Creating Customer Connections
When Carl Colquett opened his shop 17 years ago in Athens, Ga., it was a discreet 1,800-square-foot facility with two stalls and a paint booth. The Body Shop of Athens has since moved to a major thoroughfare and boasts 14,000 square feet, 14 stalls and two floors in a building shared with community nonprofits and local organizations.
Carl, who recruited his business-savvy wife Carla Colquett to help improve the business, has nearly doubled revenue since the shop’s meager beginnings. The couple expects 2012 to be the facility’s first seven-figure year, growth they attribute to building relationships, testing new strategies and pushing the boundaries of what a body shop should be. And they’ve managed to do it without a single DRP partner.
“We are honestly all about growing relationships,” Carla says. “We just happen to fix cars very professionally also.”
Building a Reputation
After launching The Body Shop of Athens in 1995, Carl quickly earned a reputation as approachable and honest. Despite the increasing importance of DRP programs to collision repairers, he never formed an insurance partnership, relying instead on customer referrals.
“I built my business on the idea that the customer is the boss and I just happen to work here,” he says.
So far, that boss has done a good job of spreading the word about the business. Carl often works with families for generations, with parents referring their children and so on. “He’s always been there,” Carla says.
Carla joined her husband’s business about four years ago. She has a background in sales, marketing and upper management in large corporations and small businesses, a bachelor’s degree in science, and a passion for volunteering. She’s put that diverse background to good use growing the shop, where her husband has focused almost entirely on repairing vehicles.
Marketing, for example, used to consist of one radio advertisement on one local rock station. “Literally, he worked hard, and that’s what he did,” Carla explains about Carl’s repair focus.
So when Carla came on board, things changed dramatically. The couple created a shared vision based on the combined strengths of their skills. The resulting growth is easy to see.
The Body Shop of Athens has taken a stab at several new initiatives in recent years, many of them related to marketing and customer service:
Taking it to the airwaves. One of the Colquetts’ better-known efforts is a local radio show, during which they talk about everything from the claims process to community events. The show evolved out of a podcast the couple did with a local newspaper. They know it draws traffic, thanks to customer comments. Customer Claire Phillips, for example, says she heard Carl’s show about how foggy headlights pose a danger in the dark, so she went in to get her headlights cleaned. The Colquetts also make recent radio broadcasts available on their website, thebodyshopofathens.com.
Sharing space with the community. The shop, which has a 20-year lease option on the building, shares its space with local nonprofits and community organizations. That has raised community awareness of the facility and bolstered the shop’s reputation.
In 2010, Doris Aldrich moved her nonprofit Women to the World into the building, where she sublets. She says it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship; her volunteers help promote the collision center, and the shop promotes the nonprofit. They have mutual respect for each other. “That’s rare these days,” she says.
Adding a public cafe. One of the most recent additions to the shop’s building is a Jittery Joe’s, which is part of a national coffee company. The Colquetts own a license for Jittery Joe's. They had extra storefront space and decided to open the coffee shop as a place for people to gather.
Carla says the public café has strengthened the shop’s visibility and added a new layer of customer service. It draws people to the building and helps the shop build relationships with potential customers before they need repairs.
Emphasizing green efforts. In 2008, the shop was among the first in the region to switch to waterborne paint. They are also staunch recyclers of metals, paper and everything else—employees have recycling bins at their desks, so there’s no excuse not to do it. The Colquetts also attend local environmental events to demonstrate their commitment to being good stewards of the planet.
Over-the-top customer service. The Body Shop of Athens makes a tremendous effort to please customers. The shop offers “insider tips” on its website to help guide customers through the claims process and it offers answers to a long list of frequently asked questions. The shop is also trying to cater more to women—it’s in the process of getting certified by AskPatty.com, a program that trains auto centers to attract, retain and increase loyalty among female customers.
A notable effort to improve the customer experience comes at the end of a repair. When a customer gets their car back, they get a package of goodies that includes a thank you note, a rose and a bottle of water. The value of those efforts is reflected in the shop’s CSI scores, which have come in at 100 percent.
Community involvement. The Colquetts frequently volunteer in the community. Carla also serves on several groups, including the Junior League of Athens and the Athens Oconee Women’s Club.
Ongoing education. The Colquetts host regular training lunches for employees. They make a point of staying up to speed on evolving repair procedures and technology.
All for the customer
The most vital piece of their success, the Colquetts say, is building and maintaining customer relationships. Everything else follows.
“We do everything with the consumer in mind,” Carla says. “I mean everything.”
They regularly look for new ways to improve the customer’s experience. A recent addition to their website, for instance, is a free report called “5 Things You Need To Know If You’ve Been In a Wreck.” The report offers tips, suggests questions to ask and notes common mistakes to avoid.
The shop runs with eight employees and an intern, so with a relatively small staff, Carl and Carla often work directly with customers. “If we see that something is happening or that somebody’s getting frustrated in the process, or one of our employees doesn’t exactly know how to handle something, we’re very hands-on,” Carla says.
The consumer focus is also why the shop doesn’t have DRPs. The couple is open to the agreements, but doesn’t like having mandates on parts or procedures hanging over their heads. They feel that can jeopardize the quality of the repair.
Carla says the shop's goal is to create the ultimate customer experience. “We take every day, every opportunity as it comes."