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You CAN Create Customers

Shop co-owner Chuck Logan asks whether he can tell DRPs to take a hike and still stay in business.


Mike Anderson is the former owner of rnWagonwork Collision Centers in Alexandria, Va., and current owner of, a full-service collision consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected] or (301) 535-3333.

Chuck, I can really appreciate your question. We’re a shop that doesn’t participate in any DRPs yet we’ve maintained a backlog of work of two to four weeks for the past 10 years and just opened up our second location.

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I want to begin by saying that I’m not anti-DRP. I am, however, very pro “get paid for what you do” and very pro “fix the vehicle right.”

To begin with, one of the things that I feel makes us successful is our goal to make the vehicle owners our customers before they wreck their vehicles. We accomplish this through several means, such as open houses and public service events.

Once someone’s had an accident, we then focus on making and keeping that person as a

What We Do Before They Wreck

Hold open houses: We have open houses for a variety of car clubs throughout the year. This is a great opportunity to educate consumers on their rights as vehicle owners and on the difference between a poor job, an average job and a great job. We usually have coffee and donuts in the morning, followed by a variety of demonstrations given by our employees:

  • Metal straightening demonstration without using body filler.
  • Frame/unibody pulling demonstration.
  • Undercoating, rustproofing and seamsealing demonstrations.
  • Refinish preparation demonstration.
  • Refinishing of a vehicle during lunch where people can watch through the windows if possible.
  • PDR demonstrations.

A couple of added things that we do to make the day more enjoyable are:

  • Give out touch-up kits.
  • Don’t write any estimates that day (but we do schedule them for an appointment).
  • Have various parts departments/jobbers donate door prizes.
  • Get the people involved like letting them put their feet on the frame pumps and pull the frame, or let them make a dent in a fender for us to straighten. Let them actually use a stud gun/nail gun to weld pins onto the damaged metal and pull out, etc.

During the open house, we also attempt to showcase our employees talents and credentials. You’d be amazed at how excited your employees will be at being able to show off their talents.


An added bonus: When you allow employees to show off their craft and talents, they gain confidence in themselves and develop pride in the entire organization. This is immeasurable.

It’s also a great way to profile our industry in a positive way and quite possibly recruit future employees; recently at a Volvo open house, we met a person who wants to come into this career field.

Keep in mind our goal is to sell that vehicle owner on Wagonwork Collision Center’s quality and craftsmanship and their consumer rights before they ever have an accident. To do this, we educate them about the things that we may charge for that the carriers may not pay for.


We discuss paint material caps, certain labor operations, their options if the insurer won’t pay for their claim, their rights in regard to having to get more than one estimate and good repairs versus lesser quality repairs.

We also inform them about their right to go to whatever shop they choose (in regard to DRPs) and about insurer-owned shops (Sterling in our area). We also tell them which insurance companies we – as a collision repair shop – prefer to deal with. I believe that as collision repair shops, we underestimate our influence to direct business to the “better” carriers.


Besides car clubs, you can have an open house catered to insurance agents, women’s groups, new school teachers, etc. Most school districts have a welcome event for new-hire teachers in the area, and we host an event at our shop for these new teachers.

New teachers, most fresh out of college, may be new to the area and don’t know who they can trust for their automotive needs. This is an excellent opportunity to win them over before they ever need you, as well as give back to the community.

We also have an open house for a variety of women’s groups. We show them how to check their oil, change a flat, etc. – again just so they know who we are. You can also hold open houses for Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.


To arrange open houses, we put out feelers with our clients. We have a customer profile survey that asks them if they know of a group who may want to tour our facility. We also get involved with car clubs. Good news travels fast so once you do a couple, club members will tell other groups. Once a group has decided to partner with us, we advertise in their newsletter, if they have one.

Advertise in the local car club magazines: Most car enthusiasts are very concerned with the way their vehicles are repaired. We run a very simple ad with our business card blown up and then, when we’re in discussions about an open house, we (usually me) will go and speak informally to their group. Usually this interaction prompts enough interest that someone in that group will write up a column for their newsletter.


Besides the car club magazines, we don’t advertise. Our goal is to create or capture customers before they have an accident, and it’s always worked.

Have a lawnmower and bicycle Saturday: A new event we tried this spring is Lawnmower and Bicycle Saturday. We advertised to our local community that in April, anyone who had a lawnmower that needed the oil changed, blade sharpened, weed eater head changed, etc., could come to our shop.

Most of our technicians are very versatile in their abilities. Think about it. How many people do we know who can’t get that lawnmower started the very first time for the year? One of my technicians actually suggested this, so I can’t take the credit for it. Again, the whole goal is to make vehicle owners our customers before they have an accident.


There’s a saying that actions speak louder than words. Many people run a radio ad, newspaper ad or Yellow Pages ad. Regardless of how you do it, you need to get people in your doors so they’re sold on who you are. That way, when the insurance company attempts to get them to go to a DRP shop, they’ll already know who they want to go to.

Another positive aspect of this is that whenever you offer something like this, it’s considered a public service – and public service advertisements are free. What more could a shop ask for? Free advertising! This also helps to promote our image in a more positive light to the public.


What We Do After They Wreck

Make a good first impression: They say first impressions are everything. Many customers come into our facility and say it’s the cleanest shop they’ve ever been in.

Sell the estimate: We do estimates by appointment only, and we only write one estimate per hour. This allows the estimator – whom we call a front-end blue printer – to spend one-on-one time with the prospective client.

During this time, the front-end blue printer goes over the entire estimate with the client. One of the things we’ve discovered through The Coyote Vision Group – a 20-Group we belong to – is that the person who gets the insurer to pay everything on a supplement is usually very analytical and thorough (keyword “usually”). Although this person can get all the money, he’s not the greatest at “wowing” the customer.


On the other hand, we’ve found that the people-oriented person who wows the customer, writes a very good drivable-off-the-street estimate and can sell the customer on our facility is usually not very thorough regarding the supplement process.

Therefore, we’ve created two different positions – a front-end blue printer who handles nothing but COD estimates and deals with the customer and the back-end blue printers, who write supplements and manage the repair process.

Do a quality job: I still believe that people want a quality job and are even willing to pay out of pocket for it – if they can just be shown the value in what they’re paying for. How do you do that?


We have a lot of written letters from customers, and when we do an open house, it never seems to fail that we have at least one prior customer there to speak on our behalf. If not, we just share with them prior customer stories.

What’s even more effective is when someone in the group has had a poor experience somewhere else. They share their horror stories, and this is all it takes.

Our customers usually pay an out-of-pocket expense of about $300 per claim for things the insurance carrier may not. We charge for a variety of things – cleaning the vehicle for delivery, additional paint materials beyond the thresholds or caps, additional paint preparation labor to make the repaired areas look like pre-accident condition, etc.


We have a mutually respectful relationship with several of the major insurers. Two of the top-five carriers actually bring their new staff appraisers to our facility for several days to watch our technicians and to observe our procedures.

We’ve been approached by many carriers to be on their DRPs. However, in order for us to do that, we wouldn’t be able to service our regular clients, and I’m concerned about the concessions they may ask for.

We’re in a particularly high-rent area near Washington D.C. so we have to charge for every operation to show a profit. To give you an example, a 1,500-square-foot building with a 2,500-square-foot parking lot is $800,000. To be profitable, a shop has to charge for all that they do – especially given the labor rate.


Provide excellent customer service: We have a cooler in our office where all guests get free beverages. We also call customers every day to inform them of the status of their vehicles. Every customer is given my personal cell phone and pager numbers to call in case they have any problems. We also have a signed quality-control check list that every customer receives when they pick up their vehicle.

The most important thing that I feel we have to offer are my employees attitudes. I think customers can feel when you really care or when you’re just acting like you do. My employees make me look good every single day.


So often we, as repairers, only focus on fixing the car right, but people want to feel special, too. They want to feel in touch with the process, and they want to feel like we care. People who you’ve made to feel important will come back – and they’re your best form of advertisement.

Give walk-through tours of the shop to anyone and everyone who wants a tour: We tell our customers that we have an open-shop policy. They can come at any time to look at their vehicle without giving us any notice. We never have anything to hide.


We also show them how we never store parts inside the vehicle. Instead, they’re bubble wrapped for protection and stored in a separate area.

We always ask people if they have gone or are planning to go to another facility. We also mention that people often judge a restaurant by how clean its restrooms are, and we ask them if they’ll do the same with a repair facility.

Creating Your Customers

A lot of insurance carriers attempt to steer customers away from our shop. They’ll tell customers that if they come to us, they’ll have to pay out of pocket. They also sometimes tell vehicle owners that we’re a custom shop and fix the vehicle “too good”.


Can you believe such a thing? But this usually backfires and makes the customer want to come to us even more.

As I mentioned, we don’t do any radio, TV, direct-mail or newspaper advertising. We don’t even have a Yellow Pages ad. In everything we do, our single focus is to make people our customers before they ever wreck their vehicle.

If there’s anything I can share with you, let it be this: You CAN create your customer.

Writer Michael Anderson has owned and operated Wagonwork Collision Center in Alexandria, Va. since 1986. He also serves on ASA’s Collision Division Operations Committee, is a member of Coyote Vision Group and serves as a SkillsUSA/VICA contest chairman. Anderson credits his father for getting him started in this industry and his employees who “make me look good every day.”

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