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Shawn Lamb is willing to go the extra mile for his customers—literally. After noticing how difficult it was for some people to get their car to the shop for an estimate after an accident, the owner of Lamb’s Auto Body in Cave Junction, Ore., decided to take a more customer-centric approach: at-home estimates. For the past year, Lamb has been traveling to prospective customers’ homes, assessing vehicle damage right there in their own driveway and trying to ease the repair process as much as possible. Word quickly spread about the helpful service, and now he receives one or two calls a week requesting an at-home estimate. He says he’s gaining at least six jobs a month, which at an average of $1,500 per job, is netting him an extra several thousand dollars a month. Not bad for a true mom-and-pop shop with four bays and $250,000 in sales.

WHEN OPPORTUNITY HONKS

While working in other auto body shops before he opened his own, Lamb recognized the trouble folks had getting an estimate after a collision. “People would call in and say their car was broken down, or they were scared to drive it,” he says. “[The shop staff] would say, ‘If you want your car fixed, you have to bring it in.’ The customer would eventually bring their car in, but I saw the struggle.” Seeing that conflict play out time and again inspired Lamb to make things easier for would-be customers.

At-home estimates, he thought, might be the answer. He’d noticed that people typically struggled to get their car to a shop for two reasons: lack of time and too much fear. “It’s hard for people to get in for an estimate because they’re working all day. Another reason is that some elderly people who get into a car wreck are scared to drive.”

So Lamb invests about $150 to $200 per month on gas to visit prospective customers. Located in a rural valley town of 17,000 people, most of Lamb’s prospective customers live within a 15- to 20-mile radius of the shop. “The furthest I’ve driven to do an estimate is about 30 miles away.” The 60-mile round-trip is worth it if he gets the job—and he usually does.

Most at-home estimate appointments are scheduled during the evening, which works well both for prospective customers and for Lamb. “It makes it easier for me, because I’m able to put in my time at the shop. When I’m wrapping up my day, [they’re] wrapping up their day, too.”

“When I talk to people on the phone, I figure out what the job is going to be like. The car has to be damaged enough that [the at-home estimate is] worth my while”
—Shawn Lamb, owner, Lamb’s Auto Body

Families especially appreciate Lamb’s evening hours. “A lot of people don’t get off work until 5 p.m. [An evening appointment] gives them the availability to get home and deal with their kids and get settled before [dealing with] their car,” he explains.

His closing rate for at-home estimates is huge. “I’ve only lost one,” Lamb says, adding that his closing rate for at-home estimates is about 15 percent higher than his in-shop estimates. Lamb attributes the high number to the fact that people appreciate his willingness to work around their schedules and needs.

BUSINESS BOOSTER

As more people have learned about Lamb’s at-home estimates, call volume at the shop has picked up. “It started off as one or two calls a month, and now it’s one or two a week,” he says.

Before driving to visit prospective customers, Lamb screens the size of the job. “By doing that, I keep it economical for me. When I talk to people on the phone, I figure out what the job is going to be like. The car has to be damaged enough that it’s worth my while. I won’t do it for just a broken headlight, for example.”

He’s also careful to weed out people who seem indecisive about whether or not they want to repair their car if the damage is minimal. “A lot of times, you can feel them out. If they’re kicking their tires, more or less, or it [seems] they’re looking around, you can pick up on that,” Lamb says. “The ones that say we bumped into a tree and have a headlight that is broken, those are the ones I say, ‘No, bring it in.’”

If a prospective customer is planning to pay for the repairs out of pocket, Lamb offers his at-home estimates free of charge. If the repairs are being paid for by an insurance company, the insurer will often end up reimbursing Lamb for gas money, since it saves time and money on their end. He estimates that 90 percent of his at-home estimates are customer pay, and 10 percent are paid by the insurer.

Jobs from at-home estimates tend to bring in about $1,500 apiece, and winning just one of those covers the costs associated with providing the customer-friendly estimating service. Every job beyond that is cash in Lamb’s pocket.

ALWAYS WORTH IT

Lamb says the extra work required for at-home estimates is more than worth it. The service has become a real source of revenue growth for the shop, and it gives Lamb a specific, simple way to differentiate his shop from the competition. “Some other shops just care about getting the job in and getting the job out. I don’t know anyone else who does this,” he says. “Everyone is looking for a little niche, and this is mine. I saw the need that needs to be filled, and I’m willing to do it.”

At-home estimates have also proven to be a great way to keep a steady stream of business coming through the door. Lamb says the additional work has been especially beneficial in this tough economy. “There are shops that are struggling, but I have a shop full of cars. It’s keeping the jobs coming in. [This service] helps me out, and it helps the customers out.”

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