The Recipe for Success: What Are the Ingredients of a ‘Good’ Shop?

by Alana Quartuccio

What makes for a “good” or “great” body shop? If an auto body business wants to attract and retain customers and turn a profit, one would think that every shop would hope to be considered nothing less than “good” in the eyes of their customers or even their employees. 

Online reviews tell us what customers say, but do (or should) these reviews really hold much weight? A reviewer may give a collision repair shop five stars for being courteous and quick with the repair, but is that business doing all it can to repair cars safely by following OEM procedures? Are their employees happy, or are they leaving to work in better environments? Does a shop qualify as “good” or “great” because they only follow OEM procedures? Is a shop a “good” one because they communicate well with customers?

So many factors can come into play. Is it all subjective? Or are the best shops around earning accolades because they’ve actually discovered the recipe for success?

Mike Anderson (Collision Advice) believes there are three factors to be considered before labeling a shop “good.” The celebrated consultant, dynamic speaker and former successful shop owner says it comes down to putting the customer first, performing safe and proper repairs and treating their employees well.

“In my mind, it’s that they put the consumer first,” shared Anderson. “The consumer is number one – that is who they serve. Secondly, in order to put the consumer first and serve them properly, they prioritize safety over profit. Their moral compass should be on safe and proper repairs. Another factor is how well they invest in their employees, treating their team with respect and treating them well. Happy employees make for happier customers.”

Making a good first impression with the customers is one key factor, according to AASP/MA Executive Director Lucky Papageorg. Having a pleasant atmosphere in the shop’s receiving area sets a nice first impression along with having their certifications on display. It’s also a good opportunity to start educating customers. “Place a TV in the waiting room that displays industry-related clips, like the ones the Alliance regularly shares with members. You don’t leave them waiting long, but it’s a way to start educating them before you have the opportunity to converse with them.” 

Another is having a solid message that conveys the business brand.

“I think a good shop has a prepared dialogue in support of how they will sell the services they provide,” explained Papageorg. “A standard dialogue where everyone on staff shares the same message. Having everyone say the same thing is critical so a customer always knows the full scope, and nothing comes out of the blue.” The back end of the shop has to support what the front end tells the customer. 

McColl Rhodes of Nesco Sales Inc. Auto Body (Bondsville) shared the same sentiment about keeping everyone on the same page. Communication was the first thing she listed when asked what she thinks makes a good body shop.

“I think the best shops are the ones where everyone knows what is going on,” she observed. “The technicians know when the parts are coming in, and the customer knows when their car will be done.

“It’s also about organization,” she expanded on her point of view. “It’s communication and organization together. If everyone has their ducks in a row, then things run smoothly, and we can predict problems before they happen.” 

“To me, it’s about putting the idea of safety as a priority…PERIOD,” stressed Tim Ronak, senior services consultant for AkzoNobel. “Safety for consumers. Safety for staff. Safety for the community. Safety for the environment. Imbedding safety into the fabric of every decision a repair center makes as part of its interactions with consumers, staff and its community.” 

Jack Lamborghini spent 47 years in the auto body industry. Like Anderson, the recently retired shop owner believes a good body shop comes down to quality work, customer care and extraordinary employees.

“There’s basically three pieces to it, and all are equally important,” the former co-owner of Total Care Accident Repair (Raynham) stated. “You have to do really consistent quality work. Quality work is defined by returning that vehicle back to its pre-loss condition based on the OE specifications. The second piece is that you have to provide a customer care experience that absolutely wows the vehicle owner. You want to give them an experience where the customer thinks of you, not only as the best body shop they’ve been to, but as the place where they received the best experience they ever had. The third piece is that you have to have extraordinary employees – people working for you who believe in their heart that you want to do everything to help them succeed. Make them understand how important they are to the process.

“It’s all subjective to a certain degree,” Lamborghini continued. “You need to make sure you step outside of your comfort zone and verify that you have all those things. A lot of people say they do ‘great quality work,’ but there are levels to ‘great quality work.’ It’s the same with customer satisfaction. You may think you do a great job, but how ‘great’ is it?” 

Another line of thinking in all this is: what are the benefits to being at the top? In a competitive world that continues to be infiltrated with consolidation, it’s actually quite crucial. BASF’s John Shoemaker explored this concept at SEMA 2023 as part of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists’ Repairer Driven Education series with his talk “Being ‘Elite’ in a Consolidating Market.” Shoemaker demonstrated why it’s so important for shops to have a clear message in all the work they do. 

“A cultural shift within one’s business is another step toward being elite,” Shoemaker stated. “Make sure customers know they are at the right place to fix their car, and have every single member of the staff know the shop’s brand and expectations. If your people aren’t able to identify and promote your brand, you’ve lost. They are the ones on the front line – at the check-in point, at the follow up – to get those Google reviews. If your employees don’t understand your brand, you won’t get the gains.” 

Speaking of reviews, just how heavy do they come into play in the makings of a “good” shop?

In the words of Anderson, “There’s a term called ‘social proof.’ That is consumers looking for social proof that you can be trusted. Forms of social proof could be online reviews, like Google reviews and also your shop being listed on a OEM shop locator. It’s validation to the consumer that you can be trusted and that you have manufacturer equipment and are certified. The big thing I tell people is that there is customer service, and there is customer experience. Customer service is how you treat the customer; customer experience is how they feel they were treated. It’s really important that we distinguish the difference between the two.” 

Lamborghini also recognizes the benefits of customers having the opportunity to share their experience. 

“You really need to have some type of vehicle to give you customer feedback that will substantiate great customer care. In many cases, you may want to have more than one vehicle to obtain feedback.” 

As Lamborghini indicated, all of it is somewhat subjective as there are multiple qualities a body shop could display that could deem them worthy of a “great” rating. 

“A good shop stays current with technology and is willing to assist a customer in the ‘fight’ to get what they deserve while knowing full well it’s the customer’s responsibility,” Papageorg offered another perspective. 

Anderson finds businesses looking for ways to give back to their communities is quite a commendable thing. “I see people make a lot of money and buy boats, etc. but they don’t invest back into their communities, and I do think we have an obligation to give back.”

A great shop is also one that offers a career path, Anderson suggested. “Great shops are open to giving women opportunities, invest in training and equipment and provide a nice place to work and a clean break room. That all goes back to having a great culture.” 

“A great shop will really be focused on owning their customers and not relying on an insurer to provide customers to them,” Lamborghini believes. “I think any truly great shop owns their customer and then has the ability to choose to not participate in insurance referral programs. I think it should be the goal for shops to be completely independent and operate their business so the customer is not only the first and foremost concern, but the only concern. That doesn’t mean you have to be adversarial with insurance carriers, but you should be striving toward complete independence so there is never a conflict between who your customer is and who you are truly obligated to. It just comes down to the fact that you can’t serve two masters.” 

Clearly, there are many elements that come into play and not one standard recipe for success. Although some common ingredients seem to be providing a good customer experience by way of good communication, treating employees right and turning out quality work that ultimately results in greatness. 

Want more? Check out the January 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!