“Oh man, another parking ticket?” In many cities, this is a common question. The parking odds are often stacked against drivers. Metered parking — watched vigilantly by city employees — can be the only option available near courthouses, hotels, popular dining areas, etc. Yet, how would the typical driver feel if the ticket lodged under the wiper was just an innocent advertisement? Perhaps the anxiety caused by the faux violation would fade and be replaced by relief and a bit of anger.

“That was something I did on a whim,” says Joe Kennedy, owner of Joe Kennedy’s Auto Beauty Center. “I believe in shock advertising. I believe the only way you can get people’s attention sometimes is by doing something like that.”

In this instance, Kennedy created a marketing piece that looked exactly like a DMV violation in his market, Buffalo, N.Y. On Kennedy’s version, DMV stood for dirty motor vehicle. The marketing piece included the detail shop’s address and phone number, and it listed four cleanliness violations: Exceeds dirt limit overall, dull finish, dirty interior and failure to have your car detailed. The ticket also offered $40 off a detail service.

“I put this on people’s windshields,” Kennedy continues. “I’d have people swear at me [and] I had people call me and say, ‘I’ve never seen advertising like this in my life, this is absolutely fantastic.’ But this is one piece that I did that probably worked better than anything else.”

Getting a response

Kennedy has created multiple unique marketing pieces to promote himself and his business. He had puzzles made, but left one piece out. When people came in, Kennedy would say the piece missing was “you, the customer.” Another example was a poker chip for the shop that was good for $50 off a vehicle cleaning. The chip said, “Don’t gamble with your vehicle.” Another shock advertising piece promised “FREE VIAGRA.” Finally, Kennedy created an IRS notice. Here, IRS stood for “irresistible relentless shine.”

These pieces and other promotional materials developed by Kennedy showcase his basic marketing beliefs. First, be different in your marketing offerings. Next, never market detailing, market yourself.

“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to want a response,” Kennedy says. By doing something that nobody has thought of, Kennedy’s shock advertising gets people to pay attention. In today’s stream of never-ending advertising, the first three words of any promotional piece better be good, or the message will fail.

Other more traditional offerings Kennedy has used to develop his business include a winter of free washes with the purchase of a detail and “shine and dine” detail packages that include a gift certificate to local a restaurant.

“My promotions all work, but I’ve done another hundred that don’t work,” Kennedy jokes.

Service, follow up and outreach

Yet, Kennedy understands that a successful business cannot be built on marketing pieces alone. Customer service is the area where he concentrates the majority of his time. Building a long-term, loyal customer base in today’s competitive car care industry is the goal, and Kennedy uses satisfaction guarantees, follow-up contacts and community outreach opportunities to develop relationships.

First, if a customer is not happy with the final product, Kennedy says he will not accept payment. “Nobody but nobody will clean and polish your car the way that we will; I guarantee it or you don’t pay me.” Workers use 27 different polishes in Kennedy’s shop to create these results, and the final product is guaranteed for six months.

“We are 100 percent committed to making sure our customers don’t even think of the competition,” Kennedy states. “I don’t compete with the competition, I compete with myself. We always over deliver our customers’ expectations.”

Every customer also receives a handwritten thank you note. Kennedy then follows up by phone to make sure everything is alright. For long-term customers, follow-up contact can include a wedding gift or flowers if a family member dies. These steps are all important to let loyal customers know how they are important to the business.

Sometimes customer service and developing a strong customer base involves not getting paid at all. According to Kennedy, if someone spills something on a vehicle’s interior after the shop has cleaned it, he won’t charge the customer for the cleanup. If a vehicle’s paint is scratched or scuffed, the business will polish it. If the scratch can be removed without paint work, the repair is free.

Another example Kennedy offered was putting sealant on 40 police cars for free. This free service landed the business additional coverage by local media. Finally, Kennedy recalled a situation where he gave a lawyer free service, and asked that this kindness be passed on when someone else asked the lawyer for help.

Shop history

Kennedy started in the auto detailing business in 1974. In this era, retail detailing was unheard of and commercial work was the norm. Over its 40 years of operation, the business has called three locations home.

After starting out detailing cars in his backyard, Kennedy’s first location was behind the largest Cadillac dealership in Western New York. The owner of the dealership gave Kennedy all of his detailing business. This added up to thousands of cars per year, including every new, used and customer vehicle that went through the dealership. At that time, the business was selling 1,500 new Cadillacs every year.

After the dealership location, the business operated 18 years on Franklin Street in Buffalo. Eight years ago Joe Kennedy’s Auto Beauty Center moved to its current downtown location, which was originally the city’s first gas station. Kennedy says moving to the current location was “the best move I ever could have made.” The corner location means all drivers exiting downtown Buffalo via the expressway have to turn next to his business. This allows Kennedy and his team to showcase their work to drivers using their parking lot. “No one ever said I saw your sign, they will say I saw a particular vehicle in front of the location.”

Today, Kennedy is 63 years old, he has four children and his wife Cathy works in the shop. She comes in every day and often works on wheels, prepping and handwriting customer notes. “I still love my business, I love my customers, I love the challenge,” Kennedy states.

More promotion tips

According to Kennedy, one of the best steps he ever made for his business was choosing the right phone number. By selecting 855-BUFF, he provided a number that was easy for customers to remember. Another unique step he took with the business’ phone line was the outgoing answering machine message. Calling on his idea of making outreach interesting, the answering machine message is the Price is Right theme song. People have called the number just to hear the answering message.

Kennedy also looks at his business cards as a billboard for his business and an opportunity to develop another customer connection. Previously, he has put the Buffalo Bills’ schedule on the back of his business card. In other instances, he will put a discount on the back of the card. And when it comes to this type of discount, Kennedy shares another best practice. “Never give a percentage off a detail, because people don’t want to figure out what a percentage of something is,” he says. “Fifty dollars off makes things much clearer.”

Finally, Kennedy creates a newsletter for his customers. The 855-BUFF news provides various detailing information and tips. Topics can include:

  • How long does wax last?
  • The differences between a polish and a wax
  • The causes of swirl marks
  • How to wash a car correctly
  • Dos and don’ts of taking care of a vehicle.

The big reveal

“Wow” is another word of emphasis for Kennedy and his detailing business. “I GOT WOWED @ JOE KENNEDY’S” is the slogan printed on the t-shirts given to customers and worn by employees. Here, there is a definite process for creating this “wow” response with customers.

Kennedy provides a sneak peek first, then a big reveal. He texts customers pictures of their vehicles as they are worked on throughout the day. When they arrive for pickup, vehicles are covered. As the covers are removed, customers always say “Wow,” Kennedy explains. “That’s where the wow factor came from.”

“They haven’t taken care of the vehicle in years, and they think you’re a magician,” Kennedy states.

To pass on the results and let others see the “wow factor,” Kennedy puts an a-frame sign next to the vehicle and takes pictures. “Don’t take a picture without having your name in there.” These pictures can be used for further promotion.

Social media

In fact, Kennedy started posting before-and-after images of customer cars on Facebook about three months ago, and he describes the results as “phenomenal.”  The business frequently receives compliments online for the impressive results.

“There’s not another Facebook page out there that I can find that actually puts before-and-after pictures on [the page] the way I do. What a highlight that is. People just love to see the before-and-after pictures. We get so many comments. We get reviews. I get phone calls.”

Starting out not knowing what he was doing on the social media site to now, three months later, Kennedy says the response has been successful. Now the business uses the page to offer special promotions. One recent Facebook post offered a free cleaning product to the next 60 people who liked the business’ page.

“I only anticipate that this is going to get better and better and better,” Kennedy concludes.

 

The Details

Shop: Joe Kennedy’s Auto Beauty Center

Type: Detail Center

Owner: Joe Kennedy

Number of locations: 1

Year opened: 1974

Location: Buffalo, New York