From websites to radio, there are many ways to the end result of brand awareness and advertising. Top recyclers share their secrets to success.
By Maura Keller
The marketing management game is all about getting people to remember your products, your services and your brand. It’s the philosophy and core behind all business development. Marketing is the arena that puts the “big picture” perspective into focus and determines where an auto recycler makes (or breaks) its future. More and more companies are realizing the important role marketing plays in making immediate and lasting impressions on customers.
Shannon Nordstrom, vice president and general manager of Nordstrom’s Automotive Inc., has embraced a very diverse approach to marketing.
“To provide the booster shots of brand awareness, for the percentage of our business that is still retail, we do a combination of radio, television and social media marketing. We also have billboards on the major crossroad Interstates of I-90 and I-29 that we are very near to,” Nordstrom says. “In our market, we also have had years of name recognition from our radio car talk Under the Hood. We also have spent many years with our company ‘Nordstrom’s Special’ around the very popular local race track, Huset’s speedway. The combination of these things, along with strong support for local faith-based initiatives and programs, has made Nordstrom’s a very common name in our market.”
Nordstrom stresses that the company has really shifted its campaigns to overall brand awareness. They have promoted using “Nordstrom’s Brand” parts at a customer’s favorite repair facility.
“We are not ‘chasing’ the retail business, but we have plenty of it. Much of the shift of our retail marketing has shifted to our self-service, and letting people know that Nordstrom’s has options,” Nordstrom says. “We have the options of full-service or self-service businesses with amazing savings on recycled product. We also have the options of ROE – Recycled Original Equipment®, OEM Surplus, remanufactured and aftermarket products, all with best-in-class warranties, to save a customer’s budget and contribute to helping the environment with reuse.”
According to Marty Hollingshead, president at Northlake Auto Recyclers, and a member of the ARA Executive Committee, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different kinds of marketing. “You have your regular customers and you have people who just come in and then you have the Internet component,” Hollingshead says. “But in the end, the best marketing and advertising you can have is ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing. That being said, if you are not doing the right thing and you are not doing right by your customers, that’s a problem.”
Throughout his marketing activities, Hollingshead tries to keep his efforts simple and streamlined. The reason is quite simple itself: Whether you are a hot dog stand or a Fortune 500 company, consistent and proper execution of your fundamentals will bring a 90 percent success rate.
“To get another five percent, it requires quite a bit more work,” Hollingshead says. “And the people who have tried to get that other five percent simply say, ‘the pain isn’t worth the gain.’ It comes down to the basic stuff – work hard, do a good job, be fair and honest and give your customers good service and quality product at a fair price.”
Word-of-mouth marketing aside, Hollingshead has embraced several simple, yet impactful marketing strategies to current and prospective customers – that range from building strong Google reviews to creative and memorable customer appreciation programming. For example, the Northlake Auto Recyclers team used to put together six-ounce bags of candy for their customers. When customers would call and order something, Hollingshead’s drivers would deliver the purchased item along with a bag of candy.
“We suspended it for awhile and customers would ask, ‘Hey, what happened to my candy?” Hollingshead says. “Simply things like that – having your name in front of your customers, including through things like wearables – are important.”
Reaching Out Via Radio
For Fran Reitman, owner of Reitman Auto Parts & Sales, Inc., being in charge of a fourth-generation-owned, automotive-related company allows them to utilize its longevity to make a name for itself in the communities the company serves.
And although the historical reputation Reitman touts is significant, Fran and her team continue to embrace various marketing techniques to help the company stay relevant and top-of-mind for new and existing customers.
After Fran’s husband, Randy, passed away in 2015, Fran and her sons continued to focus on growing the family business in various ways. But prior to Randy’s death, the couple, who worked side-by-side in operating the business, had invested in various television ads initially back in 2009.
“The commercial only aired on the evening news which was an expensive slot,” notes Reitman. “One night after the commercial aired at that time, our phones just went crazy. We happened to be at the business later that day and quickly realized that this time slot was not ideal as normally no one is here past 6:30 p.m., so no one is here to answer the phones.”
But after some negotiation, the commercials aired earlier in the day, allowing the company to answer the phones as needed. After a very successful attempt at television advertising, the Reitmans turned their attention to radio advertising in order to be heard while potential customers were traveling in their vehicles.
She says that radio is a niche that you can certainly make work for you. While they have a handful of spots on the regional classic rock radio station, it is the country stations that have proven most successful in their radio advertising efforts.
“Once we did the radio, I was surprised by the number of new customers who came in and didn’t know we had been here for so many years. They had never heard of us until the radio commercials aired,” Reitman says. “We played with a few different radio stations. We went with country because we realized that country listeners are the ‘do-it-yourselfers.’ We’ve done pretty well with that avenue. I know that it’s working.”
While Randy and Fran ran their business together, he and Fran would write the radio spots themselves. And today Fran carries on that tradition. In addition to radio, Reitmans also supports sports teams, race tracks, and pageants.
“One day we were at one of my son’s games and there were two ladies sitting in front of us. One of the women was saying how she had broken her taillight by backing up into a fence and she didn’t know what to do,” Reitman says. “The other woman looks at her friend and said, ‘Did you read the back of your kid’s shirt?’ We were sponsoring her kid’s soccer team. So we wrote a radio spot called ‘Soccer moms’ to introduce ourselves to that demographic.”
“You have to know what niche you have in your marketplace,” Reitman says. “Even if you dabble in it, maybe pick a season. Start a little bit and see what kind of response you get. We’ve put ads in such things as tabloids and flyers, but we’ve never gotten the kind of response that we’ve gotten from radio.”
Extensive Online Marketing Techniques
While traditional marketing techniques such a print, television and radio are widely sought after by automotive recyclers, social media avenues and online content, such as blogs and videos have also proven successful as marketing tools within the industry.
Changing technology and demographics have delivered seismic shifts in the rules of engagement, and it’s an exciting yet challenging time for companies. For years, consumers shied away from advertising – going so far as to install caller id on their phones and ad blockers on their browsers. But thanks to the evolution of the online environment, consumers have more control of what they view and how they seek and interact with information.
According to a recent Omnicom Media Group study, almost half of adults, 22 to 45 years old, are watching absolutely no content on traditional TV platforms. This stat speaks volumes about the role traditional marketing is playing in today’s consumer landscape. Here’s why: Content marketing supercharges human conversations. As social beings, we turn to people for context about what matters and what to pay attention to. From social networks to blogging to social commerce platforms, the online landscape and the players within this landscape are evolving to enhance consumer engagement. And the type of marketing being utilized– either inbound or outbound – and the space in which it’s found, is redefining the way people live and do business.
As with most businesses today, the access to members and potential attendees is much more prevalent via the Internet and social media.
The Nordstrom’s team has worked diligently for the past few years to build the company’s Facebook and Instagram followers.
“We have posted frequently and really encouraged people to join our page,” Nordstrom says. “We currently have over 4,500 folks on our Facebook page and closing in on 500 followers on Instagram. We can now sprinkle in some inventory updates and special items, and we really get traction as the base is homegrown and active.”
Recently, Nordstrom’s has added a social media counter/scoreboard in the company’s lobby.
“As people come in, they can ‘like’ or follow us, and the old school flip board adds their like or follow in real time,” Nordstrom says. “Then we give them a free T-shirt that says ‘Nordstrom’s Parts Are Socially Acceptable.’ It’s been a fun campaign.”
Hollingshead says that e-commerce and social media are important marketing avenues as well.
“Younger people all go by reviews of products so give a customer good service and treat them properly. Our customers receive a card from us when they come in and it has instructions on how they can go on either Yelp or Google to rate our business and provide feedback. Our feedback we’ve gotten has been exemplary.”
Northlake Auto Recyclers currently has over 400 reviews on Google with a 4.9 rating.
“Again there is nothing wrong with asking customers for feedback,” Hollingshead says. “The best weapon in your arsenal for marketing is doing a good job for your customers. And having them share their experience online through reviews will get others in the door.”
With companies vying to differentiate themselves in a crowded online marketplace, there is a renewed respect for the potential power of the strategic inbound marketing, which is the method of bringing attention to a product or brand via content in the form of social media, blogging, and white papers. Inbound marketing lets consumers come to you, on their own terms, which provides them with the control. This type of marketing strengthens relationship, builds trust and demonstrates respect between consumers and marketers.
Automotive recyclers therefore must know and understand their consumers’ needs, concerns, and goals, and deliver tailored messages that engage their audiences with the right content at the right time. Here are some online marketing strategies that may work:
• Investing in Mobile: Consumers and small businesses are buying, selling, connecting, and transacting through their phones in increasing numbers every year. Having a mobile-first or responsive approach in digital content is crucial.
• Driving Engagement and Interactivity: Ensure that your web site content provides a meaningful, engaging experience for the user. Give your audience something to do – click, view, listen, answer, ask, like, and comment.
• Getting Personal: Your content must be personalized for customers and this doesn’t just mean putting a customer’s name at the top of an email. To get truly personal means ensuring that the content meets the unique needs, timing, and goals of your customer.
• Educating: In addition to relevance, auto recycling marketing content should offer real value. Often, this value comes in the form of education. Teaching your audience can be as simple as sharing your expertise through a blog, or as sophisticated as leveraging more interactive ways: through a webinar, or a video.
In the end Nordstrom recommends that auto recyclers make sure their marketing has a purpose, and is not just a “feel good” for themselves as the owner.
“It does have to feel good, but it has to be intriguing and compelling to the people you are trying to reach. I think for some time, we disproportionately spent marketing dollars, chasing a segment that was a minority part of our business,” Nordstrom says. “We have modified that, and began focusing on the brand – partnering with your favorite repair facility, and putting more dollars to directly working with the repairers.”
Best Marketing Strategy Ever – It Isn’t What You Think
Our goal as auto recyclers, obviously, is to sell as many parts as possible. To do this and to increase our opportunity for a larger piece of the pie, we have barriers to overcome. Some barriers, like the OEM repair procedures, are imposed by others, but at the same time, I feel in a lot of ways that we can be our own worst enemies. We all need to look in the mirror and take a look at our facilities, and what we can do to improve our processes to consistently deliver a quality product on time and as described.
Customer service and building customer confidence should be our number one priority. If we want more business and more opportunity, we all need to do a better job.
Recently, I was asked some questions about what we do to market our company. In my opinion, the best marketing has been and will always be, word of mouth. Reviews and feedback are a huge part of this. Keep asking your customers, “How are we doing?” Promote your brand. Ask for any suggestions on how you can do a better job. Remember, a satisfied customer is a steady customer.
Principles to Live By:
1. If we want more opportunity and wish to eliminate the junkyard stigma, we all need to do a better job. For all of us, no matter how good of a job you may be doing, there is always room for improvement.
2. If you want to secure your future in the industry, as well as your community, take pride in what you do and how you do it.
3. When making decisions for yourself and training your employees, the best approach is to always follow the Golden Rule. Put yourself on the other side of that transaction or decision, and if you are not going to be happy with the result, then you probably shouldn’t do it.
4. If you want to attract and keep good employees, pay what the job is worth. Give them the training, the resources, and the tools that they will need to be successful. Also remember, your employees are your biggest asset and they need to feel appreciated and relevant.
5. For your customers, be fair and honest. Set realistic expectations, and properly describe the part condition. For the body shops, price your part clean and undamaged. The shop makes a higher markup and remember that they make more on labor than on part markup.
6. You can’t overprice your parts. If you do, you probably won’t get the order. Put your stuff on the money, give a fair price.
7. Provide a consistent, quality product on time and as described.
8. Work with the shop on any damage issues.
9. There is no such thing as a perfect part, but there is such a thing as a perfectly described part.
– Marty Hollingshead
Making a great website is a huge topic and I’m sure there are a zillion opinions on the subject as so many people are specializing in making them. Here are a few of my thoughts.
Think of your website as your online brochure, catalog or store that stays open 24/7, 365 days of the year. You can have a simple site that provides visitors with phone numbers and some basic information about your business such as what you sell, your warranty information, whereabouts you deliver, and how you ship. Or you can have a site with more bells and whistles that will allow visitors to search for parts at your site and even place orders on the spot instantly using a credit card or an online payment service.
With so many people now used to ordering from Amazon.com, they’ve come to expect that level of service: Fast finding of products, product photos & illustrations, easy/fast ordering with one or two clicks, instant feedback regarding order status & delivery times, fast and affordable delivery, and easy hassle free returns. The closer a salvage yard can copy these features, the greater their website will be perceived by the public.
There are many companies providing different levels of web design service, but I would caution you not to grab just anybody to do a site for you because you could pay a lot of money and still not get what you expect or need. Get someone who specializes in automotive with a track record of satisfied customers within the industry. Get references. You can also check with non-competitor friends who have the kind of site you’d like and use the same company for your site.
– Mike French, Mike French & Co.
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Maura Keller is a seasoned writer, editor, and published author, with more than 20 years of experience. She frequently writes about recycling and business-related topics for various regional and national publications.