8 Ways to Adjust Your Auto Repair Business Strategy for COVID-19
COVID-19 has already had a dramatic impact on how we live, including how shop owners do business. A few questions on the minds of shop owners right now are:
Are people still going to get their vehicles repaired?
How do I market my business with current precautions in mind?
What adjustments should I consider making to my business model?
What can I do to help?
Here are some strategies you can implement right now to prepare your shop to take on the challenges of COVID-19.
1. Monitor the Industry
If you’re wondering how the auto repair industry is doing, there’s a way to check in and see how Average Repair Order and Average Car Count have been affected since social distancing was recommended by the CDC on March 15th, 2020. Tekmetric has been keeping an eye on the industry with the Tekmetric Index 500 (TM-500), a tool that tracks auto repair shops in urban and rural areas across the United States and Canada.
Two weeks following the social distancing recommendations, the data showed that people are still getting their vehicles repaired. People are still driving to grocery stores, outdoor areas, and medical facilities either to work or to receive care. It’s also worth considering that some people, like ER teams and delivery drivers, are working double time right now. People also want to keep their vehicles in good shape, even if they are not using them, in case of an emergency. Automotive repair is an essential business and is still a much needed service while people take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
2. Use Best Health Practices
Please look into the protocols that apply to your city, county, state or any other governing body in your area to ensure that you can stay open and that you are following all recommendations and regulations. No matter what regulations are in your area, follow best practices of healthcare professionals and leaders in our industry to keep your shops safe and clean. Also make sure every team member’s household has a thermometer available and is taking their temperature once per day to establish a temperature history. Testing availability and protocols vary from state to state and locality to locality, so you should look those up as well, but tracking your temperature over time is a fairly universal standard to get a COVID-19 test, so thermometers are important.
3. Look Out for Your Team
Your team is an extremely important part of your business. When it comes to providing excellent service, you need them as much as they need you. Just like everyone else, they’re going through a lot. It’s important to see what everyone needs, check in with local support groups, start a relief fund if necessary, and be sure to check in with yourself, too.
For a quick guide on how to support your team during this time, check out our blog post Auto Repair Shops: How to Help Your Team During COVID-19.
4. Add Service Offerings: Commercial & Mobile Auto Repair
While most people are staying inside and only going out when necessary, there is still a large need for auto repair. However, two major trends are impacting the industry: people are wary to bring their cars in because of social distancing, and more service vehicles are in need of repair. This is a good time to ask yourself and leaders in your company what you can do to be prepared for these trends.
If your shop has the capabilities to work on commercial vehicles like delivery vans and cargo trucks, you may want to adjust your marketing efforts to make that known. If you are able to add these services, now’s a good time to do so. It’s worth noting that working on commercial vehicles may require contractual agreements. We encourage shop owners to network and learn what it may take to earn the business of companies that need commercial auto repair. Don’t be afraid to reach out to service providers, delivery companies, government bodies, and other organizations that rely on a well maintained fleet.
Because your usual guests are trying to stay at home, you can also consider coming to them. Mobile auto repair services were already becoming popular as a convenience before COVID-19, but now they’re going to be considered a preference for more people and a necessity for people who absolutely cannot risk being exposed to the virus. We understand that mobile auto repair requires some additional equipment like a van and mobile tools, but if you have access to any of these resources, it might be worth trying out a new solution. There’s never been a more important time to think outside the box about your auto repair business.
5. Give Back to Essential Service Workers & Plant Referral Seeds
As many shop owners know, referrals are key to acquiring new customers. The best way to get a referral is to be awesome and give back. Some shops are offering discounts on oil changes and other services for health care workers and first responders working on the front line. Other shops are giving discounts until Coronavirus ordinances are lifted, or are offering 10% to 20% off services for previously declined work. Remember to be vigilant to exceed expectations from the service side, even if it's only a few clients.
Now is an important time to help those who are putting themselves at risk to save lives and keep the country going:
Emergency response teams
Healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses
Food and beverage workers
Fuel station workers
Law enforcement and other public servants
A lot of these workers will be on the road more frequently than your traditional customers are. Next time somebody asks them where to take their vehicle, they’ll probably remember you for helping them out. It sends the message that you’re doing your part to help.
You may also want to put together a delivery service for senior citizens to get them things they need so that they don’t have to leave their homes and risk becoming infected.
6. Explore Your Network
Many networking events are still going on; the difference is that they’re moving online. Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts calls have become a vital way for people to continue connecting during a time when social distancing is key to stopping the virus.
Reach out to business owners and professionals you know across all industries. Start with the people who are most closely related to your auto repair shop, such as parts suppliers, software partners, marketing vendors, cleaning services, and other businesses you directly buy from or sell to. Then move on to engaging companies you are not currently connected to through cold calls and emails. Set up a meeting.
Now’s a good time to make partnerships with other local businesses so they can tell their customer base that you’re here to help and that you’re taking necessary precautions to do so safely. Explore ways to build out revenue streams or to enhance the efficiency of your shop and for their business, too.
Think of ways to co-promote. A lot of businesses are now offering curb-side pick-up. For example, if there’s a local bookstore near your shop offering curbside pick ups for books, you may be able to have them remind their customers that there is a safe, socially distant way to get their oil changed right around the corner. You can also contact local grocery stores to offer repairs for delivery driver vehicles at a discounted rate as mentioned in the previous tip.
7. Keep Guests in the Loop
Remind clients you can pick-up and drop-off as well as digitally send estimates, invoices, and payments. Also, be sure to remind past clients through phone calls, email blasts, and social media that you are open and ready to serve them. Call and confirm upcoming appointments on a daily basis to lower cancellations.
Since you aren’t able to market in person right now, this is a good time to test digital marketing such as text messages, email campaigns, online ads or social media as a way to inform customers of discounts and services. Let guests know that you’re open for business and taking necessary precautions to safely service their needs.
This is also a good time to build further authority in the industry by showing them ways to keep up their vehicles if they aren’t using them as much. Remind them that it’s still important to take care of their vehicles, check their oil and top it off, and run their cars every few days to keep their batteries charged.
These reminders may not immediately result in revenue for your shop, but they will keep you top of mind with your customer base and will also keep customers prepared in case of an emergency. You may also want to send your customers general updates about your area like what businesses are open, local ordinances, where to get tested, and what charities and non-profit groups are helping in your town.
8. Understand Changes in Small Business Loans
If you need a small business loan, the Small Business Administration may be worth a look. Based on recent legislation, loans may be available for companies like yours. While some restrictions apply, some rules have been loosened: interest rates are capped and companies will not have to provide all assets as collateral. In most cases, up to eight weeks of payroll can be covered without repayment. Keep in mind it still may take a couple of weeks, and loans may still come with interest or have certain restrictions that keep them from being eligible for forgiveness, so while this could be a good option, it’s important to make sure you understand all the details as you move through the process.
If you’re interested in applying for a disaster loan, you can read about the details and apply here: disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/
Please keep in mind this information was collected March 2020.