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Implementing Lean Concepts

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In his classic book, The Path of Least Resistance, author Robert Fritz makes the point that “structure determines behavior.” Some structures encourage movement, while others discourage, or at least do not encourage, movement. A space with no chairs will tend to keep one standing or moving, while a space with a comfortable chair will invite one to sit down.

From a collision repairer’s perspective, lean processes also focus on the most efficient movement through a shop, reducing the number of steps a technician must take to accomplish a repair action. The idea of creating structures to encourage or even require specific movement takes this one step further.

Make it Easy

Potential customers driving by the shop will be discouraged from entering if an entrance or driveway is difficult to maneuver. After entering the shop area, signs and markings on the pavement will direct movement to a desired area for estimates or repairs. Similarly, a waiting area that has comfortable chairs, current desirable magazines and perhaps flowers, will invite a visitor to take a seat and wait, rather than move on if it appears they’ll have to wait while others are being helped.

“The most effective estimators ... spent much of the presentation time ... just building rapport with the customer. Their closing rate was generally much higher.”

Structure also applies to forms. One major oversight in many body shops is failing to capture vital information from customers. People will often put a minimum of information on a customer information form rather than describe something in detail. But a shop could benefit from knowing who referred them, if they have additional vehicles, or if they have a company or work for a company with vehicles. A simple check-off format invites an easy response, and a line placed after the check-off for specific info may be filled in by some.

Point Out the Structure

Signs and labels are also a part of structure that invites specific motion. When parking spaces are delineated with white paint and signs indicating “Estimating,” “Adjusters,” or “Vehicle Pick-up,” people will generally park where indicated. In a busy shop, this can hasten flow-though. Inside the shop, using signs to indicate specific designated spaces can reduce random placement of tools and equipment.

Dealerships also use signs to direct customers to walk into an accessory display room, or to look at—and, hopefully, buy—high-performance equipment. It’s easy to underestimate the power of a simple sign to direct movement. Shops with DRP relationships that have abundant parking can indicate specific parking spaces for each DRP customer. Subconsciously the DRP designation can have the effect of reinforcing the customer’s sense of “being in the right place for a repair.”

Be Warm and Welcoming

Attitudes and emotions can also sometimes be controlled by a decisive structure. People design many of the structures in their home or apartment to reduce stress and produce a feeling of calm. After a stressful day at the job, a worker hopes to return home to a calm, comfortable nest. Colors, furniture, fabrics, entertainment systems and more are usually chosen to achieve a feeling of one’s idea of “home.”
Similarly, most customers have recently experienced an accident and may still be stressed out from it. Efforts made by a shop owner to create homelike structural surroundings may bring about a feeling of calm, predisposing the customer to do business with the shop. The structural elements themselves may suggest sitting and relaxing, but the end result is motion in the direction of leaving the vehicle at the shop.

Put Customers in the Driver’s Seat

Communication can also have a structure that inhibits motion or accelerates motion. In a collision repair facility, how an estimator structures his or her presentation of an estimate can determine whether or not the customer chooses to have that shop do the repair. A typical estimator simply goes over the estimate, possibly explaining the reason for some repair actions and the meaning of some of the repair terminology. This structures the estimator as the expert and the customer as less knowledgeable. Some of the most effective estimators I’ve observed used an opposite approach. They structured their presentation with the assumption that the customer knew best what he or she wanted, so they spent much of the presentation time asking questions and just building rapport with the customer. Their closing rate was generally much higher than other estimators with the more traditional approach.

Structural design, whether in a shop’s physical surroundings or in human contact situations, can have a major effect on that shop’s volume of business and efficiency in production. It’s a simple concept that can make a world of difference.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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