The motor trade is one that is dominated by small firms. Almost 99 per cent of companies operating in the UK’s automotive industry are SMEs, whether they’re independent garages, franchised car dealers, or even smaller manufacturers who produce vehicles and their components. But with so many businesses comes a lot of competition, and it can be hard for a small operation to make itself stand out from the crowd.
Particularly in recent lean years, parts of the motor industry have suffered as people put off changing tyres, servicing vehicles, or trading in cars until it’s absolutely necessary. But things are looking up, with July qualifying as the 28th month in a row that car sales have grown, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Many of these sales are made through smaller operators, and it is likely to be SMEs, too, that will get the job of repairing new cars and vans further down the line.
In the busy automotive space, good customer service is everything. The best enterprises rely on positive word of mouth, and are keen to spread knowledge of their happy customers, as well as their top mechanical and business skills. This also sets them apart from the rogue operators who can dent public trust, as the National Franchised Dealers Association recently pointed out when it recommended car servicing and repair businesses to be more transparent to counter the bad work done by unlicensed mechanics.
So, garages and car dealers must show themselves to be the best of the best in pursuit of business growth. And there are a number of imaginative ways that they can do so, though they must be careful not to forget to invest in their enterprise’s future, while also promoting their professional skills and services.
Join a network
Consumers often look for independent confirmation that a business is best in class, so more small vehicle repairs and sales businesses are opting to join bodies that endorse them as recognised and trusted service providers. Motor Codes is a Government-backed voluntary network that boasts more than 8,000 garages as members. It runs a ‘Find a garage’ service via its website, and awards a Garage of the Year prize for the business that offers the best customer service. Trust My Garage is another trade association with membership of more than 2,300 local SMEs across the UK. Businesses in the scheme must also be part of the Independent Garage Association, and make a pledge to provide customers with fixed quotes that are inclusive of labour, VAT, and parts, as well as to work to consistently high standards.
Use social media
The motor industry is very traditional by nature, but garage owners shouldn’t be immune to the opportunities afforded by new technology, and social media can be a great way to bring in business. Maintaining a page on Facebook, using Twitter to stay in touch with customers, or posting instructional videos on Youtube are all potential methods of attracting new custom, and keeping existing clients happy. If you’re getting started on social media platforms, remember:
- Keep content fun and interesting. Everyone knows what a garage does, so don’t be too obvious. Think about related topics, such as traffic news, commuting tips, or even information about local events that may affect those behind the wheel.
- Make sure your social media feeds are up-to-date. Running a social media campaign takes time and it must be constantly refreshed to remain relevant. But it can be a great medium for selling cars and posting information about your latest offers. Have all the relevant information to hand in case you start to receive queries – social media users expect an immediate and accurate response.
- Posting how-to videos on maintaining a vehicle is an obvious win. Even simple things like how to check your oil may prove useful to someone looking for a tutorial online and he or she may then think to use your business in person later on.
- Get people involved. Encourage clients to tweet about your company if they’re happy with your work, or make a short video of satisfied customers’ comments to post on your website or social media channel.
- Use photography, taking pictures or video of your best work. You might also feature images of key members of staff and provide a bit of information about them online. A greater bond of trust is likely to develop between customers and a business if they feel that they know the people working on their behalf.
What makes you different?
With so many SMEs jostling for business in the automotive sector, it’s essential to tell people why they should use you over the competition. Think about what your operation does that’s unique and make that a selling point. One potentially huge market is female motorists, for example. Almost half of female drivers say that they they’d rather avoid visiting a garage where they believe they’re patronised, women’s car insurer Sheila’s Wheels says. Smart garage owners are turning this negative stereotype on its head, and marketing themselves as the female-friendly option. Caroline’s Cars in Norwich is a case in point, a garage founded by a woman and only employing female mechanics. It claims to be the UK’s only all-women garage business, but more firms are taking a similar approach and actively promoting that they have female members of staff – and happy women customers. Others are offering basic car maintenance courses to women. Whether it’s selling your business to the female market, targeting older customers with particular needs, or specialising in a specific brand of vehicle, identify and articulate why you’re the best auto business in your sphere.
Make sure you have the right funding
Finally, all of your marketing efforts will count for little if you’re not investing in your business for the future. Finance remains a big issue for SMEs in the motor industry, with small garages and dealers facing a particular struggle for capital to cover the expense of pricey tools and vehicle costs. Sadly, banks are less than keen to lend to an industry that they perceive as being risky. Last year, the Government announced an initiative with the Automotive Council to invest more than £1 billion in creating motor industry jobs and building a tooling finance framework for automotive businesses. And more firms in this sector are discovering alternative forms of finance such as short-term business loans that work with an enterprise’s cashflow. But too many businesses remain under-funded and their growth is restricted as a result. Firms with real ambition must get the right formula of investment, top-notch service, and successful marketing in order to race ahead and lead the field in the future.
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