Judy Lynch always shows up earlier than expected. It’s a habit she’s developed during her 25 years of consulting for collision repair facilities. As the manager and founder of Collision Repair Design Services for Sherwin-Williams, it gives her the best view of a shop as it is—not as the shop owner wants her to see it.
In recent years, there’s been a stark change in what she sees.
“Without a doubt, there’s a new focus on having nicer facilities,” she says. “The body shop used to be the leftover part of a dealership or just a dirty independent shop. There was no branding; there was nothing to attract customers. They needed to clean up their image.
“It’s been so exciting to see how, for the most part, they’ve done that, or are starting to do that.”
Shops need to differentiate themselves from competition in order to gain the trust of customers and insurance providers, Lynch says. Behind the scenes, that comes from processes and efficiencies in workflow. But, just as important, shops need to give customers an image that represents who they are as a company.
“There’s no one way to do it,” Lynch says. “We work with shops across the globe, and their space is going to be influenced by the city and the culture where it’s located, as well as the personality and culture of the owner and staff.”
Speaking with three shop operators focused on productivity and appearance, FenderBender shows how to make your facility match your business’s needs in three critical areas—the exterior, the front office and the shop floor.
Offutt Collision Repair
Bellevue, Neb. Owner: George Rybar
Size: 18,200 square feet Staff: 27 Monthly Car Count: 182
Outside Looking In
George Rybar heard it from everyone—the architect doing the design, the bank providing the loan, the construction guys on the job.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘This is just [a] body shop. Why do we have to do all of this?’” Rybar remembers.
The fact they were asking the question provided Rybar’s answer.
“I was tired of that perception of a body shop as being four steel walls with dirt and grime in the middle,” he says. “Everybody saying that over and over—‘Why do we need to do it like this?’—just proves what people still think of our industry.”
When Rybar built a new facility for his business, Offutt Collision Repair in Bellevue, Neb., in 2003, he wanted to make sure it didn’t stand out as an eye-sore in the newer, upscale community it just moved into. He wanted a fresh aesthetic that would set it apart from competition in the area, and allow for his shop to be as productive as possible.
Pleasing to the Eye
Because of zoning restrictions, Rybar had to make the office two stories to get the space he wanted. It wound up adding to its already sophisticated look. From the brick-and-stone walls to the tinted glass to the street-side sign, Rybar wanted everything to have the same upscale look. “Without the signs, some people don’t even realize it’s a body shop,” he says.
Productivity in Parking
Customer parking spaces aren’t the only consideration when designing a parking lot. Rybar’s shop utilizes a linear repair model that relies on moving cars in and out of the process as needed. That’s why he designed his outdoor space to have room for in-process vehicles. There’s also a covered area to put vehicles under.
Better Picture, Better Brand
Clean landscaping and understated signs help Offutt Collision depict a clean-cut image that’s also welcoming to customers. Rybar’s father founded the company in 1966, and he doesn’t want to lose that local, family-owned feel. “We want our shop to look like it’s part of the neighborhood,” he says. The exterior also features a sculpture of an airplane, paying homage to its namesake, the Offutt Air Force Base.
BEFORE YOU BUILD
Judy Lynch, manager,
Collision Repair Design Services, Sherwin-Williams.
Lynch’s Law #1: Get Efficient
We see a lot of shop owners who think they need extra space, but by implementing or improving standard operating procedures, they realize their facility had potential to be so much more productive. The shop needs to be operating as efficiently as possible before you want to spend the money making improvements to the building.
Sisson’s Body Works
Delevan, N.Y. Owners: Guy and Ellen Sisson
Size: 10,000 square feet Staff: 15 Monthly Car Count: 80-100 Annual Revenue: $2 million
Make Yourself at Home
The secret to running a successful business isn’t so complicated, Guy Sisson says: “Take care of people. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s that mentality that helped Sisson and his wife Ellen grow Sisson’s Body Works into a $2-million-a-year operation, no small feat considering its small-town location in Delevan, N.Y. (population 1,082).
Since opening in 1987, Sisson has put on four major additions to his building, totaling nearly 8,000 additional square feet. The latest upgrade, in late 2011, changed the interior of the shop completely.
“Everything we’ve done, it needs to be nice and it needs to be functional,” he says. “Getting their car fixed isn’t a pleasant experience, and the idea is to make them feel at home here.”
Privacy as a Priority
The front counter is partitioned into two separate sections so that customers can have true one-on-one conversations with the customer service representatives. Also, the barrier between the walk-in area and the lounge helps customers wait without feeling like they’re being watched by the staff.
The Sissons give options to customers while waiting. They can relax and watch TV in a leather sofa or chair, or pull out a laptop and use the free WiFi at the high-top table. There are also multiple coffee options, and Ellen often brings in baked goods from home to share with customers.
Clean and Fresh
They keep the area spotless, and Ellen is frequently redecorating to fit the seasons: During Christmas, there is a life-sized Santa Claus by the door; in the summer, spring and fall, there are various fresh plants and flowers throughout. Also, all countertops are made of marble to offer a finer aesthetic.
Claims Come First
Sisson considers his shop to be a full-service claims center. They have two cubicles set up in the rear of the room for customers to work privately with CSRs, insurance representatives, or on their own on their claims processes. They also allow visiting insurance reps to use the space for their own work. It has helped with the shop’s 11 DRPs, plus Sisson says it encourages customers to call his shop before ever consulting with their insurance providers. “We want them to feel like all they have to do is give us a call, and we’ll take care of the rest,” he says.
BEFORE YOU BUILD
Lynch’s Law #2: Take a Step Back
When you’re in the business of putting out fires day to day, it can be hard to have an objective opinion on what’s needed. Take a step back and take a critical look at your business. Have a mentor, a consultant, a member of a networking group you belong to—anyone you trust—take a look, too. A fresh set of eyes can help pinpoint problems.
Summit Collision Centers*
Four shops in South Carolina Owner: Gus Mallios
Size: 30,000 square feet Staff: 21 Monthly Car Count: 200 Annual Revenue: $4 million
*Numbers only reflect northeast Columbia location
Finding a Better Way
Gus Mallios calls it his business’s new footprint. The facility in northeast Columbia, S.C., and all the processes that go into making it run are the new standard for Mallios’ company, the four-location Summit Collision Centers in South Carolina.
“We put a lot into it—everything I’ve learned in the industry,” says Mallios, 49, who founded Summit in 1993.
From the front façade (which doubles as covered parking) to the shiny black granite motif of the waiting area, the building gives customers confidence in his shop’s professionalism, Mallios says. And that carries over into the shop floor.
Clean, organized and efficient, every aspect of Mallios’ shop floor is analyzed regularly and thoroughly.
“We’re constantly trying to do everything better, and improve in any way possible,” he says. “That’s got to be the main focus with the [shop] floor.”
The main shop floor and the snazzy inspection bay are both visible from the interior of the lobby. The inspection bay looks more like something out of a dealership showroom. With an in-ground lift and clean, checkered tiles on the floor, it lets customers get a good look at the damage that needs to be repaired—and a full presentation of the finished product.
Following the Arrows
Lines are painted across the shop’s white floors to help keep Mallios’ lean processes—from teardown to detailing—in order. Each process is broken down into an area of the shop with a specific team to carry out those tasks.
Summit paints all parts off the car. “We do no trim out,” Mallios says. Instead, the removed parts are painted together—along with those of other jobs—and reassembled afterward. “We’ve done the math and it costs roughly $130 per paint cycle,” Mallios says. “The only way to truly save on that is to get more vehicles in per cycle.” Instead of that money going to one job, Mallios says, his shop can get five or six vehicles’ paint jobs done in a single cycle. It’s one of the reasons his shop has dropped its cycle time from more than 11 days down to 7.1 in the last couple years.
BEFORE YOU BUILD
Lynch’s Law #3: Be Who You Are
We need people to look at where they excel and where they need to improve. You need to embrace who you are, and the culture your business has built, whatever it is. And you need to make sure your business and your building are going to fit that culture.