Building a Facility that Stands Out

July 1, 2011
Determined to build a jaw-dropping shop, Red Noland Collision Center general manager Dale Francis journeyed to facilities across the country for design tips. A decade after the shop’s construction, it’s still wowing customers.

Before 1998, Red Noland Collision Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., fit the body shop stereotype perfectly.

It was outdated, dark and dingy, with little to offer in the way of customer-pleasing aesthetics, says general manager Dale Francis. But he and his colleagues didn’t know just how bad it was at the time.

“We had no idea how far behind we were until we started looking at other shops,” he says.

Those other shops—in Denver, Chicago, Phoenix and Dallas—were toured for the sole purpose of gaining design tips for a new facility. The goal was to stun customers, make workflow more efficient, provide capacity for growth, and create a building that would look modern and beautiful for decades to come.

It’s been more than 12 years since the $1.5 million, 25,000-square-foot, 26-employee shop opened on a three-acre plot at the base of the Rocky Mountains. In this picturesque setting, the thoughtfully designed facility sees 180 to 200 cars a month and earns $5.4 million in annual revenue by continually exceeding customer expectations of what a body shop should be.

“I think we have one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world because we have Pike’s Peak right in our back parking lot,” Francis boasts. “In the summer time it almost looks fake.”

Growth spurt

Red Noland Collision Center’s decision to move came after it developed its first insurer relationship.

“The minute we did [partner with the carrier], we were bursting at the seams,” Francis says.

The old shop was too small to handle the increased traffic, so Francis and other managers started looking into developing a new facility. Unsure of how to design it, they hatched a plan to visit shops they had heard or read about, to see the designs in person and glean from them ideas about what worked and what didn’t.

They knew they wanted a high-end collision center that would stand out from the traditional body shops that populated Colorado Springs, Francis says. The town wasn’t home to a single shop that wasn’t in a repurposed warehouse or similar industrial building; the Red Noland crew wanted to break that mold.

“It’s good to get out and see what’s outside the box,” Francis says. “When you go to other shops, you take little nuggets from each one.”
They also wanted to cater to the Red Noland Auto Group’s affluent clientele, Francis says. The collision center repairs all makes and models and operates independently of the group’s Cadillac, Saab, Jaguar, Infiniti and Land Rover dealerships, but those customers are the shop’s base.

After touring the country, this is what Francis learned:

A good first impression is crucial. Facilities need to do everything possible to make an immediate positive impression on customers, especially those that aren’t directed to a shop by an insurer.

“Shops have about the first 30 seconds to win them,” Francis says. “Waiting for them to ring a bell doesn’t work anymore.”

Red Noland Collision Center’s clean parking lot, well-manicured grass and trees, clear signage and attractive stucco exterior help ensure customers that they’re in the right spot. After parking in one of three designated drop-off lanes under a glass-roofed canopy, customers enter a modern, well-furnished front office, where reception employees greet them immediately, Francis says.

The shop’s front-end focus helps keep its closing ratio at 82 percent.

Transparency is a good thing. Hiding yourself and your work from customers won’t benefit your shop, Francis says.

The Red Noland facility incorporates loads of glass, so no one in the shop is hidden. Francis’ office, purposely positioned near the reception area, also incorporates a large pane of glass, so he can keep an eye on operations in the front of the shop and help out if needed.

“Basically, when you pull up to the place, you wouldn’t think you were at a body shop. we think customers see that somebody’s put a lot of thought into where they’ve come.”
–Andrew Kurth, production manager, Red Noland Collision Center

And the openness doesn’t stop there. Shop tours are regularly offered at the collision center, so everything in the back of the facility also has to look organized and neat. Covered outdoor garbage, recycling and parts bins help accomplish this, along with a fulltime cleaning employee.

The Red Noland shop also gives customers an opportunity to watch their cars get painted. Its booth has two big observation windows, which the painters don’t seem to mind.

“I’ve painted so many cars that it doesn’t bother me a bit,” says lead painter Jerry Lujan, who has been with Red Noland for 22 years.
Keeping the shop floor open to customers has helped keep employees accountable for their work, Francis says.

“Guys understand that we bring customers back,” he says. “We always welcome them back to see what’s going on.”

Nothing works without a workflow plan. “You can have a Taj Mahal, but if you don’t have anything set in motion and SOPs (standard operating procedures) in every department, you’re going to fail,” Francis says.

During the visits to other shops, he made sure to look at how work flowed through each facility. The Red Noland shop was designed to be as efficient as possible, incorporating a chronological layout for each step of the repair process, as well as strategically chosen and placed equipment, such as smaller tool chests and parts carts.

“We saw shops that didn’t flow well, that had no escape routes, where you had to back cars up to get a problem child out,” Francis says, referring to moving a problem vehicle. “We wanted to make sure it flowed in one direction and had the capacity to take on more revenue, so we had to project what the future would look like.”

Employees have embraced the layout, which no longer requires moving vehicles in and out of the facility during the repair process, as was done at the old shop. Lujan, for example, says painting in the rain used to be an issue, because cars had to be rolled outside after they were sprayed. The new shop has a dedicated indoor area for freshly painted cars, complete with fans to speed the drying process.

“It’s a day-and-night difference,” Lujan says.

An instant success

Almost as soon as the doors opened at Red Noland Collision Center’s new location, customers started lining up.

The new shop gained seven additional DRP relationships during its first year of operation, and revenue jumped to $2.5 million that year, compared to $1.8 million during the last year in the old facility.

It was by pure chance that the new site was for sale at the time of the move. The backdrop completes the shop’s look, almost making it feel like a mountain resort.

“Basically, when you pull up to the place, you wouldn’t think you’re at a body shop,” says Andrew Kurth, the shop’s production manager. “We think customers see that somebody’s put a lot of thought into where they’ve come.”

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