Running a Shop

Tips for Renovating a Shop Effectively

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If you’ve read this column in recent months, you’ll recall that Mother Nature threw me quite the curveball last Nov. 30. 

It was one of the worst earthquakes in Alaska’s history—7.1 on the richter scale, with the epicenter roughly 10 miles from Anchorage, where my three shops are located. 

As a result, at our large, main location, we’re getting close to wrapping up a renovation project. As you might expect, I’ve learned a few lessons during this project, and I’ve been reminded of others. 

We chose to finalize the cosmetic side of the project during the slower, summer months.

We closed off certain sections of the shop during that time to allow renovation work to be done incrementally.  

It’s been awesome that we were able to work through it all and still produce repair work on vehicles. But there have been a few struggles, too. 

We had to essentially tie the center of our main building back together. The center of it came up in the earthquake, so they basically had to run these strut joists to bring everything back together so that, if we get another earthquake, the building doesn’t fall and separate in half. The earthquake affected some of our front office area, too. 

Ultimately, if you want to renovate your body shop effectively, I’ve learned that you need to focus on these key steps: 

Update Your Staff Often. When you’re doing renovation within a shop, and you’re fixing cars at the same time, it takes a lot of patience, and a lot of jockeying things around. And, it takes communication with everyone involved. 

During this renovation process we communicated with our employees frequently. Fortunately, we didn’t have to lay anyone off during this process; we simply moved a few employees to our other locations. 

We were able to work through this, and a big factor in that was having a crew that believed in us. Working through this was definitely a team effort. We kept employees in the loop regarding what was going on; we had a construction company that took up space in the parking lot with their equipment, for example, but everyone worked well together. It was impressive. 

Communicate with Customers. Of course, everyone in our community is well aware of the magnitude of the earthquake that hit here. They see cracks in buildings, and repairs going on all around town, even now. There are still buildings that are condemned from the aftermath of the earthquake. 

There are even people that still haven’t been able to get back into their houses. 

So, we have just tried to be transparent and talk to customers about what’s going on. And it hasn’t been the end of the world, because it’s not like it just happened to us; it affected everyone, all around, up here.

Review Your Insurance Policies. Recently, I’ve made sure to review where we stand with all our insurance policies. As shop owners, we can get caught up in the day-to-day business and forget that we have a bunch of people’s cars in our facilities. Whether it’s an earthquake, or a fire, or a roof caving in, I make sure I’m very conscious of my insurance policy now. I’ve made sure to review: If we have another disaster, are we covered? Are our employees covered? Are our customers covered?

I’ve made sure to be aware of what our plan is in an emergency, too. I’ve made sure to have those meetings, and those hard discussions of: if something happens, here’s what we do, and here’s how we handle it. Even the little stuff; for instance, during the earthquake we had a huge fan in the middle of our shop, and I can’t imagine if that thing would’ve falling down. Thank goodness it didn’t, but with things like that I think we have a corporate responsibility to make sure that our facilities are safe.

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