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The New Standards for Body Shop Appearance

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Rick Fields knows firsthand what a nice building can do for a business.

Fields, who runs four shops under the name Collision Cure Body Werks in Indiana, opened his newest facility last November in a beautiful 17,000-square-foot brick building originally slated to be an Ace Hardware store. Working off the exterior design, Rick Fields’ wife, Lynn Fields, added wood floors, leather seats, warm lighting and a fireplace inside, along with an open layout that allowed customers to see what was going on in the production area.

His 75 percent closing ratio at that store in Westfield, Ind., is already 12 percent higher than at his other three locations with more traditional designs. And at $165,000 a month, his revenue at the new facility is almost triple what he budgeted.

“I like to think the collision repair business is moving into a retail mindset,” says Fields, who has worked in the industry for 36 years. “I think customers want to go somewhere where they have a warm and fuzzy feeling. They care about how a place looks, just like they care about how their car is going to look.”

Larry Gindhart

Fields worked with Judy Lynch, a designer from paint company Sherwin-Williams, to develop the new space. Design consultants are hearing more and more from shops interested in pursuing standout designs to stay ahead of the competition, but it doesn’t take a full rebuild or a heap of cash to add a little curb appeal to a facility.

Changing the stereotype

“Body shops have this image of being dirty, dusty, dingy places, like a black hole where I drop my car off and return to get it back,” Lynch says. “We’ve been trying to change that.”

Rick Fields’ new shop, in a retail area near a grocery store and several banks and restaurants, is an example of maximizing that change. Its homey design and transparency—even the overhead garage doors are lined with glass so customers can see in from the outside—have made it stand out from other shops in Westfield.

“I was kind of scared to do it,” Fields says of the glass. “But I’m starting to see something here. We’re a brand-new start-up and we’re doing well.”

Fields was even invited to be the lead sponsor of the town’s July 4th celebration this year. In more than three decades of business, he says he’s never had a shop that was so embraced by the community.

“Because of the location and the look, they don’t bat an eye at the fact that we’re a body shop,” he says.

Design as a marketing tool

FenderBender talked with three designers for advice on how to bring any shop up to today’s higher design standards:
Ann Salazar, owner of Avant Garde Interiors, Judy Lynch, manager of Sherwin-Williams’ collision repair design service, and Tom Nicholas, facility layout and design manager at PPG.

Ann Salazar, owner of Avant Garde Interiors

Salazar, an independent designer for companies such as BASF and DuPont, says shop appearance is more important now than ever before, especially in areas with dense populations and more competition.

“As much as I’d love to say, ‘don’t judge a book by the cover,’ in this ever-changing, fast-paced society, first impression may be all the time we have to grab someone’s attention and draw them in the door,” she says. “Once you have that, then you can show them what else you have to offer.”

It’s all about branding, Salazar says. Big dealer shops, franchises and consolidated businesses understand this, and devote money to building a consistent, professional image that customers will remember. This is something all shops should think about, she says.

“[Corporate shops] understand that potential customers experience branding from the shoes they wear to the coffee they drink. Why not do the same for body shops? In this economy, it is more important than ever for a shop to recognize this and strive to project a similar image of confidence and professionalism, to leave a lasting impression that will stand above their competitors,” Salazar says.


Judy Lynch, manager of Sherwin-Williams' collision repair design service

Lynch, who has spent 20 years with Sherwin-Williams designing shops, agrees. She says shop design has grown into an important marketing tool.

“It sets the tone for all transactions,” she says. “Curb appeal is really a form of advertising.”

Lynch says shops need to remember that their customers have just been through an accident, they’d rather not be dealing with vehicle repairs and they’re looking for comfort and reassurance. This is especially important for women, she says.


Tom Nicholas, facility layout and design manager at PPG

Tom Nicholas, who has worked for 16 years as a shop designer for PPG, says owners need to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, or better yet, their family members’.

“If you have a facility you wouldn’t let your wife or daughter go in, you’re probably not going to make a good impression on customers,” he says.

Nicholas, along with Lynch and Salazar, says many shops these days are more concerned about efficiency than giving their facility a facelift, but lean principles and curb-appeal strategies are both important. A clean, well-organized shop, will look and function better, Nicholas says.

Each of the design consultants recommend developing and maintaining a budget for image enhancements, but they say shop owners can make immediate low-cost improvements to their shop’s curb appeal following these tips:

De-clutter signage. Drivers should be able to easily identify your shop from the street and know where to park and enter. Awkward sign placement or an abundance of signs can create problems.

Clean regularly. Doors and windows should be routinely washed and trash and debris should be removed from the parking lot and sidewalks. Floors should be swept and interior spaces should look neat and clean, especially bathrooms. Restrooms should also be well stocked with toiletries and soap.

Keep your interior updated. “If you have dusty silk plants, dried floral bouquets, craftwork, floral fabric cushions from the 80s, change them out immediately,” Salazar says. Artwork is a good idea, but make sure it fits the space. Furniture should also be modern and void of rips and stains.

Offer refreshments and snacks. Free coffee, soda and snacks are a good way to make customers happy while they wait for a repair. Make sure the refreshment area is well stocked. Coffee machines, sinks and other appliances should be free from leaks.

Maintain your property. Patch any cracks in your building and restore peeling paint. Fill potholes and maintain sidewalks, so customers don’t decide to leave before they reach the door. 

Plant low-maintenance vegetation. Potted shrubs and other easy-to-maintain plants or trees can make an entrance more inviting, provide shade or act as a screen for an unsightly parking lot. Plants and grass should be checked regularly, and watered or trimmed if needed. Interior plants can also help, as long as they are maintained and not overwhelming.

Use a floor mat. A commercial-grade floor mat at the front door will look nice and help keep the shop clean, especially during wet weather.

Make sure everything works. Nothing says you’re going out of business like a flickering sign or burnt light bulbs. Bulb replacement is generally cheap and easy and should be done as soon as a problem is noticed.

Rotate seasonal décor. Christmas lights in July don’t project a strong statement about your work ethic. Decorations are fine, but remove them in a timely manner.

Replace magazines. Recycle your magazine and newspaper selection regularly and offer customers a variety to choose from.

Use consistent colors. Tie your exterior, company logo, front office and shop floor together with consistent colors or a theme.

Keep trash, parts and tools out of sight. Enclosed storage bins can make your shop look neater inside and out. When tools aren’t being used, they should be put away.

Present a good final impression. Think about the last image a customer sees while driving away. If it’s the Dumpster, you should find a new spot for it. Customers should leave with an image of a clean, organized facility that looks as good as the repairs to their car.


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