Don’t let your business be disrupted – charge the right prices and grow your auto repair business.

Technology is disrupting (even destroying) so many industry sectors, it is becoming something that is very hard to ignore these days.

Now the aggregate websites are attempting to do the very same to the garage industry.

The only way out of potential future problems is to take control and do something about it.

And one solid solution is how you differentiate your business.

Differentiate or Die is a book by Jack Trout which was first published in 2000 – but it’s subject matter has never been more poignant – a recommended read.

Differentiation is not a problem unique to the automotive garage trade, it’s endemic amongst most small businesses. If you can’t show how you are different, people can only judge you on price, whether they want to or not – and you become a commodity purchase.

The majority of small businesses are started by people who are good at something in particular, who want to work for themselves or run their own business. And if this was the only thing that was important, being in business would be easy and there would be a lot more success stories out there.

Unfortunately, there is more to business than just doing what you do or being good at something, especially when there are many others doing exactly the same as you.

Location is important, as are good prices, quality and service. But these are ‘hygiene’ factors that are expected by customers. If you can’t meet these base-level, minimum requirements, then you really shouldn’t be in business. And as competition increases and these virtues get pushed down the ladder of importance in decision making, it further exposes that being good at something and satisfying this minimum criterion cannot guarantee long term success.

But here’s the thing about price – an interesting point came from surveys we did with the ‘ideal customers’ of some of our clients. When we asked them how important price was, an overwhelming majority stated it was not their number one criteria of decision making.

Sure it was important, but value was judged in other ways too. We also established that rarely ‘what the garages did’ was as important as you might think. In fact this was rarely mentioned at all, proving again that it’s not about what you do.

So this begs the questions, if customers aren’t making decisions based on price or what you do, one – why do all garages seem to promote themselves with adverts just listing their services, with no differentiation whatsoever from any other garage down the road, then expect customers to beat a path to their door? And two, why are many lowering their prices below what makes economic sense in order to attract business?

As we’ve already realised, relying on price and what you do cannot work in the long term and will only result in trapping you in the commodity purchase market, the results of which will be a continuum of low-level work at low-level prices, with less than ideal customers – frustration all round.

How to get out of the commodity market

Some will be happy to carry out business at this level and that’s fine. But there are a great many businesses out there that do aspire to more, certainly many of the family run businesses that need to build and maintain for future generations who stand to take over the reins. And then there are those that really do just deserve better.

So how can you guard against being judged on price, attracting the wrong sort of work and start to build a business that’s on a firmer footing for the future?

First of all, know what work you want to be doing more of. It’s easy to go from day to day just doing what comes in, but in order to do more of what you want to do, you have to first of all decide what that is. This will help you focus on attracting the work you want. For example do you want to specialise, are 4x4s your thing, or are classics your passion? I’m not saying you have to specialise, but it’s your business and you stand a better chance of making a success out of something you enjoy doing, so now’s the time to make that choice. Or there may be a gap or opportunity in the local market.

Next try and align what you want to do more of with the type of customers you like to work for, ‘your ideal customers’. Then, try and distil the personality of those customers – for example, who are they, what’s there age bracket, what are their likes and dislikes? Do they live in a certain part of town, are they families, do they have more than one car? Are you getting business from a number of fans from a local sports club or who belong to another local society?

Then look at how your competitors are marketing themselves – what are their reputations, what are they known for – if anything?

Going through this process can help you realise and determine how you can differentiate your business. It will help you set the tone of your marketing. You’ll understand your market better and begin to know what is important to them – you can then talk to them on their level.

Points that come to mind are: trust – in the past we’ve talked about trust being a very major concern for customers, not just in the garage business, but on a massive corporate level too. Then there’s the intimidation factor – this is felt by many garage customers, and not just women. But there are many other ways of providing differentiation and helping customers decide who to choose to and spend their hard earned money with.

Something else you could do is show that you are conscientious and keen for the business. This can be achieved by consistently marketing, doing many things and staying top of mind. You can even add a bit of personality in your marketing. If you’re into fly fishing, show it, if you sponsor a charity, talk about it. If you’re a weekend rambler – ramble on about that. People buy from people they know, like and trust – marketing can be a good differentiator.

Another thing worth knowing is more people make buying decisions based on their emotions, then they rationalise after. It is said that you can build a much stronger business based on WHY people should use you, rather than on WHAT you do. A recommended read is ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek.

So if you’re in it for the long haul and aspire to greater and better things, get out of the commodity business by showing people why they should use you. Make them want to do business with you and make it easier and more comfortable for them to make that decision.

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