How to Start an Auto Repair Shop: Part 2, Marketing

Updated on March 25, 2018
earnestshub profile image

35 years experience as a successful owner operater of an auto repair shop and buyer and seller of auto repair equipment.

Dealing With People Is the Key Skill

Self knowledge and self worth are vital personal attributes when starting a workshop or auto repair shop. You need to enjoy dealing with people in general. If you enjoy the mechanical work that is great, but if you intend to grow, you will need to spend time learning the best way to market your business.

The first thing to consider once you have customers is to have someone with people talent at the front of your shop, and it doesn't have to be your mechanic.

The best mechanic I ever had was not allowed near a customer!

He was a highly skilled fast and fastidious New Zealand mechanic trained in Japan who loved anything mechanical, but he did not show so much love towards customers if their vehicle was dirty or poorly serviced! He had plenty of attitude and little tolerance for people who did foolish things, like not looking after their ride!

In one of my past businesses selling automotive workshop equipment and running my own workshops I have seen the inside of literally hundreds of workshops every year and the ones that are very successful are always the ones who handle people the best.

You may be a great mechanic, but whoever deals with your customers will make or break you in this competitive business.

It's Not About How Much You Charge for Major Work

If you have passion for your work and enjoy doing high quality repairs, your hourly rate should reflect this.

I have charged DOUBLE the hourly rate of my opposition and still got all the work I could handle.

If you have the right attitude people expect to pay. It is about trusting you with their car first of all, and then trusting you with their money. People don't object to paying, they object to being badly treated and fleeced. Rightly so, it has been a feature of our industry for far too long.

An Example: The Dealer Versus the Word-of-Mouth Guy

I will give you a quick example of how a market really works when it comes to making money and never being short of customers.

A short story will paint the picture.

I was tuning my immaculate 220SEB and blew the torque converter in half, dumping all its oil on my floor. I rang the local Mercedes Benz agent who was a friend of my fathers who I knew quite well so I would not get steered in the wrong direction.

He laughed at my naivety in revving my Benz motor 3 times to over 3,600 rpm in park, as there is no pressure bypass valve. I told him my local GM product had a relief valve, and Benz should be horsewhipped for their stupidity!

The dealer verdict? $600 for parts and an unknown labor charge, as being an SEB, the motor had to be removed along with the gearbox to replace the torque converter. Time to do the job including waiting for parts? 6 weeks!

Like on the TV show, I dialled a friend. This Mercedes-wise friend gave me a number to call.

I rang the workshop and the owner asked about access to the car, then came down with a truck, loaded it on the back and took it away within hours of my call. The next day he rang and politely asked if I would like to pick up my car.

Total cost? $150 including picking it up on a truck and transporting it 20 miles. It was a long time ago, but even then it looked like a gift alongside what the dealer had offered me.

It turned out that he had a special jig for removing the torque converter without disturbing the rest of the car, and replaced my torque converter with a perfectly good used one he already had in stock in an hour. He already knew that despite my considerable knowledge I would have happily paid hundreds more, but he just did what he does every day and did not overcharge me. He also adjusted all my doors to exact MB factory specs resulting in them closing with a light push like never before.

I have sent every Benz owner I know to him for repairs ever since resulting in many thousands of dollars in repair income from one job alone. He doesn't have to pay for advertising........ people won't shut up about how good he is!

So the smart Mercedes Benz owners in my major city do not go to their Mercedes Benz Distributor for anything but warranty claims.

Experienced workshop owners have all their difficult work done by him as well as private owners in the know.

They wait in turn for one man, way out in the foothills in an outer outer suburb to fit them in to his busy schedule. Why? he does not lie or cheat, he is highly skilled and he cares about you and your car. Ya can't buy that!

This is How I Do it!

  1. The walk around. This has worked for me for 35 years without fail. Your customer needs to know that you care. The best way to demonstrate your interest is to show it. When a customer pulls up out the front, the first thing I do after greeting the customer is walk around the car and inspect it for tire wear, disc wear, oil leaks that can be seen from outside. I then drive the car, preferably with the owner in the car. I explain problems to the customer as I find them.
  2. I keep my hourly rate at the top, and make my high workshop hourly rate a feature.

I spend a little time gaining the customers trust by volunteering something I know about his or her model of auto, then I explain why it is still cheaper and better for the customer to pay a higher hourly rate to ensure that the work carried out will be diligent and complete the first time

You also need to explain to the customer that you will probably be as cheap or cheaper than your competition because you don't use apprentices on major work, or waste time on investigations or parts that aren't needed.

Auto repair shop lift or hoist. This is a 2 post clear span or clear floor hoist.
Auto repair shop lift or hoist. This is a 2 post clear span or clear floor hoist.

I inform the customer that all the old parts that are replaced will be available for their inspection along with an explanation of why it was replaced.

If the job needs to be quoted, ensure you have an upper limit that is agreed to, and if anything is found to cause the price to increase, you will ring the customer before starting the job.

Never take on a job without ensuring availability of parts. You do not want a car left on your hoist for three days waiting on parts. Nevertheless, this will happen to you occasionally no matter what you plan, so be sure to have an alternative to leaving it on the hoist stopping you from doing other work.

Find a small job that is highly visible, even if it is just cleaning the inside of the windscreen. Some little things can make a customer take a second look at how he sees customer loyalty. The trick is to do it without charge and never mention it.

Give a full report on future work and preventative maintenance along with a time frame and estimated mileage before it must be done, and explain why it will save them money to have any timely preventative maintenance carried out.

Have your mechanics fill out a report on a proper workshop sheet in triplicate that includes all the work carried out in detail and the cost of parts along with an explanation if non OEM parts were used. For example specify one make of filter that is always better than the original.

Do not use your apprentice as a mechanic on jobs beyond their scope!

Inspect and test the car yourself or teach your head mechanic or workshop manager how to do it.

Check the car all over for any dirty hand marks, mud or dirt left inside the car, fluid or oily marks left on fenders or on paint under the bonnet. I often see coolant "burns" on the paint in the engine bay on relatively new cars because mechanics forget to clean it off with water.

This last point may seem obvious but is important to understand that to get and keep a good reputation takes attention to detail.

I have found that paying attention to details leads to customers doing all the advertising work for you, bringing in new customers without needing further advertising.


Naturally you need to advertise until your business is established. Advertising needs to be very focused when getting attention for your business.

I like to be unique with automotive workshop promotion, so if my auto shop was located in a place that was hard to get to, I would mention my lousy location in an ad, then inject a positive statement about how my auto shop is going to provide a better customer experience than the others.


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    • profile image

      Rian 3 years ago

      Gosh, I wish I would have had that intafmorion earlier!

    • profile image

      sarasweet 6 years ago

      your hubs have been so informative , especially for someone like me who chose to write a reasearch paper for a business class about a subject I had no idea about. thank you !

    • cheetah786 profile image

      cheetah786 6 years ago

      great tips, your guide for successful establishment of auto business is really a guide. nicely written..

    • profile image

      UMAR FARUK 6 years ago

      Many many thanks you to give valuable advice for all. UMAR FARUK from dhaka, Bangladesh.

    • profile image

      Rachel Caesar 6 years ago

      I like your comments. How do you ensure quality when you bare just starting out? Is it about trusting yourself and having passion? I plan to start self development workshops. I have high expectations but I don't know until I try! Any advice for a beginner like me?

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Really nice to know the information was so useful.

      I believe that your approach to marketing through service first will support you through hard times and ensure you're future.

      I wish you the very best in you're new venture!

    • profile image

      autojogbos 6 years ago

      you have indeed made an impact on my business with your write ups.actually, i just opened an auto repairs shop in the heart of lagos. though my workshop space is not big, i have been able to maximise the space using your advise. my approach to marketing has always been service first.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I see you get where I'm coming from with this. I used to have an A-Z book with all the best motor engineers, piston manufacturers, and all the other trades that I needed graded from expert to idiot! I could recommend with confidence!

      Good karma too!

    • DaNoblest profile image

      DaNoblest 7 years ago from California

      These are great guidelines for any business! You are right about having a trustworthy mechanic that does quality work as well not needing to advertise. When I come across someone professional I refer everyone I know to them.

    • jacques.gim profile image

      jacques.gim 7 years ago from Lancashire

      I will keep visiting for new tips.

      good info.

    • profile image

      isgsubbu 7 years ago

      gud suggetion

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      vocotnhan, it sounds like you are speaking from experience about service. Nice comment, than you.

    • vocotnhan profile image

      vocotnhan 7 years ago

      Very informative & good info as usual. And yes, customer service & satisfaction should be a top priority for anyone who interacts with the public on a daily basis.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you rmills, I enjoyed writing this and will be writing more.

    • rmills123 profile image

      rmills123 7 years ago from Ecru,Ms

      Great hub good content keep up the good work.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hello Alternative Prime.

      The new Lexus LFA looks like a real competitor in this market.

      It is blindingly fast, handles properly and cost an arm and three legs to bring to market.

      Lots of GP experience has gone into the design. I think it may provide a new benchmark for Toyota special vehicles.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks for the input Kubth. Honesty works great when the mechanics know what they are doing.

      It's nice to hear you have found a good auto shop.

    • kubth profile image

      kubth 7 years ago from UK

      Honesty is most certainly the best policy for workshops. The place I go now took me a long time to find, and I can only go there because I know I can trust the guys there 100%.

    • Alternative Prime profile image

      Alternative Prime 7 years ago from > California

      Hello earnestshub,

      Very informative & good info as usual. And yes, customer service & satisfaction should be a top priority for anyone who interacts with the public on a daily basis.

      Just curious about your thoughts on the new LFA Sports Car recently rolled by Lexus. It's being marketed as a competitor to legends like Ferrari & Lamborghini.

      Have you had a chance to research? Any preliminary thoughts on the vehicle?

      Best Regards,

      Alternative Prime

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      You're welcome notepanya

    • notepanya profile image

      notepanya 7 years ago

      information, my friend. I never ride electric tricycle before and this is totally new for me. I really enjoy read this hub. I wish I could find this in my country. Thank you very much

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Gefforyt.

      It's an honour to receive support from a long standing and successful Service Manager.

      You obviously built your success from the right end.

    • Gefforyt profile image

      Gefforyt 7 years ago

      Very nice. As a service manager at a very successful independent import repair shop, these are words to live by when it comes to customers.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you cblack, glad you liked it.

      Service is the key to running any business well, but in this industry it is vital to survival.

    • cblack profile image

      cblack 7 years ago from a beach somewhere

      Great hub! Customer service is definitly a very important aspect of the auto industry.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Workshops need to be managed very well Hello, hello, but the people side of it is the most important. Without customers a workshop is just expensive space.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Ver interesting and good suggestion. You really have your business to a perfection.