Someone once wrote that being in business without marketing is like winking at a girl in the dark: You know what you're doing, but she hasn't the faintest idea.
The task of marketing and advertising can be difficult and disconcerting to some parts store owners because of their lack of understanding as to what should be done, how it should be done and why it should be done. An independent parts store owner may get some help from his WD or program group, but in general he is on his own. Yet, as a parts store owner, it's often necessary to involve yourself in the process of promoting your parts operation. Your business might employ an advertising agency or have an in-house marketing and advertising department that would relieve you of significant involvement.
More often than not, however, the job probably falls squarely on your shoulders.
MARKETING VS ADVERTISING
What exactly is marketing? Marketing is defined as the "performance of business activities, which direct the flow of goods and services from producer to consumer or user in order to satisfy customers and satisfy the company's objectives." That sounds a little complicated, so put another way: Marketing introduces control into the process of getting goods and services to customers by positioning a product or a service in a certain way. For the most part, the respective manufacturer performs much of the marketing of the products sold in your parts store. However, if you give a free oil filter as part of a parts special, you are conducting a marketing campaign.
What about advertising? Advertising is one of the activities included in the practice of marketing. To advertise is to generate the necessary floor or phone traffic to move merchandise. To this end, advertising is an investment - an investment in time (spent learning the correct techniques) and dollars that will pay off in increased revenues.
There is an old saying, "Only the mint can make money without advertising." Good advertising should instill in your potential customers a desire for the goods or services that you have, whether that desire is based on image, brand, price or the timeliness of your product or service. Done well, your advertising will increase the number of customers you regularly serve, as well as invite new prospects into your store. This should hold true for your retail customers and your wholesale market, although each will require a different message.
As a parts store owner or manager, you will become increasingly aware of your customers' needs. When you assess how well the goods you offer are meeting your customers' needs in terms of price and appropriateness, you are a marketer. As a marketer, your primary focus is on satisfying the needs of your customers. It will then be your job to persuade customers through advertising to patronize your business.
As a marketer, the key elements that you should focus on are:
An Attractive Product Price -
This price should be based on your operational requirements and knowledge of your competition. It should always allow enough profit to benefit the organization, while appealing to the customer as well.
Extensive Market Research -
All vehicle owners are potential customers. However, the area your business serves consists of many different types of car owners. Customer mix is an important component of your marketing equation. Know your marketplace. Know who your customers are. What is the age group breakdown? What is an average parts store purchase? Are your customers mostly male or female? This demographic information is not difficult to find. One of the best sources for local or regional population data is your local media - newspapers, radio, television, etc. For instance, newspapers are constantly updating their data banks so that their advertising sales departments can help various businesses create advertising plans. In many cases they offer this data simply as a service to their customers. The demographic data they provide should include objective data about various segments of the population, such as age, gender, marital status and income groups. Additional information comes in the form of shopping patterns and even media preferences.
Effective Advertising -
By studying your customers, the population that surrounds you, and the types of media available, you will be able to determine which forms of advertising - direct mail, newspaper, radio, television or outdoor billboards - in what combination, or marketing mix, will meet your objectives and your budget.
Promoting your business can be a time-consuming task. In many cases, your respective product suppliers or program group may simplify the chore by offering ready-made programs, such as direct-mail programs, that you can take advantage of. But if you have the means and the authority to advertise beyond these programs, you will be making decisions about how and with whom. Uncertainty can be costly, but help is out there.
As mentioned earlier, some businesses may have in-house marketing and advertising departments, although this is unusual for the single-location, independent store. In this case, much of the work like developing an advertising budget, deciding the most effective way to spend advertising dollars and meeting with the media is handled by this department. Also, the in-house department should be aware of the organization's goals and objectives and be able to develop a plan - which includes all departments - to achieve them.
Another area for help is advertising agencies. A reputable ad agency is in the business of objectively looking at all forms of media, and they are experts in advising clients on how to best use their advertising budget within a marketplace. Most agencies have demographic information readily available and develop yearly plans that can make quantifiable media buying easier for a busy department manager. When the time comes to put your ad on tape (TV or radio) or to write or design a good ad, advertising agencies employ many different creative people who can formulate entire campaigns or single ads. It is, however, your job to approve any and all materials that come from an agency, and you always retain the right to reject any material that is not suitable.
HELP FOR THE SMALL BUSINESS
If you don't have the luxury of an in-house marketing and advertising department, or if your business does not utilize an ad agency, as a small advertiser you can get help from the media representatives of the local newspapers and broadcast stations. A media representative can provide you with market information, and in many cases they have developed software programs that can take your ad budget and effectively tailor a program in various media to suit your needs.
Be aware, however, that a media rep's job is first and foremost to sell his or her medium (TV, newspaper, direct mail, etc.), and any plan he or she develops will probably emphasize the use of his or her company. After a plan has been proposed, seek out other qualified media reps to get their ideas to see if in fact you are being led the right way.
Finally, if you are on your own, as many parts stores are, knowledge of budgeting basics and how to make smart media choices is essential. The time and effort you devote to these tasks will lessen once you become acquainted with the various methods.
Marketing and advertising are essential parts of running a successful business, especially in the ever-crowded parts store category. A smart, well-planned marketing and advertising campaign can make your business stand out to your existing and new customers, all of whom have more and more choices when it comes to sourcing automotive parts, products and accessories.
Writer Gary J. Naples provides automotive parts consulting and training services through Freelance Associates, Inc. Gary is the author of two books on automotive parts management published by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International): By the Numbers: Principles of Automotive Parts Management and Beyond the Numbers: Managing the Assets of an Automobile Parts Business. His books are used for training and reference by thousands of automotive industry-related individuals and businesses worldwide. He is also a member of SAE and a Scholar Member of the Round Table Group.