The Drive-Through Solution
Drive-through estimating bays are nothing new, but they are expensive and require plenty of planning and space, explaining why many dealerships have yet to implement one, says Bruce Hoecker, collision center manager for Riley Chevrolet in Jefferson City, Mo.
But he claims the benefits have far outweighed the effort of installing the drive-through system at Riley Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac, as it allows customers to pull right into the facility and immediately receive help from an estimator, who can mount the vehicle and access the underside right away.
“It’s all focused on the customer and catering to them,” Hoecker says. “It’s about being able to write a proper estimate the first time around.”
The Space and Equipment
The cost of constructing a drive-through estimating bay will vary, largely based on available space. As part of Riley Chevrolet's redesign five years ago, a large garage door and a small, 100-foot driveway with a 35-foot-by-20-foot bay was installed to serve as the drive-through unit.
Hoecker says 20 feet of width is plenty of space, especially if, like Riley, your shop installs a flush mount lift customers can drive directly onto, as there are no arms that swing out. If space permits, he recommends installing two drive-throughs. Also, keep a toolbox in the area for small teardowns.
“I would say with the whole design—concrete work, the bay itself, and the lift—probably came in at around $15,000,” Hoecker says.
Riley’s drive-through bay garage door is located near the front of the dealership, making it easily recognizable to customers pulling into the parking lot.
While a sign above the door may suffice, Hoecker also recommends that clear instructions and arrows be painted on the parking lot, guiding the customer through the process.
“Just make sure there are clear markings, that it is OK to drive into,” he says. “Some people might feel intimidated, or think they’re pulling into a door they shouldn’t be.”
Don’t be afraid to market your drive-through estimating bay, as it is not a common feature. Use any opportunity to advertise it, whether it be on your website or just by properly marking the entrance.
“It gives off a very professional feel,” Hoecker says. “People are always impressed by it.”
The Benefits to …
Hoecker says the bay has helped improve cycle times and reduce sublets because it helps to find hidden damage you normally wouldn’t see on the vehicle—especially when aided by the shop’s fluorescent lighting, which makes some of the more painstaking tasks, such as writing hail damage, much easier.
“It creates a better experience,” he says. “Rather than getting into the car the day of the repair and finding something you can’t get to until the next day, you see it right then. It’s a real timesaver.”
Hoecker recommends housing an estimator to work full time within the bay. And if the drive-through lift is not being used, he says it becomes convenient for getting an extra job through, which has helped the shop increase its throughput and overall efficiency.
Built with the customer in mind, the drive-through estimating bay has done wonders for customer service, Hoecker says.
As soon as the customer pulls in, he or she is greeted by an estimator, who immediately covers any visible damage. If it’s a hit that requires the lift, the estimator will raise it up right then.
Since the bay is located mere feet away from the front office, the customer can then walk through a door (without having to step outside again) and wait in the lobby—which is also extremely convenient when the customer picks up his or her repaired vehicle.
“We’ll pull the car in there, and then when they come to pick the car up, they don't have to stand outside if it’s raining or something,” Hoecker says. “They can walk out of our office, into the customer lounge, and to their car.”
The Insurance Companies
The most unexpected, but certainly welcome, benefit of the drive-through bay has been winning over the shop’s two DRPs, which has led to improved DRP scores.
“The insurance companies have offices at the body shop and are here two days a week, and they use [the drive-through bay] to do estimates every 30 minutes for a portion of the day,” Hoecker says. “That’s been part of the return on investment. Now insurance companies are finding they want to come here and write estimates. Now we’re able to capture more jobs.”