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Making the Switch

It’s no secret that transmission repair shop owners have faced a challenging market in recent years. Thanks to better-made cars, transmissions are lasting longer. In addition, easy financing options presented by auto manufacturers has led some drivers to buy a new car rather than spend money fixing a failing transmission in an older vehicle. The once steady flow of requests from dealerships and general auto repair centers to rebuild their customers’ transmissions also has slowed to a trickle, as more consumers are simply opting to buy new transmissions or use a re-manufactured transmission.

In response, some transmission shop owners have decided to expand their services to include general auto repair. Converting from a specialty shop to a full-service repair center can be tricky. I’ve seen some shop owners make the transition smoothly, while others have struggled to gain any traction for their new services.

Here are some tips for those of you considering broadening your reach to better compete in a rapidly changing market.

Decide who you want to be: You must establish an identity in order to more effectively market your shop. Are you going to dip your toe in the water and simply add oil changes to your repertoire or are you going to be a full-service shop? And you have to think beyond what type of services you plan to provide. Consider the benefits you’ll offer. Will you offer warranties on your repairs? Will you provide a shuttle for convenience?  What’s your labor rate? Figuring out the answers to these questions will help guide your newly expanded business.

Build your resources: Your technicians might be great at repairing or even rebuilding transmissions, but are they also skilled at replacing brake pads or addressing a problem with a car’s electrical system? If you are going to offer a broader array of services, you must have the staff on hand to handle everything your shop sells. Having customer service-focused front counter personnel and managers is also key, particularly if your shop had previously obtained most business from other shops rather than general consumers. If your staff is accustomed to dealing only with industry insiders, they may not be able to explain repairs in laymen’s terms to new customers. Hiring employees with retail experience or providing additional training might be in order. You’ll also need to increase your parts and supply inventory to support a wider range of repairs.   

Spread the word:  The first step is to re-brand your shop, so your regular customers know that you’ve expanded your offerings. While the name of your business certainly carries some recognition in your market, your expanded brand should include something that speaks to general auto repair. Make sure your signage, brochures and other marketing materials incorporate that expanded title. Even if you can’t afford to replace your outdoor signage, make sure you at least have a banner inside that references more than just transmission repair.

I also recommend using direct mail to raise awareness. The offers you send need to attract customers while also educating them about the services you provide. To accomplish those goals, I suggest using three calls to action: One advertising a discounted oil change or similar maintenance service that consumers need on a regular basis; Another providing a certain percentage off of services (Offering $10 off any service rather than providing $25 off services of $100 or more might be a more effective approach); And one promoting a specific repair, such as brake replacement.

Once you’ve settled on your offers, advertise them consistently. You have to market every month, because your customers will likely visit just once or twice a year and you never know which month they might need you. Remember, it usually takes six impressions to fully realize the benefits of a direct mail campaign.



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