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Big Ideas For Small Budgets: Enlarging your Facility

Imagine adding an estimating or detailing bay for less than $5,000. Think it’s impossible? Not with today’s canopy buildings and overhangs

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Anyone running a busy shop realizes the need to capitalize on the most efficient use of space. Without a doubt, if it’s not productive (money-making) space, it becomes a luxury rather than a necessity.

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Many shop owners, however, need a designated area to do either estimating, detailing, delivery of finished vehicles or all of the above. And our customers deserve a little space to protect them from bad weather when they’re dropping off or picking up their vehicles. But how does a shop owner incorporate that into the budget? For most small to medium-size shops, that kind of area is a luxury — a non-productive space.

How about a compromise: a bay that adds to the looks of your building — one that’s not considered a "permanent" structure (a concern for those who rent or lease) and one that usually doesn’t require a building permit. Granted, this idea isn’t for all shops, but we’ve seen it applicable to about eight in 10 shops we do consulting for. And though it’s not the answer to shielding customers from all weather conditions, it works well in most climates, even extremes.

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Exactly what are these contraptions? They’re the newly designed canopy buildings and overhangs. Not your old-style, throwaway canopy hang-ons or flimsy pup tents, these are both neat looking and functional.

Canopy Background
For those of you who aren’t familiar with canopy-style add-ons, let’s begin with some background. Imagine two flimsy steel poles and a car cover hanging from the side of your building. When the wind kicks up or a hard snow hits, you usually have a problem. Even if it’s well constructed and holds up for a few years, the poles eventually rust and the cover fades away into a bundle of rags.

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Today, composites for structural strength and covering materials that are weather and sun resistant and designed to look like a beautiful, natural extension have changed all that. These canopies aren’t the kind your parents hooked up to the family camper in inclement weather. In fact, many of the free-standing canopies are insulated with bay doors, and some are even pre-wired for electrical outlets and lights.

More Than a Pup Tent
Now that you have a little canopy background, let’s examine some of the distinct applications for different areas of the country and various shop layouts.

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• Hang-to-type canopies are an excellent way to add beauty and protection from direct sun and rain. Though this type of canopy is applicable to almost every region, it doesn’t provide the type of indoor protection that some shops require. However, as a place to have clients drop off cars, do quick estimates, or do light detailing or car delivery, this model can’t be beat. The cost for a 15-foot-wide x 20-foot-deep unit is about $1,500 for self-installation and $2,250 installed. (We’ve listed a few companies in the box titled, "Canopy Contacts," that have nice models and colors to choose from.)

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• Hang-to canopies with one full wall cover and an open front adds additional privacy and weather protection for about $250 (not installed) or $500 or more (installed).

• Stand-alone units are basically pre-fabricated, one-bay buildings that are easily put together by yourself, a subcontractor or the supplier. Prices depend on how elaborate you want to get, but a basic 15-foot x 25-foot unit runs about $2,500 for the do-it-yourself model (add approximately another $1,000 for installation). The premium models can go from pre-fabricated composite, aluminum, steel or a mix of all materials and can perform a number of different functions. These units can be ordered in just about any configuration and color you can imagine and can be designed to your specifications, including such amenities as windows, entrance/bay doors, insulation and pre-fabricated floors. Most of the suppliers offer brochures of their models and will even pre-design the type of unit you’re interested in by using computers and color printers. This visual aid helps if you’re just kicking around the idea or if you have to show it to others for approval. Basic premium models that are attractive and get the job done start around $3,500 delivered and about $5,000 installed.

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A Big Idea for Small Budgets
If you’re shop is a busy one — and I hope it is — you realize the need to use every inch of shop space efficiently. You also realize the need for a designated estimating, detailing and delivery area — so-called non-productive space. As a shop owner dedicated to top-notch customer service, you also want to keep customers shielded from inclement weather when dropping off or picking up their vehicles. A canopy building or overhang could be just what your shop needs to satisfy all those needs.

Granted, canopy buildings and overhangs aren’t for everyone or every application. But the design choices and low prices available today make them a viable option for even the smallest shops with the tightest budgets.

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Writer John David Lake has 25 years of industry experience and travels the world teaching the art of appraising as a professional income source. He’s also the owner of a third-generation automotive facility in Maryland. Call him at (800) 956-LAKE or e-mail ([email protected]).

Canopy Contacts
The following are a list of vendors I’ve had good dealings with. They offer a large selection of hang-to and stand-alone canopies that will start the design wheels turning in your head.
Cover It Incorporated
Tel: (800) 294-0606
Web address: www.cover-it-inc.com
Instant Shelters
Tel: (800) 747-4434
Web address: www.instantshelters.com
If you feel more comfortable dealing locally, just look in the Yellow Pages under pre-fab buildings/structures. Many sign companies also offer canopy designs and installation.

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Take My Word for It
Our own automotive complex uses a neat canopy design that blends nicely with the natural brick front and adds about a 10-foot overhang area that’s great when it’s very sunny, raining or snowing. We had lights installed in the canopy area to illuminate late-night deliveries and provide security lighting, and the glow even makes the building look a little futuristic at night.

The finished product is very impressive, and we’ve received many compliments on our "new look." Installed, our canopy cost $7,500. Considering its size — 10 feet wide and more than 70 feet long — it was an inexpensive addition to our shop. Included in the price was vinyl lettering of our company’s name, giving us a new shop sign at the same time.

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