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Making Your MARK in Marketing

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”
~ David Packard, cofounder Hewlett-Packard

All too often, automotive recycling companies delegate to others the task of developing their brand messaging, and ultimately spend more time explaining their business to the “professionals” than getting results. This is the feeling of Daniel Marks, Operations Manager at Marks Auto Parts on William Street in Buffalo, NY, a fifth generation family-owned full- and self-service auto recycler. “We tried using marketing and advertising agencies. We spent a lot of time educating them on what we do,” says Dan. “About six years ago, we started doing it ourselves and began seeing better results.”

Marks Auto Parts is a one-stop-shop for everything recycled parts with two full-service facilities and one u-pull-it yard all under the “William Street” umbrella company, and all on same street. Started in 1960 by great-grandfather Edward Marks, his grandson (and Dan’s father) Martin (Marty) officially took over in 1980s. Dan and his brother, Matthew, run the operations now with their Dad and together the three brainstorm new marketing ideas.

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”
~ David Ogilvy

When planning your own marketing, Dan, Matthew, and Marty believe that the key is to understand the core business and its customers. “Marketing companies structure positioning on demographics, so they wanted to place us at the racetrack, and places like it, and it was the worst waste of money. Those demographics were already our customers. We wanted to educate new people, such as the soccer mom who drops off the car for repairs.”

While educational marketing is effective for Marks Auto Parts, the team’s hook is in the humorous. While Dan and Matthew have degrees in accounting and finance, what has given them the edge is a strong degree of self-deprecating humor.

“We began spoofing some of the locally-aired commercials and got some attention for it,” says Dan. The media that works best is TV commercials, radio, billboard advertising, with some online and social media, but Dan says to do your own research for your market if you do it yourself. “We actually don’t do a lot of social media or sponsored ads, and found the most effective advertising is radio. It’s always available to people.”

Starring in their own campaigns, “We kid around our office that I have the face for television and Matthew has the face for radio,” jests Dan. “But seriously, he is a DJ in his spare time, so really has a great radio voice.” Together, they have created local personas that get recognition.

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
~ Zig Ziglar

Marks and his business partners offered their suggestions based on their experiences to auto recyclers during a panel on Marketing at the 73rd Annual ARA Convention. Some of their advice included:

“First, you must choose your demographics and determine goals of what you want to accomplish. At Marks Auto Parts, we review strategy quarterly, based on yearly goals. Primarily, we target the 27-40 year-old female demographic and position campaigns accordingly.”

Furthermore, the team suggests that when the cable companies, local TV, and radio reps come calling, take their meetings and listen to their pitch. “You won’t know what their best offers and specials are unless you take the time to meet with them,” Dan says. “And never sign an agreement that day, because there is wiggle room in the numbers they present.”

He suggests you look at all the offers and determine what you want to do. “Then, we always negotiate. For instance, we know that an ad agency gets 15 percent of the marketing ‘buy’ so you can automatically take 15 percent off the top of any package. Ask for the best time-placements, or extras where you can. We recommend you don’t set a budget until you know what things cost, based on your research from your meetings and what you think will work. Then create your campaign accordingly.”

“Creativity without strategy is called art. Creative with strategy is called advertising.”
~ Jef L. Richards

Getting creative comes easy for this team, but if it doesn’t for you, you can let the media team do it for you, and usually they will do it at no cost if you buy into a package deal.

As for the Marks team, “We usually brainstorm our creative ideas over casual meetings,” says Dan. “Our best ideas have come from scribbled ideas on napkins in restaurants. We had some trial and error, but eventually came upon a formula that works, which started as spoofing some local commercials.”
Being creative is one thing, but being effective is another. Marks Auto Parts is 60 percent retail sales and 40 percent wholesale, and they do not participate in any buying groups. “We are currently growing our retail sales, and rely on sales and referrals as the way to track our campaigns. We run one at a time and often hear, ‘I heard you on radio,’ as we create a buzz. When we see sales go up, we know our efforts are working,” says Dan.

Beyond TV and radio, the team uses sponsorships and events round out their marketing efforts, such as large local events like vintage car and new auto shows, “Where we can easily see 100,000 people in five days because we are positioned at the entrance/exit,” says Dan. “For events, we’ve given away TVs and flying lessons, had karaoke, had a ‘don’t text and drive’ pledge station and more. Our booth is colorful, and, of course, we always have music playing.”

Also as marketing hooks, Dan advises, “Don’t take the things auto recyclers see every day for granted. What is normal for us to see daily, most people have never seen. For one of our TV spots, we used an auctioneer in it. During Cash for Clunkers, we cubed a car and had a guess the weight, year, make and model contest. We’ve had a glass case with 1,000 pounds of automotive shred on display. People stop and talk to you because they are curious. We maintain consistency and have fun.”

One upcoming event the team is excited about has a Hispanic demographic. “It’s a ‘grease pole festival’ held in downtown Buffalo, where four- and five-man teams try to climb a greased pole. There is, on average, 40,000 people and we are a main sponsor. We like to be in the middle of all the action,” says Dan.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
~ Scott Cook

The current dilemma of automotive recyclers is how to keep marketing fresh and market to millennials. “We are not big social media marketers. The hardest thing in social media for us is how to be present and active, but not annoy people which can happen just as fast. When we are on social media, it is for a specific purpose. Last year, we did an experiment for the u-pull-it yard totally social media driven. For ‘Christmas in July,’ there was no other way to learn about our 8 a.m. deal of the day announcement than getting on Facebook,” says Dan. “It grew our page from a following of 200 to 1,000, and sales were phenomenal.”

But as for millennials, Dan is one and he doesn’t see his generation offer much in the way of car care. “My generation doesn’t really care about their car until they need it. I think 50 percent will adapt to recycled parts, as they are environmentally-conscious, and concerned about sourced food and clothes, etc. But, their concern really is getting from point A to point B. They will likely adapt to shared vehicle systems of transportation, as they lack the emotional connection to their vehicles.” This is something, Dan says, the industry will need to address.

“I am part of an ARA work group focusing on awareness and we will be sharing our vision at the 74th Annual ARA Convention in Dallas,” he mentions. “Overall, our effort is something that will be of benefit for the whole industry. The Millennial generation is something we are discussing.”

Learn to make customers really, really happy. It doesn’t take much more than that.
~ Andy Sernovitz

The best-ever marketing campaign of Marks Auto Parts was based in consistency, which is probably the number one rule to being successful with marketing dollars spent. “We ran a year-long cable TV and radio campaign, airing 30 – 40 times a day, where demographics targeted the millennial and the soccer mom. We ran video and 10-second radio blasts, 100 times a day. People kept hearing our name in our blitz.”

“The worst was a campaign with a local-market TV station that wasn’t bad creatively, but the air times were buried in the middle of night. This was our first campaign, and we didn’t pay attention to when it would air. Lesson learned, but we’ve never made that mistake again,” says Dan.
The Marks’ team philosophy on marketing can ultimately be summed up as,

“To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.”
~ George Kneller

While their ideas have brought them success, Dan warns there is no “one size fits all” marketing solution and he is not a marketing guru. At the end of the day, exceptional customer service and referrals are still king. He suggests every auto recycler do their research, and not be afraid of trial and error to find their stride.

Caryn Smith is the editor of Automotive Recycling magazine.