Seeing Is Believing
Including a virtual tour on your shop’s website will open up your facility to potential customers and insurance partners, boosting their confidence in your business and giving you a leg up on competition.
Courtesy Michael Kintner, i360Views.com
When Michael Kintner began working as a business development consultant for Mallery’s Auto Body and Collision Inc., the shop’s basic website typically received about six to seven visitors per week. Kintner’s work for the shop involves a bit of everything, from Internet technology to human resources, so he helped owner John Mallery redesign the site to boost traffic.
Aside from making the site more modern and user friendly, Kintner thought it would help to actually show vehicle owners and insurers what the shop looks like and how repairs are performed. So, he put together a virtual tour using photos from the facility. The tour lets viewers see a panoramic, 3D view of every department—everything from the office and lobby to the estimating area, shop floor, and paint booths.
The addition of the slideshow has helped the new site attract an average of 54 visitors per day. “We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg,” Kintner says.
That’s your first impression.”
—David Moore, president, CollisionBuilder.com
Virtual tours are quickly becoming more popular at collision repair facilities. The tours offer customers a glimpse into where they’re bringing their vehicle and, as Kintner puts it, they let insurance agencies know that you’re a serious business partner because you’re willing to show how you work.
“We mean business about what we do,” he says. “All we’re doing is we’re showcasing it more.”
The Power of Appearance
David Moore, president of CollisionBuilder.com, a company that helps collision repair shops build websites, says 83 percent of customers use websites to make a decision about what business to use.
“You are solely judged by the quality of your website,” he says. “That’s your first impression.”
And people make decisions quickly. Within three to four seconds, Kintner says, a website viewer’s attention must be captured. “If you don’t capture their attention, they’re gone,” he says.
Appearance also matters a great deal, Kintner says, which is why the virtual tour is so crucial.
“You think about it: someone just wrecked their car, and they want to entrust somebody to repair their car,” he says. “When customers evaluate their tours, especially this type of shop, they’re realizing, ‘Look how good this guy keeps his shop clean.’ He’s willing to open up his back doors and allow people to look inside there. Take most collision shops, those who want to succeed—they will. They want to build the trust with the community. That makes a big difference.”
Find a Pro
Virtual tours range in type, but both Moore and Kintner say this is not a do-it-yourself project. It is not worth the time investment to learn about the technology required to install a virtual tour, they say. Unless you’re savvy about the Web and multimedia, or an ambitious owner with time to spare, you should hire a website designer for the project.
Moore says that will cost at least $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the type of virtual tour you want. To find a company, you could ask colleagues you trust and whose websites are useful and look good. You could also search Google using the term “website designers.”
If you decide to take your own photos and send them to the web designer rather than hiring a photographer—which is fairly common—then Moore reminds shop owners to show a clean and professional shop. He has seen unacceptable photos of a shop cluttered with cardboard boxes and old parts. He has even seen pictures of naked women hanging on walls.
He says a great tip is for shop operators to show photos to an outsider and ask them to give an honest opinion about what they think. The goal is for the photos to represent your shop so that the customer can get a feel for how you run the business. If the shop is unclean and cluttered, then the customer is going to think you run a disorganized, unprofessional shop, Moore says.
A significant number of shops still do not have websites, so if you’re thinking of creating a website, it might be a good idea to work a virtual tour into the layout, Moore says. If you’re not sure of what kind of tour to include, here’s a look at how a few different shops did it:
Mallery’s Auto Body and Collision Inc.,
Kintner, the business development consultant helping Mallery’s Auto Body, also runs an aerial photography and virtual tour company, as well as a computer technology-consulting firm. So when Mallery needed help with his business and his website, Kintner suggested the virtual tour.
He created a tour that lets people zoom in and out of each area of the facility, seeing the shop in a panoramic view. Online visitors can explore the facility, its processes and the people who work there.
“It allows customers to understand the behind-the-scenes,” he says, adding that customers can see inside the shop and know what kind of place they’re bringing their vehicle to.
Eason Collision Specialist,
Moore of CollisionBuilder.com started out in collision repair, and had worked at Eason as a technician and shop manager. He stayed in touch with owner Jerry Eason after leaving to teach collision repair at a technical college in Pryor, Okla. Over lunch about five years ago, Moore—who had been learning website design and code in his free time—suggested to Eason that he develop a website. Moore offered to help.
In launching a website, Moore thought it would be fun to create a virtual tour. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if they could look at each stage of the repair process?”
He used a digital camera, a photo-editing program, Adobe Flash, and ActionScript, a type of code used with Flash. He interviewed the shop’s staff and took photos of the people and processes that make up Eason Collision.
The result is a detailed tour. The viewer has the option to tour the office, body shop, or frame, paint, detail or mechanic departments. Each department can be explored in different ways. Viewers can meet each person who works in the office. A pop-up bubble introduces the owner, receptionist, and others. On the shop floor and throughout all of the departments, a garage door opens and you can learn about different aspects of the repair process—and the people who do the work.
“A website is a way for them to get to know you,” Moore says. “I’ve always heard that people don’t want to do business with strangers, so don’t be strange.”
Hustead’s Collision & Tow,
Berkely and Oakland, Calif.
Hustead’s website includes a basic slideshow tour, explains Jonathan Yi, owner and president. The tour shows various areas of the building and the repair process. For example, there are photos of the outside of the building, as well as photos of cars in the shop. Yi says his employees took photos
and supplied them to the shop’s website designer.
He says the virtual tour was part of the process of creating a website when the shop launched its Internet presence more than five years ago.
“It wasn’t a big investment. It came along with one of the added features we wanted to provide,” Yi says.
“I think it’s giving a different view of the business. People seem to like our website. It seems to be clean-cut. … We actually get that a lot from either customers looking for us, or from potential vendors,” he says.