerilla or mainstream approach is up to them (and their budgets).

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