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What Steps Can I Take to Resurrect a Dealership Body Shop?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In raising a dealership body shop from the dead, what should I do first, fix the shop or market the business? The dealer does not want to spend any money until we make some money, and we can’t make any until we spend some. Where do we start?

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Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 32nd year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In raising a dealership body shop from the dead, what should I do first, fix the shop or market the business? The dealer does not want to spend any money until we make some money, and we can’t make any until we spend some. Where do we start?

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I agree that you have to start somewhere. To spend the minimum money for the maximum benefit, try to increase your current close rate. Close rate (or capture ratio or batting average) is a measure of what percent of the estimates you write turn into repair orders. BodyShop Business surveys suggest that 56 percent to 67 percent is typical. My goal is to be pleasant enough, knowledgeable enough and sales-y enough to close at least 80 percent of the folks who drive in and have the opportunity to shake my hand. Getting more of the people currently driving in to the shop to say yes doesn’t require a ton of the dealer’s capital.

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Survey after survey shows that collision repair consumers want a clean facility and a sympathetic estimator. Mrs. Smith has a collision every seven years and is very apprehensive about the repair process. Listen to her story like it matters. Too many estimators just want the customer to shut up so they can finish the estimate. Wrong!

I would begin by scrubbing clean and repainting the office. Add a couple of green plants, make sure the desks and customer chairs look like something safe to sit on, and clean the glass until it sparkles. Move all the unreturned crash parts out of the office, and throw away all the old magazines and race car parts catalogs. Dress the estimators professionally, and train everyone in the office to smile at the customers and be friendly and concerned about their problem. If the average repair (always dependent on door rate) is $2,000, closing just one more repair a day turns into $10,000 of new sales at the end of the week. A few weeks at that rate, and the dealer principal might reconsider spending some cash to improve the facility, equipment and marketing efforts. Capture the people who are already there before you market for more.

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