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Expert Tips on Redesigning Your Facility

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Redesigning a facility is a huge undertaking for any shop owner. Utilizing the knowledge from an architect can help you improve and optimize the space you have. Architects are trained to look at the function of a building, as well as the aesthetics, says Tom Lawrence, associate design coordinator at Haag Muller Inc. 

The architecture firm has designed a number of collision repair shops, and Lawrence recently sat down with FenderBender to discuss how shop owners can best transform the space they have.

What are some ways that shop owners can get started thinking about a redesign?

We always look at the design of the building as a three-legged stool: There’s time, budget, and quality. You’ve got to figure out a way that all three of those things balance out. Your needs are always going to change. My advice: Don’t rush it. When you’re talking about buildings, decisions can last a lifetime. 

When I start with a new client, the first thing I do is sit down with them and have them explain to me how they envision someone coming into their facility, start to finish. A lot of times, people are confused when they walk into a shop. You need to consider how we can inform customers about where they need to go and what they need to do. From there, we start sketching and laying out the space.

Using tools like Pinterest can be a great way of getting an idea of your aesthetic and gathering ideas in one place.

Even if it’s a small building, you don’t want anyone to feel closed in. You don’t want a customer to walk in and not know if they are in the right place or who to talk to. We do things called “wayfinding,” which creates a real entry experience when you walk in. There is a defined area with a front reception desk. Then, there might be an area in the back where the front-office staff could hear a customer walk in and greet the person. 

Do you have any tips for how owners can optimize their current repair facility?

If you can’t add on, it’s important to think about how you can use your space more efficiently. For example, can you reduce the number of private offices? We have found that private offices are often unnecessary, cluttered and underused. Instead, you could create shared spaces that are kept neat and serve a real purpose. Or, think about how your break room could also be an efficient training space, while not feeling like a break room. 

As architects, we’re tasked with figuring out what the underlying need of a space is. You don’t want to spend a lot of time, money and passion building something, only to realize it’s not what you needed.

What are the considerations shop owners should take when redesigning their facilities?

Number-one is the customer experience. If a customer has a good experience, they will come back. 

The second thing is, with shops in particular, I think there’s a real need for natural light. If you look at something under fluorescent lights, it looks completely different. We take great pains to make sure the overhead door going into the shop floor is all glass and that there are skylights coming into the space. It showcases the interior of the shop floor and it’s very visible to customers as they are walking in. A lot of shop owners are really proud of the quality of their work, their green aspects or their differentiators. This is one way that you can really get this across to your customers. Not only is this more inviting, it also helps the estimator and the person examining the work after it’s done. The natural daylight enables people to see any imperfections that may not show up under artificial light. 

The third thing for consideration is taking a hard look at what the needs of the space are. Are there any efficiencies we can build into the overall program through shared spaces? You don’t want to have waste. Doing so frees up money you could use in other areas. If you can make things in the back of the house a little less expensive, then you can do something a little nicer on the client end. Smart decisions can result in savings. 

Are there any differences to redesigning the exterior of a repair facility?

The exterior is usually driven by two factors: the client’s desires and needs, and local ordinances and requirements. You’ve got the needs of the local municipalities, which could be building height, approved materials or roofing, landscaping requirements.

However, there is one other factor, which is local vernacular. It’s the language of the area. If you closed your eyes and someone put you on a plane to Charleston (S.C) and you ended up on Rainbow Row, there’s a good chance you’d know where you are. That’s partly because of the style of the building and the language of the area. That’s where I might say, “I know you want a three-story building but the scale of the buildings around you is lower than that.” The challenge is to marry it all together. 

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