Articles related to PDR sales techniques and associated advertising approaches.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions on retail marketing for PDR lately. Most of this interest seems to be coming from long time techs. With the economy hitting dealerships hard in most areas, retail PDR is starting to get the attention it deserves. We will be doing a series here on effective sales and marketing techniques. But as always we need to start with the basics. Most of the time PDR sells itself to retail customers. But you will need at least moderate marketing and sales skills to sell to insurance agents, body shops, office parks, etc. Here is a list of sales basics as they relate to PDR.
#1 How to deal with Rejection. NEVER take it personally! Taking rejection personally can be the beginning of the end for any retail business. Unless you make sales with holes in your pants and a runny nose (don’t laugh I saw a PDR tech do this), they probably aren’t rejecting you. We all have off days and your potential customer may be having one as well. Also, the customer may not have the money or need your services at that time. If you present yourself well, a customer rarely says no because of you. All this is very important to keep in mind, because the temptation after getting told no a few times is to take it personally. Then your confidence goes quickly, and your lack of confidence will be noticed by most customers. Learn from these rejections, and refine your sales approach. Many times todays rejection is next months sale. Follow up in a month or two, unless you know it is a lost cause.
You may even find your customers will help you refine your sales approach. You should always try and “scratch where the customer itches”. If you find yourself loosing too many sales, chances are your customers will tell you where you lost it if you ask them. Many sales are not lost on price issues, but on the customers “gut feeling” that they don’t trust you, or your abilities. Listen to their feedback no matter how it may bother or even hurt you. If you keep getting the same negative feedback, you need to change your approach whether you think you do or not! Getting the customers trust is the hard part, because they have been screwed over so many times as we all have. Once you have their trust, the sale is easy
Many times there is a power play or control issue going on with people, especially those in most automotive related businesses. They feel they need to control the situation or they will get screwed. Never argue or get impatient with them. Let them know that you understand that it is of course their choice whether to use you or not, and ask if there would be a better time for them to talk about your service. This will usually diffuse a “who is in control” situation. With many of these people you need to realize it’s not you, it’s the world they’re mad at.
#2 Exude confidence but NOT arrogance. Assuming you are at the skill level needed for this, go in confident of your skill level and let it show a little. However, many techs make the mistake of being arrogant without even realizing it until their wife or another female points this out to them. Most women have a real knack of recognizing subtleties like this that will go right past most men. Run your sales material and sales approach past a few women and ask them what impression you are giving.
#3 Always be honest with clients. If you make a mistake, don’t let the customer find it, you need to tell him yourself. This is always embarrassing, but you will usually find people are so surprised at your honesty and willingness to make it right that they will want to use you again because they know they can trust you now. Never raise your agreed on price, even if you have to eat it a little. If your not confident you can do the job tell them it is beyond your present ability or that it can’t be done with PDR. That old saying “always under promise and over deliver” always holds true especially in PDR. When a job goes bad, don’t panic. Explain to the customer that the dent had more damaged than you thought, and you could not get it out all the way. Of course you don’t want to charge for the work in these situations. Most customers will be grateful that you tried.
#4 Eliminate objections to using your service before they happen. Dings and small dents are not a necessity for most customers, it is only a vanity and convenience issue for them. You MUST make the service you offer very easy for the customer to use. If you don’t take credit cards, do so. This will eliminate many payment issue problems, and they are a great up-selling tool. Try and offer mobile service. Many potential customers don’t have the time to bring the vehicle to you. Do your best to accommodate their schedule within reason. Always try and give the customer at least an hours notice before you will arrive. Call the night before to confirm the appointment.
#5 Don’t give free mobile estimates. In most cases these are huge time wasters. If a job sounds promising, tell a customer you may be able look at it when you are in the area next. Or they can bring it to you for a free estimate. Taking digital photos and e-mailing them to you is another way of giving estimates. Make sure to tell the customer to take the pictures at an angle and from a distance around 10 feet, and from two different 180 degree angles.
#6 Have the name of a couple good mobile painters / body shops to give to customers that need it. It is good customer service, and a good way of getting a referral network going with the other businesses. It also may come in handy if you damage the paint on a customers car and need help in a hurry.
#7 Try and get along with as many dent techs in your area as possible. The competition among PDR techs in the same location is of course pretty fierce. But you should be able to find at least a couple other quality minded techs that you can get along with in your area. When you are swamped with work and need help, there is nothing like another trusted tech in your area to help you out. It makes taking vacations easier also if you can refer calls to them.
#8 If you haven’t named your business yet, consider using a name with Dent as the first word. There are many reasons why large dent companies have dent as the first word in their names and they are all about marketing and name recognition. As an example, many people find services in the white pages listings instead of the yellow pages. This is especially true for PDR since there is no PDR listing in yellow pages. PDR advertisers get dumped in the auto body section. A customer looking for PDR services will usually look for DENT in the white pages and if your name doesn’t start with dent they won’t find you. The white page listing is free, and a bold listing in the white pages is very cheap and should get you at least a few calls a month.
#9 Have fun. You should enjoy doing retail PDR. Customers will pick up on your attitude quickly, and a person that enjoys their work will always make a positive impression. One of the great things about retail is the mindset you develop from all the compliments you get. A VERY welcome change from wholesale work! Let the customer know how much you appreciate the kind words, and that it was a pleasure serving them…even if it wasn’t.
Next time we will continue with part two of Sales basics for PDR.
Let's continue now with our series on retail sales basics. In the future we will go into greater detail on most of the points covered in these basic articles, but as always we need a firm foundation to build on.
# 10 When you are at high visibility locations such as office parks, put on a show. Invite people to watch, and ask questions. Have plenty of general sales brochures handy. On a hot day, have some cold drinks in a cooler ready to pass out. Many times a good trip to a location like this will get you enough future work for a few days. With persistence, you should eventually become that locations dent guy. Schedule your day light when you have an office park. Let the customer know that since you will be in the area you can give better pricing to him and others if he can let his co-workers know you will be there and they decide to get any work done. If you plan it right, you will get a few other jobs from the one you have scheduled. If you get too many to handle for that day get them scheduled right then for you first opening in that area.
In these types of locations, try and show up around Noon when the lunch traffic is heavy. This will bring the maximum amount of potential customers to you. Early mornings don't work at all for traffic, and neither does quitting time. Try and park your work vehicle to so you get maximum visibility from the building. Do everything you can to attract attention to yourself. Large umbrellas or a canopy with the company name works well in addition to your lettered truck.
Also try and make connections as soon as possible with people like building supervisors or heads of departments that deal with people inside the building like benefit coordinators, or anyone that contributes to an office park internal newsletter. Since soliciting is prohibited in most office parks, these types of internal contacts can do a lot to get your name out among the people there. A mention in the internal newsletter, cards or flyers on the building bulletin board, etc, can also help. Have a post card sized advertisement ready in case a full size flyer is too big for their bulletin board but they will allow something bigger than a business card. You will find many times when this will be the case so investing in this size brochure will pay off.
#11 Work vehicle. Your work vehicle says a lot about your business. It should be fairly new, always clean, and have more than enough room for all your tools and related equipment. It should also be a dedicated work vehicle and not one you use for regular family transportation. Working out of a family vehicle is usually a turn off to a professional customer. Colors are a matter of personal choice, but should be chosen based on the market you are going after. A gaudy color for instance might attract a younger market, but would not be right for most customers over 40 with high end cars. Keep in mind that white has several advantages. It makes a great background for lettering. It is a low maintenance color, and goes with just about any other color or lettering theme.
Vehicles should be lettered or wrapped based on the market you are going after. A wild vehicle wrap might look great to you but may turn off a more conservative market base with expensive vehicles. Resist the temptation to put too much information on your vehicle. Sticking to the basics with a professional lettering or wrap job will attract a good cross-section of the market. Personally I prefer a good lettering job over a wrap, because it is much cheaper and more durable. It’s also much easier to fix when you get the inevitable scratch. Never use magnetic signs for your business. It tells customers that you are not stable and are a part time business. Many marketing studies all agree on this point.
#12 Get mobile business insurance from a reputable insurance company. If you can't afford business insurance, you can't afford to be in business. It's just that simple. There are so many ways to get sued today that it’s foolish to take a chance and risk everything you own. You can take every precaution in the world. But all it takes is something unexpected to happen and you can loose it all.
#13 Treat female customers as well or better than males. Most women stay away from anyone associated with car repairs because they have all had the experience of feeling, or being treated as if they were stupid. It has always amazed me how little effort PDR techs put into this market. The 30 to 55 year old professional female market is HUGE and will almost certainly keep growing. In many areas they are now over 50% of the professional consumer market. You must tap into this market correctly. Your personal appearance is much more important to them than it would be to a male customer. Ask lots of women what they think about the way you dress for business and don’t get offended when they give you honest opinions. Your business name is also important. Names like Dent Terminator, Dent Man, Dent Sniper, Dent Stud etc, won't register as well with most women, so pick a gender neutral name whenever possible. Now this next point should be common sense but in my experience it isn’t. Never treat a female customer as a sex object. Guys I’m telling you straight out, almost all women have a built in radar and they KNOW when they are being treated like eye candy, even when you think you are hiding it! Look all women straight in the eye and treat them as courteously as you would treat a man.
#14 When possible always invite the customer to watch you work and ask questions. This is particularly important with female customers. A customer that feels they understand the process will be a much better sales person for you than one who just pays the bill. Remember the job is never done until the customer becomes a sales person for you. Sometimes this isn't possible, but always aim for it. When the customer wants to tell their friends about you, you did everything right. There is no advertising like word of mouth! Also, talk with the customer and show some interest in them as you work. I've met hundreds of very interesting people and made great friends doing this.
#15 If you find yourself attracting certain types of customers that you would rather do without, ask yourself if you are doing anything to attract these kinds of customers. You will attract the kinds of people you market to. A good example of this is marketing with coupons. Customers attracted by coupons tend to be on the cheap side, and picky at the same time, a bad combination for PDR. Market in ways that will attract the kinds of customers you want. Always ask question like:
Where do the customers I want to attract gather or socialize?
Where do they do business?
What kinds of occupations do they have?
Where other services do people use that care about either their own, or other peoples appearance?
What are their hobbies?
What do they do with their free time?
Start thinking the way the market you want to attract thinks and you will go a long way in understanding how to specifically market to them.
Next time we will finish the basic techniques part of our marketing series and then start concentrating on specific marketing strategies for each of the sections we have talked about.
We’re going to wrap up our basics of retail sales series with this article. The next series of articles will be on in depth marketing strategies for specific markets.
# 21 How about a website? If your serious about going after retail, this is not an option any more, this is a must. I have a hard time understanding why so many techs that want a retail PDR business still don’t see the necessity of a website. Several marketing studies have shown the majority of professionals, (both men and women) and almost every other market group find most of their appearance related services on the internet. Even the senior citizens group are abandoning the yellow pages in favor of the web.
When looking for a web designer use one that will get it done in Joomla or other CMS editor that allows you to make changes easily instead of having to get your webmaster to do it. I prefer Joomla because it’s so easy to use for the novice. Changing things like pricing, service areas, adding before and after pics, going on vacation dates etc, can be changed in minutes. This pays off big time especially in the first year when you are fine tuning your website. I don’t know a single tech that has ever got their website the way they wanted it without dozens of changes in the first few months alone. After the first year you should have it wired. Many techs shop the cheapest web site designers to get their work done. This is almost always a mistake. A good webmaster is worth their weight in gold and can do many things to optimize your site that a bargain web designer will not do. Also, you will have lots of trouble getting most bargain webmasters to change the dozens of things you never thought of once you see how your site performs for you in real life.
Another common mistake techs make is structuring their website to attract only a certain market group. For example having a website that would appeal to a young customer base with flashy graphics and music will make many professionals or high end vehicle owners go elsewhere immediately. The most important thing to these customers is not wasting their time. With this group the home page should be read in 30 seconds or less. Also try and stay as gender neutral as you can as far as web site design goes. A site that is too masculine will not get you the professional women age 30-55 that you should be going for. Ask several women who are in the market group you are after what they think of your website and take what they tell you seriously. In the next article, we will be discussing website structure for retail in more detail.
#22 Think out of the box Be where other PDR techs are not. I get into trouble with other techs for saying this sometimes but I firmly believe that there are lots of untapped markets for PDR out there. Of course the easy ones might be gone, but that’s also where the most competition is. If you market to customers that care about their personal appearance or social status they usually gather in similar social groups, and use other like services. Example of this would be Beauty and Hair Salons, Country Clubs, appearance oriented Hobby clubs, local sport clubs like Tennis, Golf, Theatre and Ballet groups. Remember, people that care about their personal appearance also care about their cars appearance. Marketing to places like this can generate a surprising amount of work.
Churches are another example of out of the box marketing, Larger Churches in particular can be a great source of work and many referrals afterwards. Kids are always opening up doors into vehicles next to them and it's hard to deny your kid did it at a church parking lot...too many witnesses LOL. When you sell PDR to churches, market to the larger mega churches first. Don't approach the senior pastor or minister at a large church. They are far too busy. Try the parking lot attendants first, then associate and youth pastors.
Still another of many examples are Valet services, fine restaurants, social clubs, sports clubs, weddings coordinators, etc, frequently use valet services to park their customer's vehicles. Getting these accounts can be very lucrative, but look for the accounts that care about quality work. Some valet services go with the best price. However many of these services are getting tired of sending the cars to the body shop after shoddy PDR has been done on them. Some Valet services have lost accounts because of customer complaints about bad PDR to the businesses that hires these services. Explain that your prices may be higher than the competition, but so is your quality, and you will satisfy the customer or you will not charge them. There is good money doing PDR for Valet services, and lots of referrals also.
#23 Diversify It definitely will take a lot more work initially to go after specialty retail markets. Even with the needed sales skills, personality, and drive, you can expect many dead ends your first year. But the upside is a much more bullet proof business because you are diversified. This is especially important in a bad economy. There is always a group of professionals that are doing well in any economy. If you are already marketing to them you’re set to sell. As an example, a few years ago real estate was booming and marketing PDR to agents was very profitable because they really care about their vehicles appearance. Of course this isn’t so today. But there are other groups like stock brokers and some financial service that are doing very well in this economy. So you don’t want to market to just one or two groups of professionals. Hit every professional market often, even if they are doing poorly at present and at least let them know you are there ready to serve them. One thing I always do is talk to the sales managers at different high end dealerships and ask them what groups of people they are still selling cars to. These dealerships do their marketing surveys well in advance in poor economies and are already adapting their sales strategies. They can give you very valuable information as to what areas to concentrate in.
#24 NEVER drop a potential market from consideration because another tech in your area couldn’t make it work. It’s amazing how many techs go after retail and specialty markets like they do wholesale. Experienced techs tend to be a bit impatient and forget the customer probably has no idea what the tech is doing. A simple one minute explanation along with inviting the customer to watch you goes a long way to having a customer for life along with their referrals. In retail, many times it’s just a simple matter of personality. Lets face it, there are a lot of abrasive and / or undependable PDR techs out there. With many people this is enough to prevent them from ever using a tech again. That same tech will complain that most retail customers are idiots not realizing it really is him. These days just showing up on time and doing what you said you would do will be impressive. Like we mentioned in a previous article, the job isn’t done until you are reasonably sure the customer will also be a sales person for you. So never drop a market until YOU have personally tried it and know it will not work out. I personally know of several techs, some with little experience that are doing very well in specialty PDR markets that most experienced techs would not consider.
#25 Retail marketing in rural locations is tough. PDR is best sold to customers in major cities with a good industrial, manufacturing, or technology base. If you will be doing PDR in a rural area, and there are no major cities within easy driving distance, you may have to do mostly large dent repairs. Most rural areas don't care about smaller dents, they can live with them. You may have to really think out of the box to make a living at retail PDR in rural areas. If you are thinking about getting into PDR and you live in a rural area you should definitely do your homework before committing to this trade.
#26 Get Started now! It generally takes between 3 to 5 years to build a solid retail base so that no advertising is needed. Many techs are starting to see retail fill up in some areas of the country as PDR wholesale gets crowded. The techs that are doing retail now will be in good shape. If you wait until wholesale and hail is too crowded to start, then you are competing with a larger tech base as these techs try to get into retail also. Keep in mind also that it doesn’t have to be all retail. Start small and knock off less profitable accounts as retail gets better. Remember, retail customers are very loyal; Once they find a good service provider they stay with them. I know it takes a lot more effort to get a retail business going, but that old story about not putting all your eggs into one basket is so true, especially in a bad economy.
Next time we will start discussing specific PDR markets and how to go after them!
We will now continue our series on retail sales basics. In future articles we will go into more detail on each of these points offering more detailed advice on this important subject.
#16 Always ask the customer where they found you. This is one of the most important things you can do from a marketing / sales perspective. You don’t want to bombard the customer with too many questions when they initially call you though. Just finding out if the dent can be repaired by PDR usually takes a few questions by itself. If the job sounds fixable, and they schedule an appointment, don’t ask them this question until you meet the customer. Try to work it into the conversation instead of asking right at the beginning. If the job doesn’t sound fixable you should still ask the person where they heard about you. You need to keep track of ALL contacts both sales and no sales. If for example you get mostly train wreck calls from your add in the Yellow Pages, you may want to re-think continuing to advertise with them. Always write down the customers response on a tracking sheet. At the end of the month, add up the responses and note where you got the best and worst responses. By the end of the first year, you should have a complete picture of how to adjust your advertising efforts and budget.
#17 Warranty Cards. In my opinion, warranty cards are the best way to keep your business name and contact information in front of your customers when they need your services again, or want to refer you work. It is a proven fact that most people loose business cards within 1 week of the service being performed. It is also a proven fact that most people hang on to warranty cards and put them in a place where they can find them later. I suggest the glove box of the vehicle, and try and get the customer to put it there or let them see you put it there. Make sure the customer reads and signs it. This will help to imprint the card on the customers memory.
These days, people expect warranties, and it's a great way of putting your business above the competition. Most dent companies put disclaimers on their invoices about not being responsible for damaged or cracked paint. If your doing retail you should be at the level where cracking paint problems are a thing of the past. So if a customer tells you that another PDR company will do it cheaper than you, ask them if that company will guarantee your paint in the damaged area, and will give them a lifetime, transferable warranty on their work covering paint problems in writing? They won't. The odds for any paint problems are almost non existent if you’re a decent tech, but most customers don't know that. I have never had any claims yet from the warranty card I use, but I have lost count of the jobs it has brought me.
#18 Business Cards and Brochures. Use desk top publishing for business cards and brochures for the first 6-12 months you are in business so you can change your info and layout as you need to. These cards and brochures look just like the heavy weight gloss stock materials you get from a printer. Very seldom does a tech feel comfortable with their original printed design on advertising material for very long, and doing them yourself on your computer allows you to make as many changes as often as you want. Once you have your layout nailed down and have seen many positive responses to them from customers, you are ready to have them printed and save some money.
Business cards should be designed to attract the market you are going for. For instance if you want to target professionals, keep the design and info on the card basic. A card with too much info and too gaudy a design is a definite turn off to this market. Brochures should be short and sweet. If they can’t be read in 30 seconds or less they are likely to get thrown out.
For the general public you can use a more flashy card if you wish, but again keep it towards the simple side and avoid cramming it full of slogans etc. Numerous marketing studies have shown that flashy business cards appeal to a younger market but don’t appeal to most others groups.
# 19 What to do when you get customers that find another PDR company that will work cheap, The first thing you do is to NEVER knock the competition! This is always a sign of instability and weakness. Trying to explain the differences between a good and poor quality PDR repair will only get you so far. The best way to sell these customers is with a visual aid, because most people can’t visualize a poor quality repair. Here’s something I’ve been doing for years that works most of the time to give a customer something to see instead of a description of a bad repair. Put two dents in a scrap hood and take one out 100% and the other one to the typical quality that most techs do, which is leave the dent a bit low and wavy. Cut these two sections out of the hood about 6 “ square around the dent. Put door edge moulding around both pieces to prevent cuts. Now when a customer starts talking about low prices, take both panels and put them straight in front of the customer. Explain that each of these panels had a dent that was repaired and ask if they see a difference. They will say no. Now walk a few feet away from the customer and tilt both panels so they are at an angle like they would see walking up to their car. Ask if they can see the difference now. They should be able to clearly see the ghost of the dent still there in the poorly repair panel. Now explain that the dent they can still see is by many techs standards a good repair because no paint was cracked it was just left low and a bit wavy. But notice that the properly repaired dent is gone even from an angle. Ask the customer if they want to still see the dent every time they walk up to their car? Tell them to make sure the other company will make it look good from the side. This works about 3 out of 4 times because the customer now sees what the difference between a good and poor quality PDR repair is. If they do go back to the competition and ask this question they get the “well this process can’t really take them out perfectly” line. It is surprising how many of them will then come back to you after now knowing what a good repair looks like.
#20 Drilling in retail This should of course only be done when needed. Selling a customer on drilling a job when necessary is easy if you do it right. Never just tell a customer you need to drill his vehicle. They have no idea what you mean and it will make them uncomfortable. Most people assume you want to put a hole in the dent to remove it. As is so often the case, you must give them something visual to look at. Take a plug and put it next to the spot you want to drill and say something like "I will need to put a small access hole here for my tools and this is how it will look when it is done." The customer sees the plug next to the area and has a visual idea of how it will look when done and will usually go for it. If the customer still feels uncomfortable about drilling when drilling is needed, tell him the only other option is to possibly take panels apart and / or work a lot harder to get the dent out which of course will cost a lot more. This will usually convince them to let you drill. The only real exceptions are car club people, or high end vehicle owners. Sometimes they have no problem having things taken apart if it means not drilling their "baby".
One note of caution here. If the customer is having you remove the dents because he is selling or trading it and it is a vehicle that would qualify as a certified used vehicle be careful. If the hole is seen by the appraiser, that hole may disqualify the vehicle from being able to be sold as certified used because in many cases it will technically void the vehicles corrosion warranty. If the customer gets penalized thousands of dollars for a hole you drilled, he is probably coming after you legally even if you get his consent to drill in writing. He may claim you did not explain that it would void his corrosion warranty.
Next time we should be finished with the basics of sales and marketing and start going into specifics of different PDR markets.