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A Shop with No Repairs

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An Different Business Model
In order to maintain his customer base despite rising property costs, a multi-shop owner had to get creative.

One year ago, Tom Williamson made the decision to take his Marina Auto Body Redwood location from a full body shop to a customer care center just one mile away. Williamson, owner of the three-location California MSO, did this as a way to maintain his presence in the area without having to deal with the skyrocketing rent in the Los Angeles area and the restrictions that are placed on body shops. By finding a smaller facility and eliminating all of the actual repair work at the shop, Williamson found an economical way to keep his customer base.

The customer care center works by having customers drop off their cars, which are then sent to Williamson’s 27,000-square-foot LAX facility in Inglewood. Once the repairs are complete, the vehicles are sent back to the customer care center for pickup. The customer care center is a part of a “hub-and-spoke” system (to read more about the system, read the original article from February 2017) where a repair center is centralized and the estimating centers are all on the perimeter of it.

 

Overall Impression

Since opening, Williamson says he has received positive feedback.

“Think about it this way: If you dropped your car off and there weren’t any repairs being done, would you be turned off?” Williamson asks.

He says he has not had one customer turn down getting his or her car repaired due to the unique setup. Without the smell, the noise and all of the hustle, many seem to prefer it. Are they confused at first? Perhaps, but Williamson made sure all of the information needed about the process was in the shop for customers to view. Not only that, but he made sure familiar staff members from the Redwood shop were included so returning customers would know their vehicles would be looked at by the same people they trusted at the first Redwood body shop location.

Not only do customers like the approach, but insurers are also jumping on the customer care center trend as well.

“I had a claims vice president of a major insurer come in and tell me that he thinks that this is the wave of the future,” Williamson says.

With the exception of one, all of the insurers Marina Auto Body had a relationship with kept the operation on its DRP programs in the area and an additional provider added the customer care facility to its list.

 

A Learning Curve

Although it’s been well received and Williamson labels it as a success, tackling a new approach doesn’t come without its growing pains. Marina Auto Body’s customer care center is no exception.

“I realized within a couple of months that we needed to take a look at the way we were staffing the center,” Williamson says.

Originally, the customer care center had a customer service representative, a writer and a support person. Once Williamson saw the volume of work coming in, he realized he needed an additional writer. He moved the support person to the LAX facility and moved a writer from the LAX facility to the customer care center.  

Another change Williamson made after opening was utilizing Uber.

“We needed to find a way to get the people driving the vehicles to LAX back to the customer care center without taking people away from their work,” Williamson says. “A friend of mine had used it, so we decided to give it a try.”

 

Current State

“I think it has a tremendous amount of value,” Williamson says. “It’s allowed me to keep the customer base that I had [with the Redwood location]. If I’m able to pick up new customers, that’s great.”

Right now, he estimates the center sees an average of 120 cars per month. In the month of September, the shop worked on 124 cars, which breaks down to 5.9 cars per day. That number is less than the 7–8 Williamson said he hoped to see in the previous article, but it’s early still.

Williamson is currently on the lookout for locations for a similar facility, but he hasn’t found any that match what he’s looking for.

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