Editor's note: As of November 2023, Spanish Fork Oil-N-Go and Payson's Oil-N-Go are now under the Oil Changers name.
It’s important to know where customers are seeing and hearing about your shop. With a solid strategy, you can stand out and gain loyal customers. The right marketing tactics are essential. It’s all about doing what it takes to reach people.
In the 2023 NOLN Operator Survey, respondents were asked about certain customer details and some of the ways customers are reached, including via social media usage. That data is reflected in these pages, as well as input from three shop owners who have their own perspective on various marketing strategies.
The Local Level
Involvement in your shop’s community simultaneously advertises your shop and makes an impact on a local level.
For Ryan Frisby, owner of Spanish Fork Oil-N-Go and Payson's Oil-N-Go Valvoline Express Care locations in Utah, he does this by sponsoring local sports teams and putting up banners on sports fields. Additionally, his shops participate in some local events like car shows by offering free oil change coupons or $5 off coupons for participants.
Frisby says it can sometimes be difficult to put a dollar value to these marketing efforts because people won’t always come in and identify exactly where they heard about the business. But it is still beneficial because his shops can do things like support a local sports team.
“The return on investment is really hard to find there, but I do think that it does help with exposure marketing where you’re just putting your name (and) your brand out there to where people are seeing that part of your business … (it’s) not going to make you thousands of dollars but at least it puts that visual in people’s minds,” Frisby says.
TJ Brough, owner of Lube Quick and Reliance Automotive in Hamilton, Montana, says his shop does “as much local advertising as we can,” including through school calendars and ads in the newspaper.
“Anything that is really local … with the schools or anything like that, we have had really good luck with because we feel like it’s mutually beneficial,” Brough says. “For one, it does get our name out there and we do get a good ROI, and secondly even if it’s not the greatest ROI you’re supporting the people who live locally in your town.”
Brough says his shop also often accepts donations for various causes around the community. He sees community involvement as a crucial part of supporting the customers who support his shop.
In Ruston, Louisiana, SpeeDee Oil Change & Automotive Service shop owner Lynn Malone opts for some local advertising through signage at sports stadiums for the high school and even with nearby Louisiana Tech.
Malone is also part of the Ruston Rotary Club and supports the Salvation Army as well as an emergency and disaster relief organization called Rolling Hills Ministry. Malone also supports Buddy Ball, a local non-profit that organizes softball games for special needs children.
“We’re a relatively small community even though we are a college town,” Malone says. “It’s a community of about 20,000 people. And to have that community presence and have your name and logo in visible places in the community is meaningful to the people in the community.”
Social media and other elements of digital marketing can be viable platforms for reaching customers. But there are various techniques to explore.
Sometimes, online engagement can happen organically. For example, Frisby says that he’s seen people recommend his shops through Facebook.
“Every once and awhile you’ll see the Facebook post from somebody who’s like, ‘Hey, I’m new to the area. Where would you guys recommend for an oil change?’ And I try to stay out of those, I don’t put my own … but it’s always good to see when someone else throws your business name out there,” Frisby says.
As for his shops posting on social media, Frisby says they’ve tried being consistent in the past, but for his audience he doesn’t think it makes sense to diligently post. Although they had a core group of engaged customers, he says it doesn’t see a need for his shop to be posting every week to customers who only visit the shop every few months.
“I think in this industry somewhat, social media is a little difficult just because trying to interact with your customers on a weekly or daily basis is probably a little overkill for us just because of the type of services we offer,” Frisby says.
For Brough, social media usage signifies a shift. Before Brough took over the business, his father Tim was in charge. Tim didn’t use social media much for the shop, but Brough says he and his wife JeNette are trying to change that.
The shop has what are affectionately called “Becky signs.” These are displayed on the shop signage out front. Becky is Brough’s mother, and the signs outside the shop often have fun phrases that include her name. Customers respond well to these signs, so the shop took it a step further.
“We connected those with our social media,” Brough says. “So, we post our Becky signs on there. People comment on them. They’re always commenting saying they’re waiting for the next Becky sign. And so, we try to tie it together and have had good luck with that.”
Brough says posting on social media is essentially free advertisement. The shop uses Facebook and even Instagram to an extent. But Google reviews are a big component of their digital presence.
“When people ask if they can leave a tip, that’s actually what I tell them (is) a good review is the best tip you can leave,” Brough says. “Because in our world today, reviews do mean so much.”
Frisby also recognizes the importance of online reviews, as they help the shop rank higher in Google’s algorithm. He says it’s important for potential customers to see that there have been recent reviews when they go to look up a shop online. Frisby responds to every review. He takes the good feedback in stride with the bad.
“That, I think, creates some realness to our lifting. Because if everything was five stars, people would be like, ‘Hey, there’s no way these guys are that good,’” Frisby says. “So, I think it actually helps to have a few negative reviews on there as well because people just realize, ‘Yeah, they’re not perfect. They make some mistakes and things happen.’ But we try to take care of them and work with it that way.”
Malone says SpeeDee corporate handles social media posts for the company and also responds to any applicable online reviews. But Malone does get a report from corporate about how his shop is performing through reviews on Google and Yelp, and he currently sits at 4.7 stars.
His shop is also able to do search engine marketing through Throttle, which also does his mailers. He sees the direct influence of these efforts daily.
“We probably get one to two coupons a day that are the search engine marketing coupons, and so that’s having some impact,” Malone says. “I think that’s money well spent. As long as I see an SEM coupon at least once a day, then I know it’s getting some traction somewhere.”
A Different Take
It can pay to think outside the box with advertising. Taking advantage of unique opportunities can be a lucrative approach.
Brough has explored advertisements on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. Using zip codes, these advertisements are able to be locally targeted. Brough explains that the first couple of commercials they ran on streaming platforms were about him taking over the business from his father. He’s received a lot of positive feedback from customers on these ads, which helps him get an idea of the ROI.
“It’s been really nice because you can pick the zip code that you get and so then as you start to get information back, you (can) widen or narrow that down depending on what people (are) saying how it was tracking,” Brough says.
At Malone’s shop, there is value placed in local radio advertising. Malone advertises on community radio stations on a regular basis, including two special programs that are run on Sunday mornings. Additionally, he sponsors high school football game coverage on a couple of stations.
“I certainly believe that our radio advertising on the specialty programs has been particularly effective,” Malone says. “We have customers coming in all the time that say they hear us on those programs and so we know that those two programs have driven traffic.”
Frisby says something his shop does differently is shown on their marquee. In a similar vein to Brough’s use of the “Becky signs,” Frisby doesn’t use these marquees for promotions or advertisements. Frisby says it’s enticing to a passerby because the content changes as his team members come up with new phrases to display and it keeps people’s eyes on the business.
“We try to put up funny sayings or jokes or riddles … just something to get people’s attention instead of marketing materials because I think it gets people to pay attention to our sign,” Frisby says. “So, we put stuff up there that is usually not related to our business or shop at all. I’ll have people saying, ‘Oh you’re the place with those funny signs.’”
Tried and True
Despite various marketing trends and innovative efforts, there is something to be said for sticking with what works. More traditional marketing efforts are familiar territory for all three of these shop owners.
While Malone personally sees local advertisement and involvement as more effective, he does still run mailers and sends emails.
“Certainly, we send emails ... we send reminder emails and that sort of thing," Malone says. "I mean, that that sort of forms the foundation of our retention program in terms of existing customers.”
Offers on mailers such as “free brake inspection” tend to draw people in. He sees about eight to 10 of those customers come through each month. But Malone is quick to answer when asked about his most impressionable marketing tool: word-of-mouth. He’s been running the shop since 2021, but the building has been bringing in customers for much longer.
“The shop itself has been in the community for 23 years, and so it’s a known entity in the community,” Malone says. “And the loyalty of our customers is just incredible.”
Frisby runs mailers too, including reminder cards and reminder emails. He also runs new customer acquisition wherein their customer database is checked, and mail is sent to addresses that are not in the shop database.
“The reminder cards by far (are) our best return on investment, if you will,” Frisby says. “It’s the one that’s bringing people back. I have right now between 23% and 25% of our customers that bring that reminder card back with them with the coupon.”
What’s helpful with these cards is that the company Frisby works with to send them out uses an algorithm that determines when a customer should get a reminder, based on their service history.
Brough’s family shop is well established in a small town, and he admits that advertising wasn’t always necessary. But times have changed. He sees the influence of word-of-mouth marketing and putting yourself out there. For example, he reaches out to bigger companies in town to offer fleet services, which can translate into consistent business.
“I think sometimes, going out and addressing some of those bigger fleet accounts and bringing them to you is good for business,” Brough says.
Whether it comes down to sending someone a mailer or talking to them about a commercial that he’s run, Brough says hearing from the people he serves has the greatest impact.
“So, I think that trying to track return on investment is important, but I also think sometimes it’s just about the feedback you get,” Brough says.