What does a former body shop owner know about branding and marketing, and why would YOU care anyway?


I love cars. Always have. My first word, according to my mother was “jeep.” I’ve never owned a Jeep…but I did own two DeLoreans at the same time. I think that says something…and I’m not sure that’s good, either. The DeLorean was seriously one of the worst cars ever made. A real piece of ____. But the BRANDING job the company did was amazing, and sucked me in like so many others back then. The magazine ads, the point of sale posters, the brochures…all had the same effect. It made you WANT one.
Truth be told, the only reason I had two was because I bartered for them. My body shop, The Red Lacquer Room, was well known for doing some of the best paint and restoration work you could get, and we did a lot of work for a classic muscle car collector who also owned the Nissan and DeLorean dealerships in Boulder, Colorado. And this, is where my marketing story begins.
Boulder, Colorado lies at the very base of the Rocky Mountains. There’s a lot of snow, ice, and hail. Combine those with twisty, steep mountain roads and you have a recipe for body shop heaven. There are windstorms that throw up enough sand and gravel to destroy the paint on any car unfortunate enough to be outside when it hit. Boulder was a goldmine for body shops. And that particular market was pretty much sewn up, with a strong dislike for any outsider trying to break in and grab a piece of that lucrative pie.
So, how did a kid with no business experience, and nothing more than a handful of tools, a dream, and a yellow page ad build one of the largest, most successful body shops not only in Boulder, but in the whole state…in less than 24 months?

Picture taken with a kodak camera around 1980.

It was actually pretty simple. I designed a yellow page ad that was so far superior to any ad in the phone book, that my shop got the majority of calls…and drive ups…every week, week in and week out. Cars would literally line up outside our shop with the phone book opened up to my ad, on the passenger seat. Hundreds of cars every month. That ad was freakin’ magic.
Back then, your ad in the yellow pages was what generated the vast majority of new customer acquisition. It floored me that businesses relied solely on the untrained artists of the yellow pages to provide the artwork for their (very expensive) ad. Ads that all looked, and said the same thing. Yeah, the ad that would determine the financial fate of their business for the next 12 months!
In the late 70’s, all the way up to about 2008, the yellow pages was the one place you absolutely HAD to advertise. Why? Because all your competitors did. And if you didn’t, well, you just couldn’t compete.