Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2004   by John G. Smith

Identity Crisis?

Banner programs include tools that can expand your business - if you take advantage of them

Joe must have one helluva business. Those who want to entice independent garages into banner programs inevitably compare their members to “Joe’s Garage.” Joe has the art of marketing down pat. Everyone knows his name.

Many independent operations can’t say the same thing. Why, for example, does nobody ever mention Donovan’s Garage? Or Alanna’s? And what about Kwami’s? Perhaps that’s why those who promote banner programs tend to say that marketing assistance tops the list of services sought by new members.

After all, it can be the key to reaching some of the $2 billion in maintenance work that the Automotive Industries Association says goes unperformed every year, or attracting some of the scheduled maintenance that would otherwise go to the service bays run by automotive dealerships.

“The average consumers are more likely to recognize TechNet than Joe’s Garage,” suggests Richard Racette, national marketing manager for Carquest Canada. A restaurateur may flip burgers as well as McDonald’s, but the House that Ronald Built still has a decided edge over independent restaurants, he says. “In 2004, if you’re independent, you got to ask the question: ‘Can I afford to stay an independent garage. How long can I stay in business without any marketing program?'”

“They never needed a (recognized) brand any more than they need it today,” agrees Chris Thorne, national sales manager for NAPA Autopro. “If Joe’s Garage is going to compete against Honda or Nissan or Toyota, they need someone who’s out there telling the consumer there is a choice.”

It’s possible to market a garage at a local level, but high-end campaigns can be expensive. It would be difficult to match the awareness established by banners, he says. “They’re powerful brands that the consumer understands.”

Such recognition may be more important than ever. Automakers are working to entrench their dealerships as the preferred sites for scheduled service, says Pierre Desmarchais, Uni-Select’s national manager of development and installer programs. He cites General Motor’s latest advertising campaign, The Specialist, which stresses the quality of its technicians with a storyline that mimics The Apprentice reality TV show.

“It’s aiming directly at the kind of people and the kind of work that usually the consumer goes to an independent garage to have done.”

Consumers can see a banner as a stamp of approval, adds Gary Ritz of the Bumper to Bumper program. “It’s identifying them as a repair shop the consumer can trust …. It says the shop is competent enough to fix your vehicle.”

The warranty coverage offered through some banner programs can be another significant tool for attracting and keeping consumers, Thorne says. “You’ve got to really work at how you’re going to build that trust.”

Growing shops also tend to see a banner affiliation as the key to the evolution of their business.

The shops that explore banner programs already seem to have an edge over other independent competitors because they tend to keep up with the industry, Racette suggests. “The guy that’s not ethical, and the guy has no mission and has no plans, he’s not likely to be interested.”

Of course, the tools go beyond marketing initiatives.

Pre-formatted inspection lists, for example, will help ensure that potential repairs aren’t overlooked. When holding regional meetings in service bays, Ritz usually asks to see a car that is ready to be returned to a customer, and generally finds $500 to $2,000 in uncompleted repairs. “If you ask 10 different technicians to do the same kind of inspection on a car, you’ll end up with 10 different misses,” he says, stressing the need for such checklists.

Financing programs that include such things as private label credit cards also appear to be attractive to shops in Metropolitan areas and Central Canada, adds Marc Alary, marketing and product manager for Bestbuy Distributors’ Best Auto banner.

Branded warehouses can also be important, says Auto Sense. Such facilities offer quick access to a wide range of products and, perhaps most important, offer the opportunity to place smaller orders on multiple product lines instead of tying up dollars in inventory.

But sometimes shops don’t take advantage of the full list of services available to them.

“They sign up with the best intentions at heart, and as time moves along, they don’t use the program to the full advantage,” says Alary. “They sign up with usually something specific in mind… it could be pricing structures, it could be group benefits, it could be rates on credit cards, it could be a national supply agreement.”

Training programs can be particularly under-utilized, Ritz says as an example. “We generally get a good turnout at any seminar, but we’re still not reaching enough.”

While AutoValue will cover the cost of training at Federal Mogul’s facility in St. Louis, members have yet to take advantage of the program, says the banner’s Bob Bobert. “But if you offer a training course to the guy, he goes to the course and comes back with one good idea that he implements … he will reap the benefits.”

And shops need to be careful to ensure that every level of employee takes advantage of training efforts, adds Thorne. “It’s more than just the owner. It could be the service advisor on the counter.

“The biggest mistake that can ever happen when you join a banner program is you underutilize the benefits.”

Still, banners are not magical solutions – they simply offer shop owners with better tools to run their businesses.

Some shops have a misconception that their affiliation with a banner will automatically mean additional business, and that “money will fall down this sign,” Desmarchais says. “The tools will never be better than the user.”

“I don’t think the banner program is for every service station in the area,” adds Bobert. “If all you’re looking at is credit card rates, become a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“It needs to be a business relationship. It needs to be a partnership with the jobber. It can’t be just a one-way flow.”


Auto SenseAutoValueCARQUESTNAPA Inc.BESTBUYUni-Select Inc.Bumper to
Auto PartsCertified ServiceCANADA LTD.AutoproDistributorsThe SpecialistBumper
Auto LogicCenter/ProfessionalAutoPLACEMechanicalLtd.Unipro1 Stop
Service ExpertRepair NetworkBEST AUTOService/ASC
CONTACTS:Kevin Patterson
Bob Bobert
Michel Rondeau
Christopher Thorne
Karen Barkin
Pierre Desmarchais
Uni-Select Inc
Glenn Crewe
Bumper to Bumper
Number of members225103300675315597180
National identity programYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Provides performance dataNONOYESYESNONOYES
Bank card transaction discountYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Troubleshooting hotlineNOYESYESYESNOYESYES
Exclusive equipment leasingYESYESYESYESYESYESYES
Members’ advisory councilYESYESYESYESYESYESYES

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