Ah, email. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
In our ongoing quest to help independent repair shop owners run more profitable ventures, we realized that a lot of them—like a lot—aren’t using all the tools available to them. One of those tools, of course, is email.
Yes. Brace yourselves, friends. It’s time for us to chat about…email marketing.
Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Email marketing can be a pretty awesome way to stay in touch with your customers and share your messages with them. And unless you’re getting real fancy with things, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on it, either.
To help us show you the ropes, we brought in someone who is kind of an expert in the whole email marketing thing: our very own Matt Stone, Fullbay’s VP of Marketing. He’s handled a lot of email marketing in his day, and still writes a lot of ours on top of everything else on his very full plate.
Before we really launched into the discussion, though, we took a look at how the industry currently utilizes email marketing. It hasn’t caught on as widely as we’d like, considering how easy and inexpensive a tool it is. “You see larger shops and forward-thinking shops using email marketing because it’s such a powerful tool for growth and communication,” Matt says. “Everyone should be using it … the shops that are utilizing it are probably more successful.”
Yet a lot of shops aren’t.
We decided to write this article for those shops that are having trouble getting started. We’re stripping out a lot of the technical discussion from this, instead focusing on developing your messaging and finding someone to send it to. From there, you can work on building a list of customers and keeping in touch with them.
But let’s start from the very beginning. Before anything else, you need to know what you want to say.
FIGURE OUT YOUR MESSAGING
Email marketing is basically about starting a conversation. When you’re first thinking about what to send, Matt says, break it down this way: “What do you wish you could tell all your customers?”
Are you running a promotion?
Do you have new services to offer?
Do you want to remind your customers that it’s time to start winterizing their fleets?
If you flinch away from the idea of sending marketing emails, try to reframe your thinking—you’re not just shouting endlessly into a void. You are, instead, taking the opportunity to share valuable information with your customers.
So, what can your marketing emails include?
- Promotions: Maybe you’ve got an upcoming deal on DOT inspections, or you’re offering a deep clean of a cab. Let your customers know.
- Announcements: Have you hired a new tech with specialized skills? Or maybe your existing techs have new certifications, or now you’re operating on Saturday. Let your customers know the important updates that can make life easier for them.
- Testimonials: If a customer recently gave your shop a rave review, pass on their kind words!
- Referral invitations: If your customers refer their colleagues to you, will you knock something off the price?
HOW TO CREATE A BASIC MARKETING EMAIL
Once you’ve determined the kind of information you want to share, you can move on to crafting your email. This, Matt acknowledges, is where some shop owners falter. They take a look at some of the emails they’ve received from, say, big chains, and they think their own emails need to look like that.
Yes, there are a lot of glossy, HTML-based emails out there, but take heart, everybody: text-based emails tend to perform better. They load faster on phones (which is where a lot of people check their email these days) and they aren’t as distracting as a bunch of fancy graphics.
So no, you don’t need anything snazzy to get your foot in the email marketing door.
As we mentioned above, the most important thing to do is make sure you’re pitching value to your customer and their vehicles. If you’re pitching a new service or trying to get people in for winter inspections, you don’t want to frame it as “My shop is now offering winter inspections!” That sounds like an advertisement, which will instantly push people away.
Don’t make your marketing emails about you. Make them about your customers. If your shop is handling winter inspections, phrase it this way: Write “Prevent downtime this winter! Bring the rig in for inspection.”
Build your messaging around your customers and what you can do for them. Repeat until it sticks.
Anatomy of a Marketing Email
Okay, Fullbay, you may be saying, I know what I want to say…but how do I say it?
A good rule of thumb to follow is that whatever is at the top of your email will be read the most. Anything at the bottom may get ignored. Even your most ardently devoted customers have short attention spans, especially these days. The longer your email goes on, the more people will drop off.
So, put your most critical information at the top. This includes your call to action (CTA), which, for a repair shop, will usually be centered around getting people into your shop. Their call to action is to book now or bring their rig in.
Here’s an example:
Let’s stick with the “winterize your truck” theme we seem to have developed. A possible opening line might be:
Keep your truck running throughout the winter! Schedule your winter inspection and maintenance today.
You’ll link the second sentence to the booking page on your website (you have one of those, right?) so your customers can make an appointment immediately.
Matt is a strong proponent of giving people the booking link right away. “You’re going to lose people if you try to make them scroll down,” he warns. Even just a few seconds—the flick of a thumb on a screen!—can be the difference in someone scheduling something and losing interest.
You should also always include a link to your shop’s website and a way to contact you—this can be your email or a phone number.
Remember Your Subject Line
Subject lines have the power to make or break your email marketing campaign. They’re the first thing your subscribers see even before they open your email. The subject line makes readers decide whether to open your email now, come back to it later, or send it directly to “trash” without even reading it.
Great email subject lines are brief and intriguing. They can be a short sentence or even just one word. Their ultimate purpose is to motivate subscribers to read your email right away. You can use humor, a call to action, or ask a question, as long as the subject line relates to what’s inside the email. For example, “Is your fleet ready for winter?” would be a good subject line for an email containing a link to and excerpt of your latest blog post on winterizing fleets.
DON’T EMAIL THEM EVERY DAY!
Daily emails are a great way to burn out your list and get people mad at you.
“Just try to send out one email per month,” Matt says. “You could make it a monthly newsletter — What’s New In the Shop. One email a month generally isn’t enough for people to get tired of you. You can slowly send more over time and work out how often you should contact your customers.”
Don’t send an email just for the sake of sending an email, though. Anything you send should have a relevant message and drive value for your customers.
WHO DO I SEND THESE EMAILS TO? OR, HOW TO BUILD A LIST
Start by adding a field for an email address on intake forms. That prompts customers to provide it along with their address and phone number when they bring a truck in or purchase a part at the counter.
You should also add an opt-in form to your website.
An opt-in is the all-important way for a) customers to give you permission to contact them, and b) give you a way (usually through email) to do that. You can place your opt-in as a pop-up or somewhere near the top of each page, which customers can fill out.
You might want to include an offer, such as a percentage off a service, in exchange for names and email addresses. Just keep in mind that different countries and states have their own rules around obtaining emails. Make sure you’re following the laws of wherever you are.
Here are some other ways you can ask for addresses:
- Collect business cards: Set up a box or bowl on the front counter and draw one out each week to receive a “prize,” but be sure to add the emails from all the cards to your list.
- Leverage your snail mail list: Send a postcard to your old-school mail list asking customers to fill in their email addresses and return the card to you. Of course, you’ll also offer a reward for following through.
- Share newsletter space: Exchange email space with a non-competing business. You both get links in each other’s newsletters to your opt-in forms.
DO I NEED TO GET SPECIAL PROGRAMS?
The beauty of email marketing is you really don’t need any fancy tips and tricks to get started. You can send everything you need from your shop’s email address and store contacts in your regular email software.
However, as your mailing list gets bigger, you may want to look at software that can make things easier for you.
There are tons of email marketing programs available that handle building an email list, putting together a newsletter or campaign, and even scheduling emails. These programs can even automate the work for you! You may have heard of popular ones like MailChimp and Constant Contact, but there are many more out there, including:
Most offer a free version, and some of them are pretty beefy. For example, MailChimp’s free plan will service up to 2,000 subscribers, provides opt-in forms, and gives you access to email templates and a content studio.
The free versions are a good place to start. They give you a chance to get your feet wet with email marketing for heavy duty shops. But you may need to dip into your marketing budget and upgrade fairly quickly—especially when your email list grows beyond what a free subscription can handle.
EMAIL MARKETING: YOU’VE GOT THIS
Email marketing doesn’t have to be hugely involved or suck down a lot of your time—and if you’re not running new deals and promotions all the time, you can do just fine with one email per month. Just understand that there is some trial and error involved, and what works for other shops may not always work for you.
Now get out there and start emailing!