U Market? U Should!
Inform the world, or at least the local community, about your self-service facility.
You have invested your time and money to create a new business venture; a significant component of that investment should involve promoting your services and your quality recycled parts at good prices. This effort, or lack thereof, can make or break your self-service yard.

“The first place to start is to look at whom your competitors are reaching and where they advertise,” said Dimitri Gerontis, who holds a degree in marketing and worked in the field prior to joining S3 Software Solutions. “How you advertise your business is crucial to your success. You have to market your businesses to let potential customers know what you are doing.”

Eighty-five percent of self-service customers are returning customers, so the secret is to do whatever it takes to get them in the door. Then, follow up with “four walls marketing” to do whatever it takes to make sure their experience will warrant a return trip. Take a look at what your competition is not doing and then do that. If they are not giving warranties on parts, then give warranties on parts. If they are charging two dollars at the gate, then charge less at the gate. Basically, wherever you can find a gap in the competition’s offerings, fill it in by providing something your competitors don’t.

Differentiate Yourself

Butler U-Pull-It, Inc., based in Florida, is a good example of an auto recycler who found a way to differentiate themselves from others. Cheryl Nelson from Butler U-Pull-It, Inc. says they have found an icon that clearly identifies them in the community. When they first started their U-Pull-It 12 years ago, they used a logo of a man with a wheelbarrow full of parts. It was when her husband decided to start racing their MUD Truck that everything changed.

“We’ve started using the MUD Truck as our icon and it instantly became something tangible that people will notice from a distance and link back to us,” said Nelson. “It’s been referred to as a mini-monster truck and wherever we go people notice the lime green truck and know it’s the Butler gang. We have been able to not only furnish cars for the Monster Jam, but we’ve also been able to have our MUD Truck in the arena. We’ve been part of the pit party; parked right next to Gravedigger.”

Monster Jam is a live motorsport event tour and television show. The series is sanctioned under the umbrella of the United States Hot Rod Association (USHRA) and takes place across the United States. The main attraction is always the racing and freestyle competitions by monster trucks.

Nelson says the MUD Truck has attracted a lot of attention, so much so, they are invited to sponsor events that feature the truck. They have sponsored outdoor concerts, local ball games, and have appeared at events such as Monster Jam and rubbed noses with NASCAR® and country singer celebrities.

“It’s awesome to have people call us and want us there,” said Nelson. “Using the MUD Truck as our company icon has opened doors to promote our business that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We have seen the huge impact that using something tangible to identify a business has had to our business.  You have to be able to promote yourself, so we also give away reasonably priced give-aways, like mugs, hats, notebooks, and other items that has our name on it. People love to get giveaways!”

Do What They Like

Gerontis offers another tip to differentiate yourself from the competition. “Try asking yourself, of the chain restaurants or stores that I frequent, which particular ones do I like to go to the most?”

“You might like the atmosphere better at one Starbucks than other Starbucks,” said Gerontis, “or the staff might be friendlier at one store than the other. If you stop to think about what motivates you to choose one chain franchise location over another, when they sell the same products, it will help you to create the right business to attract customers.”

The layout and efficiency of your yard plays an important role in this regard. For instance, make sure you have a clean, friendly, and efficient reception area for your customers that resembles entrance to an auto parts store rather than an auto recycling yard. If after offering great discounts or added bonuses that attract customers to your location, they come to find a dark, dirty, dismal, and unfriendly reception area, you might make a sale that day, but you’ve lost your return customer.

“Your primary customer for self-service is the same customer who shops at stores like Walmart,” said Gerontis. “For me, the first impression I have of a business is very important. The first impression a customer gets when walking into your business is something you can’t change. If a customer walks in and it’s clean and organized – you can’t top that. Even if your prices are the same as a competitor’s, or even a little higher, but your yard is clean and organized, you’ve got the advantage over your competitor whose yard may not be as much. One of the best ways to change the image of the industry itself is to present a clean retail area and premises.”

In addition to running a clean and efficient operation, excellent customer service is needed too. Word of mouth still plays a significant role in gaining business and attracting new customers in this day and age. If your customers have a good experience buying from you, not only are they more likely to return, but they will refer you to others as well, especially online.

“For us, word of mouth is the best advertisement,” said Bevell. “We also use billboards (usually on major highways giving directions), radio (especially weekend remotes with prizes), print (but only with coupons to track effectiveness), Internet (Facebook, etc.), and weekend events with giveaways and discounts.”

Once you have studied your competition and see what they are doing and where there is room for you to differentiate your business from theirs – even if it comes down to something simple – you really need to determine who you want to reach.

Who’s Your Market

Studying your area demographic and your competition is important. The majority of the time, there will be some overlap as to who you want as customers and who your competition has as customers.

However, there are opportunities to think outside the box and target an “untapped” potential customer base. If, for example, your area has a high concentration of college students and no one is going after them, you could find a niche with that group by advertising directly to them.

Advertising using a discount or some kind of promotion targeting that particular age group is helpful in this pursuit. You could advertise on the campus at the libraries and student unions, use their media resources such as campus TV and radio, offer discount coupons as direct mail pieces that are put in the shopping bags when they purchase something at the campus bookstore or local retailers.

Think outside the box. One restaurant reaching out to college students is offering a year long contest to give away the chance to drive a 2012 Mini Cooper for a year on campus.

POS-itive and Advertising

Jim Stewart, Advanced Data Systems, says that your point of sale (POS) system can help you to advertise and gain business.

“Our gift card and loyalty solutions have helped many customers with marketing,” said Stewart. “Using these tools in non-traditional ways such as gift cards for parts credits have helped our customers tremendously. Digital signage will be making its way into the lobbies of our self-serve customers. Also, we have partnered with companies that integrate to our POS who offer some exciting loyalty programs that use mobile devices to promote your business.”

Regardless of the POS solution you choose, think about creative ways you can use your data to target your existing and potential customers, advises Stewart. Identify your “low” times or seasons to make your marketing work for you. Most of all, track your marketing efforts to refine and improve your campaigns.  “Good POS solutions providers can assist you in making connections with those tools.”

Shannon Nordstrom has capitalized on using various incentives programs to boost his customer base. Ewe-Pullet, Nordstrom’s self-service yard, offers a rewards membership club that tracks purchases and the customer earns credit with each threshold of spending they reach.

“We have a Country Club program, which is an optional rewards card for regular shoppers that allows them to earn money back throughout the year,” said Nordstrom. “For every 500 dollars they spend they will receive fifty dollars credit. They also get free admission to the yard and preferred parking at the Pull Barn. At our annual Harvest Day event held in the Fall, they receive reserved parking – which is a desirable thing with the amount of people we have that day!”

Another incentive program that Ewe-Pullet offers is their Egg Money Card which is a pre-paid in-store card that businesses can give to their employees to use when buying parts. Customers receive an extra ten percent on what they put on their card. For example, if they spend 100 dollars they receive 110 dollars on their card. There is no limit or refunds on the card and they have to spend it.

Ewe-Pullet also offers a Harvest Guarantee. If a customer does not find a part he or she is looking for, he or she will receive a card that waives the two dollar entry fee for his or her next visit.

It’s Eventful

Another way to advertise your business and draw potential customers is to hold an event like the annual Harvest Day that Ewe-Pullet holds in October. Nordstrom says the idea came from the industry idea of a pull-a-thon they had seen at another self-service yard. They modified it to create their own version of “Harvest Day” with a 40-40-40 Twist; $40 for as much as you can stack in a wheelbarrow, push 40 feet, and you have 40 seconds to do it.

The event also features free food, inflatable bounce houses for the children, product demonstrations and more.

Nordstrom says it’s a great way to attract new customers. “Our Harvest Day is an event that our customers look forward to every year,” said Nordstrom. “They are rewarded with the great value. The word of mouth advertising about the event spreads wildly. If we add up the parts they take and what they would have sold for, it is a terrible decision, but when you consider it as a ‘thank you’ and as marketing event, it makes a lot of sense to us. We are in a small market, and word travels fast!”

Maintain a Baseline

The more traditional ways to advertise should be utilized as well, depending on your budget. Every business should have a website, and with inventory listed there plus wherever possible on the Internet.

Billboards and good signage visible from the road should be considered where affordable. Placing ads, both English and Spanish, in free newspapers and on local radio and television stations are other options.

Nordstrom takes full advantage of the Under the Hood Radio Show his family (inspired by his Mother) started 23 years ago. The show has now grown into a nationally-syndicated automotive talk show and he is able to run ads about the self-service facility.

“We’ve now syndicated to 70 radio stations around the country, so we will place ads for Ewe-Pullet on our local stations,” said Nordstrom. “We also use local radio stations to advertise. We’ve found that we have the best results when we place the ad during a live D.J. or talk radio host that people listen to on their morning or evening drive.”

“We have done it all!” said Bessler. “From bench billboards, large bill boards, newspaper, regular broadcast TV, cable TV, radio — you name it, we have done it. For us, mixing it up seems to work best. Every medium works fine in the beginning of the campaign, but its usefulness wears off after time. Word of mouth is our best advertising and that is free. Treat your customers well and they will spread the word for you.”

Being Industry Proactive

“If you are new to the industry, I encourage you to go to an ARA trade show and become a member of ARA,” said Gerontis. “Go to local trade shows and join with local associations to learn how to grow your business. What ARA does is paramount to the industry. It allows us to network with others in the industry and to share and gather information that will help our businesses. It offers discounts that help auto recyclers’ bottom line. ARA is a resource and it should be managed that way.”

Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.

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