Is Your Reception Area Making a Good First Impression?

Is Your Reception Area Making a Good First Impression?

I was recently at a body shop that does amazing work, garners incredible customer reviews and skillfully fixes nearly 200 cars monthly.

All of the shop’s techs are dressed in clean uniforms and you could eat off the shop floor. But, then I took a look at their reception area and it’s an OMG moment. Ugly yellow walls covered with greasy handprints; one little table that looks like it was pulled out of the Titanic; magazines from 2010; a coffee machine covered in what looks like mud and an old, beat-up sign on the wall that the guys from American Pickers wouldn’t even want.

My first reaction was shock. Why does this shop work so hard to provide amazing customer service, maintaining a professional image with a highly-trained staff and then they badly fumble the appearance of their reception area (or some call it a “waiting room”), the only part of their shop that customers will definitely see?

Think about it. Collision repair is one of the only industries in the world where your average customer is unhappy before they even interact with you. They’re looking for reasons to take you off their list, in some cases, so why give them any ammunition? A body shop’s reception area should be comfortable, clean and inviting, but so many of them just don’t make the grade. So, we found three examples of body shops that understand the importance of a waiting room that fits the aforementioned qualities. They see the value in making a good first impression, because like the old deodorant commercial used to say, “You may never get a second chance.”

Towne Auto Restoration & Collision Specialists in Randolph, NJ hired Aurora Kitchens and Interiors of Somerville, NJ to completely re-do their reception area in 2011. It won a design award in the National Association of Remodeling’s annual contest in 2012, according to Kelley Evens, the owner and chief designer at Aurora Kitchens and Interiors.

“The owner of Towne Auto wanted to provide his customers with a different experience than is usually found in auto body shops,” Evens said. “A comfortable, upscale waiting area for customers was top priority. Other amenities on the owner’s wish list included a television viewing area, a working area with free Wi-Fi for customers, a gourmet coffee/tea center, an inviting reception desk, an area for insurance adjusters to speak with clients privately, multiple employee work stations and beautiful restrooms.”

Figuring out how to keep the waiting room clean in an auto body shop environment was one of the biggest challenges. “Collision technicians often track oil and grease from the shop into the waiting area when they are speaking with customers,” Evens said. “The key was a durable yet attractive concrete floor with a multi-sized tile pattern, some texture and a color variation from gold to terra cotta. Cleaning is a breeze with just water and a mop. To make the seating area more inviting, a multi-colored jewel-toned rug was used to anchor the space. A brown leather sofa and gold leather chairs were grouped for seating. Their colors complement the concrete floor and area rug.”

While many auto body shops have a single unisex restroom, which is often dark and dingy, the owners at Towne Auto insisted on separate restrooms, each modern, clean and well-lit. “We achieved this through the use of mirrors and artwork, with warm paint colors to keep the restrooms from feeling cold and sterile,” Evens said. “The combination of bold colors, wall art and accent pieces created exactly the effect that the owner was trying to achieve.”

Another award-winning reception area designed by a leading interior design firm was created by VictorEric Design, a Canadian design firm located in Vancouver, British Columbia. “B&D Autobody & Glass, (also in Vancouver) came to us looking to upgrade their space,” according to the company’s blog.

“B&D Auto body is the preferred auto body shop of the Vancouver MINI Cooper Club – they are factory-trained for repairing MINI’s and are used exclusively by MINI Yaletown for body work. That being said they wanted to update their look to suit their new clientele. We wanted to design a waiting area for our client that offered style and comfort, and one that conveyed organization and efficiency. We took a blank concrete canvas and chose to create a cool vibe with bold colors of grey, black and white. We custom fabricated a table topped with glass with a base of stacked tires, added colorful automotive themed artwork and threw in accents of chrome and silver. This is not your ordinary auto body shop. Customers don’t even mind waiting.”

Our third example of a well-received reception area that is both cool and comfortable was designed for Uptown Auto Body in Oakland, CA by Ace Architects, also located in Oakland. Ace’s Co-Owner Lucia Howard loved working on the design and dealing with the shop’s owners Lisandro Allende and Giovanna Tanzillo was a creative and enriching experience, she said.

“Giovanni’s idea behind this project was to create a space where people could forget that they were in a body shop,” Howard explained. “Both owners collect art, so they wanted art to play a role. We were also interested in using car images in the overall look, because Lisandro is a big car guy and loves racing cars. We wanted to inject a ton of their personality into the reception area and I believe that’s what we achieved. We also wanted it to be open, so that when customers enter, they can also see part of the offices, so that they don’t get that stifling feeling. We didn’t want the customers to feel like they were being stored off in some room waiting for their car. When you sit in this reception area, there is so much happening throughout the room that you don’t’ even have a chance to be bored.”

So, maybe it’s time to take a longer look at your reception area. When was the last time you did anything to it? It’s all about what the public sees and perceives, so if you do A+ work, but your reception area is getting low grades from the people who matter the most, a makeover might just be money well-spent.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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