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Shop Operations

Business: Open Your Eyes

Viewing your operation from the perspective of your customer can open your eyes to improvements you need to make.

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Angelo DiTullio started in the collision business in his father's shop at seven years old. He has been both a shop manager and regional manager for the past 20 years. He has worked for the insurance industry, family-owned body shops, regional MSOs and national body shops. He's currently a district manager for Abra. He can be reached at [email protected]

EYES-WIDE-OPENThere’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes. Managers and owners who are onsite every day often can’t see the forest through the trees, which is why they would benefit from seeing their operation from a new vantage point. How would your shop look through the eyes of your spouse or through the eyes of a friend from another industry? That pile of parts you just walked by because it’s always sitting there would most likely stand out as something that doesn’t belong there to a person with a fresh perspective.

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Let’s walk around for a different look from the eyes of an average customer. Just the fact that you’re an expert and you see your place every day blinds you to some obvious things that a novice would find unusual and out of place.

Website

A good place to start before you even walk in the door would be your online presence and website. How does it look? Does it look old and dated? Is it too bland and basic like ones set up for free by the phone company? How does it compare to your competition? It’s easy to take a look and rate yourself amongst your peers.

Make sure all the contact information and links are current and up-to-date, and there aren’t any misspellings. Having links where customers can ask questions or request estimates and prospective employees can apply for a job are good things to have. While you’re online, it wouldn’t hurt to check sites such as Google and Yelp to see how your business is being perceived by the public. While these comments might not be “fair,” customer perception is everything. You may be losing business before you even have a chance to grab it, all because of a dated website or bad online presence. The best plan you can have for protecting your online reputation is to keep making customers happy.

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From the Outside

The first thing prospective customers see is the outside of your facility. Keep in mind they may have passed by your shop for years before actually walking in the door. You may be used to seeing that pile of torn bumpers you’ve replaced or that ’79 Camaro you’ve been meaning to get junked for years, but your prospective customers aren’t.

Is your facility’s exterior well-maintained and inviting? Does your signage look good, or is it faded with bulbs out? Did someone check the timers for your signs and exterior lights, or are they on during the day and off at night? How does your parking lot look (if you have one)? Is it clean and easily accessible to customers, including those with special needs, or is it a free-for-all blocked with wrecks, tow trucks, deliveries and bumper wrappers blowing around? How would you rank your shop’s curb appeal? Yes, your shop needs curb appeal and needs to look professional and inviting to customers. It won’t kill you to power wash your garage doors that are filthy from being open and tidy up the parking lot.

Prospective customers should be able to clearly see your office entrance. If you’re constantly directing them as to where the office is, you have an issue. Your office doesn’t need crystal chandeliers and marble floors, but it does need to be clean and professional looking. The wood paneling and metal desks might have looked good in 1975, but it’s way past time for an upgrade.

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Sit down in the customer waiting area and take a look around. What do you see? Look from a customer’s perspective, not your own. Customers should not have to see boxes and parts laying everywhere; it should not look like a UPS or FedEx dropoff. Get the parts out of the office. Also, I love BodyShop Business, but it is not for your customers, so don’t put it out in your reception area for them to read. Get the office cleaned up, dusted off and ready to welcome your prospective customers.

Into the Shop

Would you ever dare take a customer into your shop or – heaven forbid – the paint room? Or worse, your tech restroom? What if they asked to see your shop? Would you just stutter and stammer an excuse about your insurance regulations?

I’ve had the privilege of being in many shops in my career, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a good shop be dirty and disorganized. Cleanliness and organization is part of a well-run business. It won’t happen on its own; it needs to be part of your company’s culture, and you must be vigilant. I’ve seen piles of parts, dead cars, overflowing trash, and equipment and hoses everywhere. You would be amazed how everyone gets a fresh perspective and a good feeling when they join together and clean and organize the shop. Look around, get everything off the floor that you can and move things to their proper place. Blow off and wipe down your equipment and make it look like you care. The equipment should not only be safe and in good operating condition, but it should look good too.

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The paint booths and paint room are no exception. How many bulbs are out? How old and cracked are the hoses in the booth? How long has it been since you changed your filters? Yes, you need to change the ceiling filters, too; they don’t last forever. When is the last time you walked into the paint room? Are the walls splashed with paint? Is your scale splashed with the same colors? You may have to work to get the booths and room back to standards, but maintaining what it should look like will be much easier moving forward as long as you make it a company policy to keep it that way.

Lastly, go out and look at completed cars ready for pickup. This will give you a good understanding of the quality of your overall operation. When is the last time you did a fit and finish? Grab the estimate and someone who is not a shop expert to take a look at the quality.

How comfortable are your CSRs and office staff with delivering your shop’s work to your customers? Many years ago, I allowed the CSRs in the shop I worked at to inspect the work before they called the customers and delivered the vehicles. The perspective of someone who is not a shop expert, such as a CSR, is more in line with how the customer will see their vehicle. As the owner or manager, your vision is flawed in this area because you’re more likely to make excuses and say it’s commercially acceptable or that bumpers never match. Do an inspection with your CSR or someone else who is not a shop expert and you will see your work from a totally different perspective.

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Summary

It’s important to remember that you have most likely been in the shop for many years. That means you judge things through the lens of your knowledge and experience. Try to see your operation as it truly looks to your customers.

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