August 5, 2014 by Travis Balinas

The best marketing ideas for auto repair shops are the ones that increase your referral business through word of mouth. You can spend money on TV ads, SEO and PPC campaigns, and even direct mail, but you’re investing a small fortune on marketing channels that don’t grow your word-of-mouth business. Auto repair and specialty shops need to invest in low-cost marketing ideas that target past and present customers. Keep your business in their minds, and you’ll increase your new customer referrals.

Traditional marketing is focused on converting people who don’t know you into customers. Promoting your business to new audiences who haven’t heard about you can yield results, but it is a very expensive approach. This is why you need to have marketing that reaches out to the people who have already done business with you. The power of a referral from a friend is incredibly strong, and this is what you need for your business.

Here are 5 marketing ideas for auto repair shops to help increase their word-of-mouth referrals.

1) Use Email Newsletters to Keep in Touch

Email newsletters are the best way to stay in front of your customers. But getting in front of them is only half the battle. Rather than sending email newsletters that simply give monthly discounts or specials, send emails that entertain your audience.

For example, in place of a 10% off coupon, write an email newsletter talking about the 10 must-have phone apps for a road trip. Content marketing through email is a great way to keep your customers engaged without selling to them. 90% of consumers find custom content useful, and 78% believe that businesses that deliver custom content want to build a good relationship with them.

Keeping their attention through regular emails keeps your name in their minds and referrals coming your way. Below is an example of an email campaign we sent out for our automotive customers.

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2) Thank People for Their Business

Might sound like a simple idea, but a creative thank you goes a long way. Remember, your focus is on making sure your existing customers tell their friends about you. The more you can make every experience they have with you memorable, the more comfortable they’ll feel recommending you to their personal networks.

I have firsthand experience with this. My mom went to buy a new Acura from the dealership that sold her the first one. Her older car was going to my sister, and the dealer knew that. They gave her a ride home so they could run her old car through the car wash. When they got back to the dealership, both cars were detailed and adorned with bouquets of flowers. To this day, my mom and sister tell their friends about that experience, and they both still drive Acura.

This might be a bit more than you have time or money for, but this style of surprise and delight is a great way to thank your customers for their business. That small thank you turned out to be a long-term investment for continued word-of-mouth referrals.

3) Be Social

You need to share things to your social networks that help and entertain your customers. It’s all about having a business presence online that people want to follow. Share photos of the pets that come to your business. Maybe you found a blog post comparing the best DIY waxes for your car. You page needs to be filled with helpful, interesting and relevant content. This will brand you as an expert in what you do.

A lot of people will check in on Facebook when they visit you. This gives your business more exposure—their friends will see your name mentioned. People can tag your business in posts too. I recently had my car tinted, and when a friend asked for a tint shop recommendation on Facebook, I was able to tag that business in my comment. I got them a new customer and they didn’t pay a dime. Below is the resulting Facebook post from my friend I referred.

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4) Get Reviewed

Don’t hesitate to ask your customers for feedback. Whether positive or negative, when someone hops on Google, Yelp or Facebook to find out more information, even neutral reviews are better than no reviews at all.

Reviews on these sites are also great because they can indirectly act as a word-of-mouth referral. If I visit a dent doctor Facebook page and see two check-ins from my personal friends, I’m more inclined to trust that business over one I’m not connected with at all.

The same concept applies to Yelp and Google+. Google will show reviews from my email contacts when I search for a business on Google maps. Yelp has me log in using Facebook and reviews from my network are highlighted.

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5) Ask for Referrals

There’s no shame in actively growing your business through your existing network. Make it known to your customers when you see them that you’d greatly appreciate a referral. Make sure to have a business card to give them, but more importantly, make sure you have their contact information. If you’re sending them email newsletters every few weeks, they’ll be sure to always have your contact information, unlike a business card.

When you do get new customers referred to you, make sure you send the person who made the referral a note, possibly with a $10 Amazon gift card as a thank you. It gives your customers even more reason to keep referring business to you. Remember to continue to surprise and delight your loyal customers, and they’ll return the favor.


Focusing your marketing efforts on your existing customer base is a great way for auto repair shops to increase their word-of-mouth business. You can spend a lot of money on things like TV commercials, radio spots and direct mail campaigns, but you’ll spend a lot of money targeting the wrong audiences.

Keep providing quality service, stay in touch with your customers through email and social media, and think outside the box to surprise and delight your customers. Building this connection with your customers brands you as a trusted partner and keeps your name at the top of their minds.