Does Your Shop Need a Facelift?

Walking in your customer’s shoes for just one visit may force you to look at your shop in a whole new light.

Aerial view of Atlantic Motorcar Center, an ASA  member-shop in Wicasset, Maine.

Aerial view of Atlantic Motorcar Center, an ASA member-shop in Wicasset, Maine.

If you find yourself asking that question, the answer may be that it does.
As owners, we are often so focused on running our business that we fail to consider how things may look from the “other side of the counter.” Like it or not, perception is reality, and folks do tend to judge us, the quality of our work and, at times, even our ethics, by the appearance of our facility.

This may not be fair, but that is the truth, and a perception that we need to work on to overcome. On the flipside, we can use our shop’s appearance to our advantage. For example, if your shop has a neat and clean appearance, you immediately establish trust with customers. A clean shop conveys that you care and are professional, and most likely the customer will perceive that the care and professionalism you display on the outside of your shop will be extended to the inside and outside of their car. With demographics showing that customers are now split equally between male and female, portraying a professional and clean appearance has never been as important as it is now.

How does one go about undertaking a shop facelift? Over the past 15 years, I’ve had to undertake more than a few facelifts in our own locations, as well as offer advice to my 20 Group. Each time, I started by visiting some of the local coffeehouses, smaller hotels, places where people – likely your own customers – spend time. Using their simple styling cues, and incorporating your business color theme throughout the facility, is a good start.

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The outside counts, too

A clean modern look on the outside is the first place to start. Evaluate your business signage – is it modern, easy to see, all the lights working? Take a quick walk around your facility with a trusted customer. It’s easy to overlook things we see every day so let your customer be your eyes and ears.

Here’s a tip – are service vehicles parked neatly, do you “stage” your parking area, putting the newer cars, and cars you’d like to work on, up front for the world to see (see adjacent picture)?

Is the entryway to the building clean? Is the outside of the building painted and respectable? Or is it full of signs that most customers won’t recognize or care about?

This is something I see often: signs for battery, tire and belt vendors that mean little or nothing to our customers and create clutter and disconnect. Ask your customers (see how handy they can be?), if they know what those signs mean. If they cannot recognize the signs, remove them.

Senior Service Technician Scott St. Amand uses the new Atlantic Motorcar Center parts system. Techs are able to access quick-moving service items using the  facility’s simple index.

Senior Service Technician Scott St. Amand uses the new Atlantic Motorcar Center parts system. Techs are able to access quick-moving service items using the facility’s simple index.

Clean and simple wins over clutter every time. Remember, chances are if it doesn’t look good on the outside, most folks won’t bother to take the time to see what’s inside the front door.

Through the front door

Now that you’ve made it through the door, look at the service counter, and consider if you even want a counter or maybe a couple of desks might be better. I’m starting to think that the counter concept, which divides the customer from the shop, may not be ideal; again, ask your customers for feedback. Remember the signage question on the outside? Think about that for the inside, too, especially at the service counter and waiting room. (And what about thinking of your waiting room as more of a “customer lounge?”)

While “teaching tools” can be helpful, ads and signs from parts vendors usually mean little or nothing to a customer. A few tasteful signs are OK, but the rule in our facility is no more than three small displays in the entire service write-up and waiting area. Make it tasteful and relevant; you want your customer to feel relaxed, like this is a second home. Rely on your service advisers to present service needs.

Colors mean something

Bosch district service meeting and training held in the newly renovated Atlantic Motorcar Center workshop. Aside from automotive service, the clean layout and epoxy-coated floors make a great training location.

Bosch district service meeting and training held in the newly renovated Atlantic Motorcar Center workshop. Aside from automotive service, the clean layout and epoxy-coated floors make a great training location.

Wall colors are an important thing to consider. White shows cleanliness, but is rather sterile, so keep in mind light greens, browns and other “earth tone” colors. Again, poll some of your customers, or visit some of the local spots where your own customers spend time. Simple styling cues such as using your business color theme throughout the facility are a good start. Remember that perception is reality, and design should be simple and tasteful, not extravagant. You don’t want, as one local shop found, customers feeling like (or worse yet, voicing that) they are “paying for” your improvements. Think about unused space, or under­utilized space, and use it to your advantage.

Now for the comfort factors. A nice, overstuffed couch, some chairs, perhaps even a privacy alcove are great touches. A beverage center doesn’t need to be complex; just a clean coffee machine and some bottled water go a long way toward making your customers think of your facility as a second home.

While colors are important, don’t forget the two “Cs” – comfort and convenience. In today’s ever-connected world, a high speed Wi-Fi connection is a must, a couple of iPads or tablets for customers to use while waiting even better. In our facility, an employee turned an unused storeroom into a “Business Center” for customers, complete with two iMacs, a PC, a Herman Miller office desk system, fax and copying systems, and a coffee bar the next room over. If you have a larger facility, think about signs on the wall for customer convenience, guiding them to the restrooms, “Beverage Center” or “Customer Lounge.” Stock the customer reading table with current issues of several types of publications such as Good Housekeeping, the Wall Street Journal, some sports and travel magazines.
Inside the workshop

Don’t apply your facelift treatment only on the front side of the counter, though additional areas may be tackled at a second stage. You will likely want to continue on through the workshop. Just a good cleaning, and removal of old parts is a solid start. Then think about colors here as well, perhaps not in the same context as the customer side. You’ll want bright colors to reflect light, and bring a generally cheerful atmosphere to the work area. I’m a big believer that colors set our tone for the day; so-called “happy” colors go a long way to making your team enjoy the environment even more.

Think also about windows – cleaning or even installing new ones. In our facility, we replaced the steel shop overhead doors with aluminum and glass units; it really opened up the workspace. Remember large glass windows bring in more natural light, may lower your electrical bills, and provide a more pleasant work environment. From a customer aesthetic, they also serve to set off or differentiate your business from the standard service building. Once you’ve got the walls painted, look at the workshop floor; it’s often the most overlooked and abused system in the facility. Yet, a clean shop floor has real benefits, not just from a safety and employee morale standpoint, but also from customer perception.

We have a process, which we call “Show and Tell,” where we invite our customers, especially our new customers, into the workshop to review the service needs on their vehicle. We consistently get “oohs and aahs” in regard to the workshop appearance, especially the floor, and it sets a level of trust and professionalism that serves to really bond new customers.

Wrapping it up

It’s often difficult to directly measure the return on investment on such renovations as they’re not as easy to track as a new tire machine or diagnostic computer.

There is, however, an intangible benefit that should become readily apparent after a short while, and that is one of higher customer trust, which translates directly in higher and easier sales. The less time you have to spend “selling” yourself and your facility – what we might call building trust – the more time you can use presenting service needs to your customers. Be sure to share the good news – of your facility’s improvements – with your customers. Invite the local media, send out press releases, put photos up on your website and on social media, and have a “Customer Appreciation Day” to show off your work.

Finally, there is yet another intangible, one that is close to my heart and is often overlooked – happier employees. Happier employees, who are proud of where they work, and what they do, translate directly into a more productive team. Toss in the improved real estate value for those who are owners, and a “shop facelift” can easily offer one of the highest returns on investment we can find in our business.

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