Running a Shop Sales+Marketing

Case Study: Incentivizing Referrals

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SHOP STATS: Evans Automotive   Location: Pensacola, Fla.  Operator: Curtis and Polly Evans  Average Daily Car Count: 5  Staff Size: 11  Number of Bays: 9

In 2002, Curtis and Polly Evans opened up their very own shop, Evans Automotive, in Pensacola, Fla., and like any new business in town, they were looking to fill their customer base. 

There are a lot of different ways to advertise your business. For example, more often than not, some businesses throw caution to the wind and unload their pocketbooks on paid advertisements and mailing coupons to any mailbox they can find. But for the Evans, word-of-mouth is by far the best way to do it.

“Word-of-mouth is a really, really, really good way to get business,” Polly Evans, co-owner of Evans Automotive says. “Yeah, they can read a review off of the internet, but if you have a friend telling you to go to a service, you’re more likely to get that business.”

The shop is always trying out different tactics to get more customers, like email blasts, Google ads, even hosting a car care clinic last year. But there’s one that’s stuck throughout the years that has been effective, low-cost, and doesn’t require a lot of work involved. And the tactic may surprise you.

The Challenge

As a new shop on the block, they wanted to find ways to grow a customer base. Over the first couple years of business, the shop worked with some management companies, like Management Success and the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), and during that time, they were able to pick up on some marketing ideas along the way to grow their base. For Evans, focusing on getting customer referrals was the way to go to build up their customer base, and one of the ideas they got from working with the training companies has shown to be the most effective.


The Solution

Five years after they opened, they started to implement what they had learned from their trusty trainers. When a new customer comes to the shop, Evans outfits them with a new customer goodie bag, filled with candy, a water bottle, and little trinkets like a magnetic key light. Among the goodies are a couple of referral cards if a new customer wants to refer a friend. If that referred customer comes in for their first service, they’ll receive $10 off a future service, and so will the person that referred them to the shop. No expiration date or limit on how many people you refer, either. A customer can  bank each $10-off coupon they receive for a service down the road. All the shop does is send an email, or a note via mail if they don’t have email, to the customer letting them know when someone they referred came in and bought a service, and how much their discount balance is.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Evans says. “It’s just one tool that works really well."

The referral cards are effective and very low cost, Polly says. The shop makes all of the cards and prints them off in-house. And they aren’t only meant for the new customer bags; there’s a huge stack up at the front desk for customers to take from if they’d like to refer more customers. The only difficult part, Evans says, is making sure to take the cards from new customers once they receive a service and making sure the person referred has actually come in at some point and had work done to give the referrer the discount.


The Aftermath

On average, Evans says about five cards per month are turned in, which means at least 60 new customers per year from the referral cards alone.

The best part about the referral cards, other than getting new customers, is getting the shop’s ideal customers as new ones. Polly says who a customer refers is generally someone they want as a customer.

“Generally, they become good customers,” Evans says.


The Takeaway

Evans says most of their customers are in a tight radius, with the majority of their customers traveling between five and 10 miles to see them. With the help of these referral cards, Evans says getting more local customers in their shop and are building more of an image within the community. But in order to get the referral, it all starts with the customer service you give. Polly says some customers think they are on the more spendy side, but they come to their shop anyway.

“People come back if you give them good customer service, that’s the most important thing,” Evans says. “This is just giving them a way to tell their friends about it, too.”

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