Running a Shop Operations Sales+Marketing Strategy+Planning Branding

Looks That Sell

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If you lived in Paris, Texas, in the 1970s, Jones Automotive Paint & Body was the place to go for collision repairs.

Back then, the shop couldn’t keep up with all of the customer traffic—locals say the owner sometimes had to rope off the property to limit customers. But as time progressed, the business—most noticeably the building—did not. The structure’s yellow corrugated steel construction made it look more like a shed than a repair facility. Its dark, dated interior—unchanged since its glory days—no longer impressed. Dust swirled around the property’s empty gravel parking lot.  

By the time Scott Hearne bought the property in 2011, Jones Automotive was virtually unknown in the area.

“This was a shop that didn’t have a bad reputation; it didn’t have any reputation,” Hearne says. “It was important for me to change the look of the building to draw the eye back this way again.”

Maintaining a modern, clean and visually appealing shop is increasingly crucial for survival in today’s fast-paced world. Whether your business relies on walk-in traffic, direct repair relationships (DRPs) with insurers or both, a first impression can make or break your business.

FenderBender talked with Hearne and three other shop operators who have taken a serious approach to getting the look of their facilities right, with strong results. They shared with us what went into the design of their shops—both inside and out—to help grab customers’ attention and win business.


Scott’s Collision Repair

Paris, Texas
Square Footage: 8,000
Cars Repaired Per Month: 70
Annual Revenue: $1.3 million

Photo by Sam Craft

Scott Hearne bought his property for its location on a busy thoroughfare in an affluent market. The shop is also near several retail stores. But the property itself was outdated and in rough shape, so he invested $80,000 in a complete overhaul.

EXTREME MAKEOVER: Scott Hearne took an outdated, out-of-shape property, top, gutted it and transformed it into a modern repair facility with an attractive facade, neat landscaping and a welcoming, homey lobby for customers. Top 2 photos courtesy Scott’s collision repair; bottom 2 photos by Sam Craft

Large Logo Hearne spent a lot of time thinking about what the logo for Scott’s Collision Repair should look like. He wanted it to be big, bright and positioned in a way that stood out. He settled on an oval shape to set it off from the straight lines of the building.

Attractive Parking The gravel lot that was on the property when Hearne purchased it had to go. Not only was it messy, but its entrances were also positioned in a way that made it a short cut for drivers looking to skirt around traffic delays. It wasn’t unusual for drivers to race through the parking lot at 30 mph, creating a safety hazard for customers and their vehicles. The entrances were repositioned to end that problem and the lot received a fresh layer of asphalt, which is maintained and kept free of trash.

“So many small things can make a customer say no,” Hearne says. “Even so much as a step in a puddle in the parking lot with an open-toe shoe.”

Homey Exterior The building retained much of its steel siding, but it was repainted and enhanced with brick and rock, giving it a home-like appearance. A mansard roof was also added, giving the building more height and enhancing its curb appeal
even further.

Neat Landscaping When Hearne bought the property, the lawn was overgrown and full of weeds. Some basic lawn maintenance took care of that. Now it’s regularly mowed and cared for. Hearne also added some potted plants, flowers, mulch and stones around the property to brighten up the exterior. The landscaping isn’t dramatic, but it’s tidy and shows customers that the property is looked after.

Relaxing Lounge The former shop’s stiff seating and dark décor was replaced with modern, comfortable furniture and bright walls. Customers can watch the big-screen TV and help themselves to complimentary beverages.


Larry H. Miller Collision Center

Colorado Springs
Square Footage: 24,000
Cars Repaired Per Month: 150
Annual Revenue: $4 million (projected)

Photo by Denise Chambers

Ken Knoche came on as manager at Larry H. Miller Collision Center, a dealer-owned shop, about a year before it opened to help with its design. The space is connected to a Toyota dealership and the goal is to get the collision center, which opened this spring, Toyota certified, but also attract customers with other vehicle makes. It will be the only Toyota-certified shop in Colorado Springs.

ONE AND ONLY: Ken Knoche, above, is the manager at Larry H. Miller Collision Center, which will be the only Toyota-certified shop in Colorado Springs. The shop was designed to meet Toyota requirements while maximizing customer experience. Photos by Denise Chambers

Toyota Paint Scheme Being a Toyota-certified shop requires a specific color palette: red, gray and white. Knoche worked with Toyota on the paint application, to make sure it fit within the company’s brand standards.

Transparent Shop The comfy, modern lobby is filled with complimentary beverages and snacks, but its biggest asset is a window to the estimating area. Customers can kick back in the lobby and still keep an eye on their vehicle while an estimator is going over it. The production area isn’t visible, but is kept spotless in case customers would like a tour.

“If anybody wants a tour, we’ll show them what’s going to happen to their vehicle,” Knoche says. “Anything to help them relax and to let us do our work.”

Ample Signage Making sure passersby know that the shop repairs anything was important, Knoche says, so the shop’s multiple signs note that it works on all makes and models. The signs even extend into the estimating area. The shop also boasts its use of BASF waterborne paint. Knoche says the green movement is big in his area.


Westlake Collision Center

Westlake Village, Calif.
Square Footage: 6,400
Cars Repaired Per Month: 50
Annual Revenue: $950,000

Photo by Gary Silva

When the time came to expand Westlake Collision Center, owner Jim Marko thought hard about how he could enhance his shop’s visibility and improve the customer experience. “We wanted to be neat and professional,” Marko says. “We wanted to be sure customers would be impressed with how things are set up and how clean things look.”

CLEAN AND PROFESSIONAL: Westlake Collision Center Owner Jim Marko aims to impress customers with a neat and professional look—and modern equipment. He is the only shop in his market with an in-ground Car-O-Liner lift, above. Photos by Gary Silva

Sign Positioning Marko is in a competitive market. He has one competing shop across the street and three others about 150 yards away. Getting noticed and standing out from those other shops is critical to his success. The big logo on his building is clearly visible from the street, but in case customers miss it, he has another sign closer to the road, at the edge of his property.

Posh Lobby Marko went all-out to replace the small customer check-in office he had prior to the expansion. The new lobby boasts granite counter tops, stained wood, artwork and leather chairs. He says the lobby caters better to the area’s affluent residents. He also provides free Internet, along with a host of other complimentary goodies.

“We didn’t want that body shop feeling because we are in Westlake,” Marko says. “We wanted it to feel high-end.”

Marko says many customers will stop in his shop, go check out the competition and come back because the ambiance of his shop is so much better.

Modern Equipment Marko is proud of his well-kept, modern equipment. He says he’s the only shop in his area with an in-ground Car-O-Liner lift, for example. He won’t hesitate to take customers around the shop and point those things out, explaining how it is beneficial to the repair process.

“I think someone that’s willing to leave their $50,000 to $70,000 vehicle in a shop would feel much more comfortable leaving it in a neat, clean, well-equipped shop,” Marko says.


Photo by Torsten Bangerter

Cascade Collision Repair

Provo, Orem and Lehi, Utah
Square Footage: 13,000 to 17,000 (three shops)
Cars Repaired Per Month: 500 (total)
Annual Revenue: $10 million (total)

Cascade Collision Repair has dominated the market in Provo, Orem and Lehi, Utah, with its bold branding campaign. Brian Nichols, co-owner and director of business development for the company, says the brand is everything, it’s tied into all aspects of the business, and it’s prominently presented at each location.

PROUD OF EMPLOYEES: The faces of staff members are a key part of Cascade Collision Repair’s branding strategy, and they are prominent on posters in all of the company’s facilities. Consistency in colors and shop design are also important. Photos by Torsten Bangerter

Visual Consistency All Cascade Collision Repair shops share the same design elements, from materials to colors. “When you walk in, you know you’re walking into a Cascade,” Nichols says.

A Team Brand The thing that stands out most in all Cascade Collision Repair shops are the large group portraits of employees in each lobby.  The images are often accompanied by the company’s tagline, “serious about perfection,” or tweaks to the line such as “serious about quality” or “serious about customer service.” 

“If someone sits in our office the visuals are trying to pinpoint what the customer is looking for,” Nichols says.

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