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Member profile: Westlow Motors

Pictured: Clare and Michael Green from Westlow Motors in Dannevirke.

Building up a business

Customers are the most important driver of any business. There’s an art to attracting new customers and keeping existing ones.

It’s an art Michael and Clare Green have a knack for. The couple bought Dannevirke’s Westlow Workshop 18 months ago and have combined marketing, great customer service, and hard work into a winning formula.

“Our turnover has grown and grown,” says Michael.

The Greens use Facebook as their main marketing tool. With almost 500 followers, that’s close to one twelfth of the Dannevirke population keeping an eye out for monthly promotions and special offers. They also took out an ad to announce they had bought the business – Michael had been the manager since 2008 and had already built a loyal customer base.

As a manager, he concentrated on quality and efficiency within the business. As an owner, he’s determined to grow it.

“We made a big investment right at the start - buying a new ute and transport trailer so we could offer a tow and recovery service. We were already an AA Roadside Contractor and subcontractor to other providers, and the new vehicles added another level of service to them and our workshop. It was risky, but it’s added about 20 percent to our business income.”

westlow motors tow truck

Upselling

Clare draws on her retail background to develop the customer database.

“I started off by introducing myself properly when we first took over, so the customers knew my name as my face was new in the workshop. Any new customer is added to our database and if someone is booked in for a service, then we also look for opportunities to send out WoF reminders or offer a wheel alignment. We also offer an ‘affordable five-point safety check’ if a WoF or service is not due.”

Michael says Westlow Workshop is one of just two local workshops equipped for wheel alignments so they take advantage of that to add these customers to their database and send out WoF and service reminders to try to keep these customers coming back.

The upsell is an important way of developing additional income but also reminds customers of the other aspects associated with a safe, well maintained vehicle.

Michael says, “People want their vehicles to be reliable, but they are also worried that mechanics may be out to rip them off.” By concentrating on quality workmanship and good communication - explaining the condition of the vehicle, what repairs are needed now and what can wait - he has built up a solid reputation in the town.

“There are nine other workshops in town, plus a few backyarders. We are aware we are not the cheapest, but people know we will do a good job at a fair price. We won’t do any half -pie repairs, we have high standards. If people don’t want to do a repair properly, then we would rather not take on the job.”

THE FIRST YEAR

Just buying the business was a major hurdle for the couple.

Despite Michael holding both auto electrical and auto technician qualifications, and having almost 20 years’ experience, the banks were nervous. “They wanted 30-40 percent deposit and security on the balance. Eventually we got a private backer so that got us started.”

The decision to further add to their debt by purchasing the ute and trailer was nerve - wracking, and while it has added to their debt, it has really paid off.

“It means Michael is working very long hours – easily doing a 70-hour week,” says Clare.

Michael says the business now has enough work for three technicians. “But I would rather work harder for a couple of years and smash out our debt. We are putting everything we have into it. Then we can employ another technician and continue to expand.”

One of Clare’s first steps was to review the customer database, update all the details, and try to get as many people onto email reminders and electronic invoicing as possible. The intent was to save costs and add efficiency.

“A lot of people prefer to be contacted through the postal system as the attitude here is different from the cities. But we have made good progress getting people to sign up to emailed invoices and reminders, more than for text reminders.”

westlow motors clare

Marketing

To raise their profile and make it clear the business was under new ownership, the couple have repainted the workshop and refreshed the Westlow Workshop brand.

MTA Toolbox gave them some marketing ideas. It provides the basics on setting up websites, practical marketing ideas using social media and other means. It also offers various business improvement tips.

Clare posts regularly on Westlow’s Facebook page with special offers, little snippets of interest and reminders. In June, she ran a promotion to bring more people in for a WOF – everyone who came in was put in a draw for a dinner voucher at a local restaurant. One of their most successful promotions has been a money-back draw that ran for a month for customers who came in for an oil change.

“We have run that about four or five times and each time we doubled our sales of oil,” says Michael.

The posts are not always static. Both Michael and Clare (and occasionally their children) also appear in videos drawing attention to special offers or fun competitions.

Some posts are more successful than others, but each Share or Like is the equivalent of a word-of-mouth recommendation so it adds up.

Clare says, “Because it’s so well known and trusted, we have made good use of the MTA brand. It’s well displayed on the outside of the workshop; we’ve also bought new uniforms and the design includes our logo and the MTA brand."

The couple are putting the final touches to a new website, have cleaned up the workshop to make it more welcoming, and make the most of opportunities to build up their local profile. Michael recently made a guest appearance on a local radio motoring show. “It was a bit of fun, got our name out there and it targets another audience to those on Facebook, mostly older people.”