Reprinted From: Autobody News
Tony and Isabel Flores opened Tony’s Body Shop in Oxnard, CA, in 1965. Considered to be hard-working business people by their friends and family, the couple taught their children good work ethics from an early age.
Their son, Jay, found they were struggling financially and began working at the small mom-and-pop shop after graduating from college. He now operates the family business with his wife, Evelyn, their children, Jayson, Jaycob and Jasmine, Jay’s older sister, Maria, and his cousin, Adrian.
The family business is located about two miles from where it originally opened more than 50 years ago, and the Floreses pride themselves on providing a quality repair to customers by following OEM procedures.
Autobody News talked to Jay about the challenges small businesses face and how Tony’s Body Shop has been successful through its marketing efforts.
What challenges are small businesses facing right now?
One of the biggest issues I see in the industry is that business owners truly don’t understand financials and know if the boat is sinking or floating. They don’t understand their true costs to operate so they may be giving the farm away and not even know it.
About 20 years ago, I joined the AkzoNobel Acoat Selected program to learn about financials. I was educated about profit and loss statements, balance sheets and writing a business plan and marketing plan. The program really helped me and I’m still part of it today. It allows me to meet with other shop owners and talk about what’s happening with the industry so I know what I need to do to stay current.
I also participated in the 3M ARMS course, which is an older class that talked about capturing jobs when they come to your door and basic business practices. It was awesome and I learned a lot.
I encourage people to leave their cubby or shop and go somewhere to sit in a classroom and learn. By talking to industry participants and touring shops, it helps you build a better business. Business is business; it doesn’t matter if you sell pizza, work in a janitorial company or in collision repair, you need to understand basic accounting.
Why is it important to create a business or marketing plan?
Many businesses struggle because they have no business plan or marketing plan. They haven’t sat down and thought things through and don’t have accurate knowledge about what it takes to operate a successful business.
In order to survive in business, you need a marketing plan. How else are you going to bring people to your front door? There is no such thing as luck. It’s hard work and planning. You’ve either written a marketing plan and are successful, or you failed the plan and are struggling.
I recommend writing a two-page marketing plan outlining how you are going to get customers to the front door. Marketing is like a diamond that has many facets.
What types of marketing have you implemented at Tony’s Body Shop?
I started using television as part of my marketing plan a long time ago. When I moved to this building 15 years ago, it was twice the size of my prior location and I wanted to ensure all of my past customers knew we moved. I didn’t want to lose my customer base. I’m no different than an insurance company that wants customers to renew and re-sign their policy. I’m looking for customers to come back and tell their family and friends about us.
I’ve been successful with it so I’ve kept it going. My father was once told by a man in Argentina that if you do the best job you can for the car you are working on today, don’t worry about where the next car is going to come from. In essence, he meant that if you do a good quality job, you’ll always be busy. It’s a very basic concept but so true.
In addition to television, what other types of marketing have you found helpful?
There’s no silver bullet. There are many facets. As the writer Tom Franklin said, “The spider that weaves the largest web catches the most flies.” In marketing terms, it simply means that the shop that “weaves the largest web” will capture the most business.
One area where the majority of shops get an “F” is having a really good website. It seems everyone you know can build a website but people who truly understand SEO are hard to find. A professional website should include a blog or content about your business, make it easy to find the address and phone number and look good on a phone, tablet and computer. I found it really helpful to have access to my website so I can fix an error and add content without being held hostage by a company.
Marketing your business can even include simple things like writing thank-you notes to customers, spending time doing follow-up phone calls to ensure they had a good experience and giving them a treat when you deliver the car. We give customers a bag of peanuts with a tag that says, “Courtesy of Tony’s Body Shop.” We take a proactive approach because we want our customers happy and coming back.
Having good reviews is very important. People looking for a body shop are going to Google you and my business philosophy is that customers are always right even if they are wrong. You want customers coming back to your business and telling others about it. Of course, there are exceptions when a customer is too hard to deal with but that doesn’t mean you have to fix that car the next time.
Overall, it’s important to make customers happy so they tell others about the great service they received and write a good review about it.
The majority of time customers are good people and if you do a good job and make sure the car is repaired correctly, that customer will tells his or her family, friends and coworkers about their experience.
I have built a tremendous following in Ventura County where I am located. In one of my commercials, we say, “Ask around. Ask your friends and neighbors where the best place is to repair your car.” I can pretty much guarantee if not all three, two out of the three will point you in my direction. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of effort and includes everything from how you answer calls, to how you repair and deliver the car.
What advice do you have for shops as future vehicles evolve?
As time passes and a totaled car is replaced with an ADAS vehicle, I believe the claim count is going to be less. As a result, shops owners need to focus on their capture rate and ensure they are spending time with customers up-front to make sure all their questions and needs are handled.
A lot of people fail to write a marketing plan because they are on DRPs that refer work to the shop. The challenge is that DRPs have evolved. In my experience, DRPs used to allow shops to provide a safe and proper repair. However, with cars like Tesla and all of the ADAS features in new vehicles, the cost of repairs has skyrocketed.
I’ve found that the goal of most insurance programs is to minimize repair cost. That can be challenging with you have a car with ADAS features. Inherently, it can be viewed as two competing goals: lowest cost possible versus highest safety possible when OEM guidelines are followed. For this reason, Tony’s Body Shop has removed itself from most insurance programs that do not commit to OEM guidelines.
The John Eagle Collision Center lawsuit in 2017 changed how auto body shops do business. We are held liable for all the repairs we perform, even after the car is sold and ownership transfers.
In today’s world of complex cars geared to crash avoidance and occupant safety, a safe and proper repair following OEM repair procedures is the only way to continue to stay in business. Returning a car to its pre-accident crash worthiness for the safety of the customer and their family is our only option. This is why Tony’s Body Shop has chosen to be certified by many different vehicle manufacturers.
I often ask people if they would repair an airplane or rebuild its engine without following the manufacturer’s repair procedures. Of course not; people’s lives are at risk. Then why is a car any different?