Slick cement floors. Modern couches with clean lines. Floor-to-ceiling windows. Minimalistic design and decor. This is no dealership or tech company. This is Walker’s Auto Collision.
Wayne Griffin, the director of operations for Walker’s, said people will drive right past the brand-new 50,000-square-foot building two or even three times because they don’t even realize it’s a body shop.
“They’re pretty amazed at what we’ve built here and the quality of the building,” said Griffin.
Building a New Shop
When Paul Walker, founder and CEO of Knoxville-based Walker’s, decided to build a new shop with aesthetics and design in mind, he turned to Studio Four Design, a Knoxville architecture and design firm, to help create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
Stacy Cox, president of Studio Four Design, and his team worked with Walker to get a sense of what was important to the business as a whole.
“For Walker’s, [Paul] wanted something that was going to create sort of a unique customer experience that a typical body shop customer hadn’t experienced before,” Cox explained. “Other body shops, I won’t say they’re not customer driven, but the customer experience might not be as big a deal as the functionality of the operation.” When you walk in, the experience, Cox continues, is a very light, open area that’s high-tech looking. He compares it to a BMW dealership.
Studio Four Design has worked on “automotive-type” projects in the past, but this was the first one that was exclusively an auto body repair facility. The Studio Four Design team worked with Walker to fully understand the shop’s unique needs.
Cox learned about the changing technology and the ever-evolving shift to being “green” in body shops. LED lighting was used throughout the lobby, with energy-efficient high-bay fixtures out in the shop.
“These guys work long hours, and LED lighting is a very efficient lighting source that uses low power and doesn’t create a lot of heat,” he said. “It’s very cost-friendly on your overall utility utilization and cost.”
Cox also had to fully comprehend the steps a car goes through to be repaired depending on the type of vehicle and the extent of the damage.
“The flow and layout of the space and the different stations where things happen is critical to integrate so you don’t waste a lot of space, but at the same time you create proper circulation within that facility to be able to function as efficiently as you can,” he explained. “In this business, time is money, and the sooner they can turn a car over and get it back on the street, the quicker they can bring another one in.”
Finding an Architect
It can be overwhelming at first for a shop looking to maybe renovate or build a whole new shop. But Cox recommends first, before anything else, contacting a good architect.
“Try to explain your vision to them,” he explained. “That’s what we’re trained to do, take what you do best and try to capture that and the essence of what it’s all about for you as individuals and turn that into something, from an architectural standpoint, that’s highly functional and efficient as well as aesthetically pleasing.”
An architect, Cox continues, has the true ability to synthesize all these ideas down and can extract a design from it.
Designing or even redesigning a body shop is all about collaboration, and Studio Four believes in a team approach. Cox says that some clients that think they won’t enjoy the creative collaboration process end up liking that stage of the process the most. In the case of Paul Walker and Walker’s Auto Collision, Walker was involved in a lot of the design meetings where they brainstormed ideas.
Walker had a vision coming into the project of what he wanted and collaborated with Studio Four to fit it within the square footage and $2 million budget.
“[Paul] had a design in mind which really was a work flow,” said Griffin. “An example would be in our paint department; it’s built where you drive through the prep stations and then into the paint booth and then out of the booth. You never back up, you never have to move a car that’s behind you. You’re always moving forward, which enables you to have more work coming in.”
Site layout and circulation is so important when it comes to designing a body shop and were kept top-of-mind when Cox worked on designing the shop space.
Walker’s also has an in-house Enterprise Rental office, so there had to be room for a fleet of vehicles as well.
Through the Glass
One of the design elements that has set Walker’s apart from the rest is a large glass window in the lobby that overlooks the shop. Customers can actually sit and watch the work being done in the shop.
“You actually get to see and experience everything that’s going on behind the scenes, because you can see it all,” explains Cox. “It created a different experience for the customer sitting there waiting or coming to pick up their car.”
Griffin added, “That has certainly made a difference. A lot of customers are just all about that. They just love being able to see that. And the kids love it too; they’ll stand there and watch. It’s been big.”
Another interesting aspect to the new Walker’s is a room dedicated to meetings and training. They use the room not only for their own purposes but also for helping the industry as a whole. Insurance companies will use it for company meetings or interviews, and I-CAR classes are held at the location monthly.
“It’s open, we offer it to a lot of different people in the industry, and we’ve had a lot of people from other shops show up for our I-CAR classes and they’re welcome here,” said Griffin, who is also the state chairman for I-CAR. “We’re not trying to hide anything, we’re more about sharing. We believe that everybody needs help, no matter what, and that nobody is perfect. We love for them to see what we have here.”
Enhancing your shop and thinking about the customer first can only improve your shop in the long run.
“We often use the mantra that ‘Design isn’t just function and it isn’t just beauty but it’s also a competitive edge for a client,’” explains Cox. “If you have someone who understands how design can add to the value of the business that you’re offering and create something that’s a new and unique experience for not only a customer but an employee or anyone else in the community, it can help enhance your business and set you apart from your competition.”
Paul Walker has begun planning another automotive collision repair location in the Knoxville area. He plans to work with Studio Four Design once again and has a 2017 projected opening date.