Spring Cleanup: Look Better Than Your Competition

Spring Cleanup: Look Better Than Your Competition

To compete in a consolidating environment, you need to look better than the competition.

So many times, collision repair facility owners struggle to get a return on their investment. Whether it’s buying a new piece of equipment or a new management program, shop owners are in a continuous battle to see a return on any extra money invested. 

Empty Shop, Full Staff

During the COVID shutdown and being in California, I ended up with an empty shop and a full staff. I was forced to furlough about 30 of my staff and keep a skeleton crew just to stay open. We were an essential business, which was a good thing. Then came the PPP loans that many of us applied for, and I was fortunate enough to get one. There was one stipulation, however: You had to bring your entire crew back and pay the majority of the money to them. They ended up loosening the requirements for payback of the PPP loan, but I was at the beginning of the program, so I ended up giving all of it to my employees — which turned out to be a good thing.

The Great Spring Cleanup

I now had 40-plus employees sitting around with little to do because the state was still shut down and we had very little collision work. For a shop that had been consistently producing over $500,000 per month, this was quite the challenge. As I thought of ways to capitalize on all of the extra help I had, I decided to clean up and paint all of my equipment, as I thought this would benefit us when we got up to speed again. We also took inventory of everything that needed repair, so our first step was to clean and repair any and all of our equipment. Then, we started painting everything. 

As this continued, we started cleaning the stalls and especially the corners. Some of the stuff we found in remote corners of the shop had been there for years. After we saw what a huge difference the cleanup made, we continued by painting the stalls. You would be amazed how clearly you can see what else needs attention when you remove the junk. As our cleanup continued, it progressed into what I called the “giant facelift.” I hadn’t realized how run-down and neglected everything had become.

Staff Buy-in

I also noticed what I called the “buy-in” of the entire staff; they really became engaged in the cleanup effort! When we decided to paint the equipment, the office staff asked if they could paint the office too. Everyone started taking this facelift seriously. Every day, someone would bring something else to my attention that needed a redo. This continued on for several weeks, but slowly I was seeing my entire operation take on a new form. It all started looking new again and made me realize that I hadn’t really done much in 10 years and never realized how much everyday business had taken its toll. 

Like New

The biggest takeaway was how little money this cost; the cleanup and paint really wasn’t much. Granted, I did have the labor, but we made the shop look like a completely new operation and made everything look new again. 

The techs painted stripes on the floors of their stalls, and everyone took part and really enjoyed it. The paint department crew redid all of the paint booths, and they really looked good. I was willing to purchase anything, including seals and lights, and we even replaced some handles and switches. It all looked new, and we had everything repaired to work like new.

Many of our welders, which were parked in the corner, needed some type of service, so we took inventory and repaired them all. Next, our frame racks and clamps along with our measuring systems were all inventoried and refurbished. This made such a difference that I really got excited and started investing in the appearance of the entire operation. I hired an outside paint company to paint the exterior, and we redid our signage and even our landscaping. Some trees had grown so large that they were covering up our signs and building, so we removed them. As time went on, I became so obsessed with the appearance of the shop that I hired a company to trim the trees that were obstructing the view of people driving down the interstate.

This facelift continues to this day; we’re three years into it now, and I’m continually looking for ways to upgrade. I’m also constantly looking at my competition to see if we’re lacking anywhere and, if we are, whatever we’re lacking gets put on a list of things to address.

Set a Budget

How can you give your own operation a facelift? The first thing is to set a budget, and it doesn’t have to be huge. I happened to become obsessed and ended up spending considerably more money than was necessary because, as my plan evolved, my personal goal became to have the “best of everything.”  But you don’t have to go to that extreme. I assure you, two things that made the biggest difference in our shop’s appearance were a trash dumpster and a bucket of paint. 

Here are some tips for your facelift, and you can choose the order, but I assure you that you’ll get a huge bang for your buck:

  • What does my customer see? Imagine you’re the customer and walk through your entrance. Take notes on everything that could be freshened up or cleaned. This can be from landscaping to the appearance of the office. This “customer perspective” is number one because it is really the most important thing. Visit some car dealerships and copy their ideas where you can.
  • Spend as little money as possible. You can always come back and do sections over if needed, but it’s important to complete the entire facelift and not leave anything half done.
  • Look at your competition. It is important that you match your competition, at least with first impressions. It’s even better if you can outdo them, which should be your ultimate goal.    
  • Spend the most on your office. It will give you the biggest return on your investment. After all, most customers never see the back of the shop. Also, think about this: There is a reason the lobbies of car dealerships look so grand.
  • Clean every corner of your shop. Get a dumpster and toss anything and everything you’re not using or saving for a rainy day. Teach yourself and your techs to clean up constantly, and don’t collect junk. We’re all junk collectors, so we all need to break this habit. This costs nothing, and the great thing is you’ll see a huge improvement in the appearance of your operation. 
  • Touch up all paint on your building — even gates and fences. You don’t need to break the bank; just touch things up anywhere it is needed.
  • Remove any and all pictures from the walls of your shop — and don’t allow anyone to put anything on the walls. 
  • Keep adding to your plan and do it in writing. If you do it in writing, you’ll be able to check it off when completed or add something else that needs attention.
  • If you don’t have uniforms, purchase company shirts and hats for your techs. My office staff wears custom golf shirts with our logo and name tags, while our techs wear company T-shirts and baseball caps with our logo.
  • Start with the items that cost the least. Get started on your facelift as soon as possible, but have a plan and complete each task before moving to the next item, and keep it an ongoing part of your business plan. When you create a plan, visualize what you’re trying to accomplish, then do it. 

Note: Our sales have doubled from what they were pre-COVID, and I really believe the facelift is a major part of this.  

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