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Any ideas for improving business at a small car repair garage?

Just looking for some suggestions as to cheap advertising ideas, etc, anything a bit different that we would not have already thought of please?

Word of mouth is better than any advertisement that you can buy. My brother has a small vehicle repair shop and he has used “Word of Mouth” advertisement exclusively and has had a successful business for over 30 years. The last ad he ran was in 1983. Just ask your current customers to spread the word.

Several months ago, I posted a link to an article about a NJ repair facility that provided free car repairs to a disabled veteran who could not afford to make his vehicle road-worthy. Unfortunately, I can’t find that link at this time, but this idea might be worthwhile for the OP to consider because the positive publicity that this act of generosity generated for that repair facility was…amazing.

So, the OP might want to contact one of his local churches or social service organizations, and ask if they have an indigent parishioner or client who desperately needs car repairs, but is unable to afford to do so. Potentially, providing a few hundred $$ worth of parts and labor could result in a wealth of “good press”, in addition to helping out a down-and-out member of the community.

VDC: great idea!

This is another time when Google is your friend. Put ( attracting customers to your business ) in the search and you will find more articles than you have time to read.

Advertising can be expensive. The cheapest forms are print.

Word of mouth is the best…but it takes a while to establish that. I found that a good honest mechanic goes a long ways in establishing themselves.

I agree with everyone here that says that “word of Mouth” is the best advertisement.

I have a friend that relocated to a warmer climate and opened his new shop a little over a year ago.
Here are a few of the ideas that he had done.

  1. He ordered three sets of magnetic signs for his business. He put one set on his wife’s SUV…one on his truck, and the third set he split and put one on the back of each vehicle.
    Ha has gotten good results from this.

  2. He had some simple fliers printed up, and every time he went to a local store he would put one up and also take a little time and slip some under the wipers of some of the cars in the lot. Some results but not great.

  3. He had a nice…but simple sign made for the driveway. Hoping that more neighbors would notice…or at least think of him when they had car troubles. He has had good results from this, as many neighbors didn’t know he was even there. He got good results from this, but at times they take him away from the vehicle that he has already on the lift.

  4. He had some cards made up as a coupon for a free oil change and hands them them out to people as a “thank you”. The person that holds the door for him, helps him find the right parts at Home Depot, a good waitress etc. etc… He feels that if he can do one free oil change for the person, he then has the opportunity for them to meet him and he has the opportunity to also inspect the car and point out other repairs that they should consider. He is the type of guy that is easy for people to like and is good at explaining the problems that he see’s in their car. His shop is one where the customer just pulls up a stool at the bench and they watch and chat with him as he works…and the dog puts slobbered rocks in your lap, wanting you to throw it.
    He is hoping that these people will come back as repeat customers.

Just don’t hand out too many of those cards in one week, or you will be doing free work all the next week. And be sure the card says “Call for an appointment”.

There was a repair shop near me that made a deal with a local church. The church handed out cards for a free oil change to people that they knew were strapped financially ( the elderly, someone who lost the bread winner of the family) etc. The church paid for the oil and filter (at cost) and the shop did the labor for free.
The church started to call the shop to have work done on their own vehicles, or other major work that some church members needed done and the church paid the bill. These were not free labor jobs so he was able to make a profit off of these jobs. From what the owner told me it took some time, but once the rest of the congregation heard of his charity…more started calling him for repairs.


I really like VDC’s idea.

Word of mouth definitely. Advertise in neighborhood news bulletins, supermarket bill boards, activity in community associations.

All the shops I have patronised in the past have been referred to me by coworkers, friends, etc.

Some small shops in rural areas take an old, very small car, pull the engine, and crane the body up onto a high pole. It’s not a new idea by any means, but it attracts attention and certainly leaves and impression in people’s memories. You’ll want to check your local codes, however, before considering this.

All excellent advice. Of course I can never resist an opportunity for a lame joke. Parts less than cost. Labor free. Make up for it in volume.

Adding to lame joke list: The OP might increase volume if they worked on something besides small cars.

It’s a big country with a wide range of regional and local culture and any efforts to bring in business must consider the potential customer base. A large sign offering FREE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT DIAGNISIS and FREE TIRE PRESSURE TESTING would likely get some activity.

How well equipped is the shop? Are you ASE certified? Do you have professional diagnostic equipment and experience using it? Do you have a brake lathe? A shop press? Are you financially able to work for 6 months without any income? How much operating capital do you currently have? Do you have at least $100,000 in garage keepers liability insurance?

Years ago when I started my small shop it was after sitting at home stewing for a few weeks and deciding that I was NEVER, EVER, going to turn a wrench for a new car dealer again. That’s a story in itself.

Things were tight for the first 6 months. I specialized in import cars and had a large number of bright green business cards printed up. I carried around a pocket full of them all the time and never missed an opportunity to slide one under a windshield wiper.

Word of mouth eventually kept me busy to the point that I would go home at 5 (25 miles one way) and sometimes return in the evening to work on things where I preferred peace and quiet; e.g. engine and transmission internals or rebuilds.
Several used car dealers heard of me and after finding and repairing a couple of problems on the cheap which had been diagnosed as much worse by the leading shop in the area they sent me a lot of work. Some people even had their cars towed from a 100 miles away due to word of mouth.
After fixing the local university’s basketball coach’s BMW (minor and had been diagnosed as major by the same leading shop) a lot of faculty and students became customers.

I also gained a lot of work after doing a Nissan repair for less than 50 bucks which was originally thought to easily hit 3 grand. The guy told everyone within 50 miles.
I eventually branched off into auto detail (which I hate and don’t do…) and had someone doing that for me.
Thinking a problem out before blindly replacing something and honesty can go a long, long way.

Is it possible to partner your shop with one of the parts stores that you do the most business with ?
You know, like the many I’ve seen with a sign out front ‘‘We install quality ( NAPA/BIG A/Auto Zone) parts’’.
Threse parts stores may do a lot of free diagnoses BUT they do no actual work on vehicles.
So, so , very often the customer is left asking . . '‘well, uh, do you have sombody could install it for me ?’'
And YOU want your shop name to be the first one off the lips of the counter personel.

Without partnering with just one brand, maybe the parts stores would let you post your shop on a bulletin board or window.

( plus, a lot of these stores have repair shop loyalty discount programs, diag machines and tool loaner programs that really boost the indy shop by being partnered. )

Good ideas above. I’m presuming you do your job well enough that an existing customer usually returns when the next problem occurs. If that’s not happening, then you already know what you need to do: become a better mechanic. That starts with more training. Assuming that’s not the problem , and what you need are just more first time customers …

What forms a good first impression for me … hmmm …

  • Signage. Big signs referring to which makes of cars the shop specializes in servicing, saying that they have the latest diagnostic equipment for those cars (tech II scan tools, lab scopes, etc), and that their focus is on a quality repair done with due diligence and due speed. Some kind of grabber is a good idea for the sign too, like if you were selling pancakes you’d have a big sign that said “get 'em while they’re hot”. but a car equivalent of course.

  • Clean, clean, clean shop. Nothing turns me off as a potential customer than a cluttered, dirty shop. And a big shop. A cramped shop, misc car parts and stuff laying around, old dirty rags on the counters, oil spills on the floor, garbage on the floor and not placed in the garbage cans outside the shop, all that would make me look elsewhere. The floors should ideally appear so clean you could eat off of them.

  • The first time you have a chance to talk to a potential customer at length, as part of your selling method, tell them what you are good at, and why. And equally important, what you are not good at, and why; i.e. what services you don’t provide. For example if you don’t do body work, say so. Don’t do transmission rebuilds? Say so.

  • Likewise when explaining to a potential customer why they might consider to use you shop, tell them your basic business philosophy. For example, one thing I like to hear: If the shop tells me the repair is going to cost $750, then come hell or high water, that’s what it is going to cost. And if they say sometimes they can’t guarantee the price, because of unknowns they may come across, they’ll make that perfectly clear at the time.

Clean appearance, clean restroom, uncluttered work area. Free hats for customers and auto repair magazines in the waiting area. Then when you attract customers they will come back for future work.

“Some small shops in rural areas take an old, very small car, pull the engine, and crane the body up onto a high pole.”

There is a small town in Kentucky that has a red Model A Ford on the roof of a building right at the edge of town. I have always wanted to go up on the roof and take a look at that car since I was a small child. I actually walked into that building and asked if I could go up on that roof about 40 years ago and was refused. The lady there (it used to be a used car business but went from mobile homes to an insurance agency) said the roof was sealed off many years ago and the request would be impossible. If they ever tear the building down…I might have my chance to lay hands on that car. That or rent a helicopter and take a very brave ride on a swaying cable in the air.

There’s a truck repair and accessory sales store on the interstate about 20 miles from where I live.
Their gimmick is a semi and trailer standing on end pointing to the heavens.

Missileman, you need to stay on top of the car on the roof. At some point that could be a golden opportunity to snag something on the cheap.

Many years ago a government building in Washington D.C. was obsolete and bulldozed down.
There was a number of military Harleys (Sportsters, not the old hokey HD 45 stories…) inside the building. They were all crushed and hauled off with the concrete to be used as fill somewhere I guess.

anything a bit different that we would not have already thought of please?

Unfortunately, we have no idea just how creative you are. When asking for free advice, it helps to invest a bit of your time to make it seem worthwhile for people to take the time to respond. There’s nothing worse than taking time to write something up and have the OP respond with; Oh, we already tried that… one of the primary reasons I stopped investing too much time in composing detailed responses to questions here. If the OP can’t be bothered to invest a bit of time in their problem, neither can I…

That being said, here’s going out on a limb and suggesting you offer a discount for referrals. Someone comes in and says so and so recommended you- they get a 5% discount as a new customer and the person doing the referring gets a 10% discount on their next service…