Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2000   by Jim Anderton

Before you go on-line, consider ink and paper

If you're a successful small business owner/operator, the value of advertising isn't a new concept. Unfortunately, programs done without planning can be under performing and expensive. While that's al...

If you’re a successful small business owner/operator, the value of advertising isn’t a new concept. Unfortunately, programs done without planning can be under performing and expensive. While that’s also not news to most owner/operators, the good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

I picked up a good example of low cost, effective advertising recently at AML Auto Service in Toronto’s Leaside neighborhood. The president of AML, Art French, is soft-spoken in a way that’s not commonly associated with the words “Toronto” and “business” but what AML does to get their message across struck me as simple as well as effective.

Art French keeps meticulous service histories on customer cars, and uses them to generate mail out service reminders. A quarterly newsletter teaches customers some simple automotive technology, and flags events, changes at AML, and updates the consumer about new legislation. French’s flyer program is another example of low-cost and high impact. The key to an effective flyer is to convey just enough information to generate consumer interest without driving the reader towards the recycling bin out of sheer boredom. Designing a successful flyer or handbill is surprisingly difficult. Most deliver their message with simple graphics or none at all, and are often printed modestly in two colours (“black and white”) or by photocopying. To work well, it has to be brief, to the point, but still give the consumer a reason to take the two minutes needed to read the content. If you’re convinced that your flyer is a masterpiece, think about how much time you spend on junk mail, and how much fun you have dealing with it.

The technique Art French uses in his sheet is simple and effective. The fan-folded eight and a half by eleven form presents the business name, an Ontario Drive Clean official logo (along with the legally required copyright notice) and the address of AML Auto Service. While that’s not unusual, two things make this one stand out: One is the emphasis on mainstream vehicles with the slogan “The family car specialists”, and the other is the tag line “Making Premium Automotive Service Affordable”. This neatly differentiates AML from the sports car shop down the street, and addresses the magic word: affordability. Two phone numbers, one of which is a toll-free 877 line, make AML easy to reach. Inside is a brief company history, a point-by-point summary of the reasons why a customer would want to choose AML, and some testimonials from local customers. The back of the form describes the range of services offered, the brands AML prefers to install, and a “buy three, get one free” oil change offer.

It may seem a little strange for a magazine editor to wax eloquent about a dealer handbill, but Art French’s sheet is an example of good advertising because it addresses the basic questions going through the consumer’s mind: Is the shop honest? Can they fix my car? Is the pricing reasonable? Do they install brands I know? Take a look at your print advertising programs and see if they answer those basic questions. If they do, you’ve probably seen good results at modest cost. If your flyers don’t answer those questions, rework them. Very little about running your business will be as cheap and effective.