Today, the public has a better opinion of the collision repair industry as a whole. They can see it by the way their vehicles are repaired to OE standards and in many cases, are impressed by the overall customer experience, including the appearance of the shops. The old days of greasy garages with old furniture and outdated magazines in their reception areas are no longer the norm. The collision industry has figured out that if you look like a professional operation, you're already halfway there.
I interviewed a body shop owner recently who had been rejected for an OE certification that he badly wanted. He was told the reason for this was that his facility didn't look professional enough. His shop is I-CAR Gold certified, outfitted for aluminum repair and has some of the most cutting-edge equipment onsite, but he did not cut the mustard because his shop (mainly the waiting area) wasn't up to par. He also mentioned that he has probably been knocked out of contention for several DRPs because of the state of his facility.
About 20--25 years ago, we learned for the first time that most of the car dealerships in this country see a definite need to provide better facilities to compete. They beat most independent body shops to the punch by going over the top with their interior design and amenities. If you take a look at today’s new collision centers at car dealerships nationwide, you will see things such as state-of-the-art architecture, multi-level parking, marble floors and restrooms that look like they should be at a Four Seasons Hotel. Customers are treated like royalty, with snacks, free water, juices and one of those coffee makers that offer you 6--8 different flavors from which to choose. They have huge-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. One collision center in Northern California has an actual cafe on the premises, like its very own Starbucks, and--- get this---a hair salon.
It's all about the old first impression, because in most cases it's a lasting impression. It used to just be called customer service, but now it's the "customer experience," like it's a ride at Epcot. It's no longer just about doing a good job and getting a positive review as a result. No, now it's about connecting with customers to retain them for the long run, or at least until the next time they get in an accident.
If you could take your car to a really nice facility where you can be pampered, or to a shop that is old and beat-up, where would you go? You're going to have to pony up your $500 deductible either way, so why not opt for the comfy collision center over the less attractive independent shop down the street? It's not going to cost you any more for the repair, so it's really an easy decision.
Now obviously, you still need to do all of the right things to succeed, such as answering the phone promptly and correctly, greeting customers quickly and with enthusiasm, fixing the vehicle correctly the first time, delivering it to the customer on deadline and staying in contact with the customers throughout the entire repair, etc. But if you can do it all in a facility that impresses rather than depresses the customer, you've already set yourself up for victory.
Ron Mercurio is the owner of the BumperDoc in Escondido, CA. It's a franchise with 28 locations, the first of which he was able to buy in 2008. His first goal was to make his facility look professional and clean, but with a warm and fuzzy feel.
"We worked very hard on our reception area to make it engaging and to show our customers that we care about quality," Mercurio said. "We spent more than $50,000 on our lobby alone, because we knew we had to have the right image. We are located near Rancho Santa Fe, which is a very high-income area, so those people are used to nice facilities and expect top-notch customer service."
By taking the high road when it comes to his facility's appearance, Mercurio's business gets better every year.
"We are always looking to improve our space, and that's why we took out a rolling door and installed a large window where our customers can see our techs working on their cars,” he said. “It offers a whole new level of transparency, and our clients really appreciate it."
At Uptown Body & Fender in Oakland, CA, co-owner Giovanna Tanzillo has been increasing her business every year since she opened its doors with her partner, Lisandro Allende, in 1992. She credits much of her success to the look and feel of her shop.
“We wanted to create a comforting atmosphere for our customers, because when they come here, they have a lot of things on their minds,” Tanzillo said. "They are stressed out, so we want to alleviate that as quickly as we can. That's why we created a waiting room with an espresso and tea bar, classical music piped in and artwork all over the walls. Our customers hang out here and we don't mind it, because we know that it's all about the attitude we want here at Uptown Body & Fender."
So, if you're thinking about sprucing up your shop, especially in those areas that are called "customer facing"--a business service feature experienced or seen by a customer--go for it. It will be money well-spent, because you can be one of the best shops in your area, but if it your facility looks like something out of "The Walking Dead" or "Sanford & Son," you'll never get the love and respect you deserve.