Visit the Shops
For us it would be highly unlikely that we would select a shop that we haven't seen for ourselves, unless we've received a referral from a well trusted source. It's difficult to build a solid relationship at arm's length, along with the inherent difficulty to discuss the projects progress. When visiting a shop, here are some things to look for and subjects to discuss:
Reputation: Get references from their customers. Recognize that most shops are going to pick and choose which ones to give you so your initial research will help verify that you are getting as much of the entire picture as possible.
Facility & Workforce: Take a look at their facility and workforce. How does it look? Is it reasonably well organized and professional looking? Do the workers look like they know what they are doing? Does the equipment in the shop look to be extensive enough to do the job? The right equipment will usually produce a better result, while also saving you some expense. When taking the shop tour, ask how long the employees have been there. It can be a good indication of how well the operation is managed, the stability of their workforce, and the experience level of their staff.
Working Relationship: Consider your ongoing working relationship with the shop. Since this is a partnership, you will be forming (and maybe one of a long term), what was your impression of the shop owner? Does he come across as someone who listens to you and asks the questions which help further define your objectives and expectations? Do they seem honest and up-front? Does the shop have an interest in your project? Those who do are more likely to treat your car, and perform their work, at the level which best suits what you expect.
During the first discussion with the shop owner, let them know something about yourself, your own level of interest in the hobby and in this project. Doing your homework in advance regarding the car itself and the basics of restoration will give you a better understanding of what the shop is describing and they will also understand that you have put some thought into the project and know something about the work you want them to do.
As usual there are two sides to every coin and you need to have a good understanding of how to build a good working relationship with a shop. In preparing thoughts on this subject, I asked Ray Zisa of the Corvette Center what he feels are the keys to a good working relationship. His response focused on six aspects: clear objectives, personal involvement, realistic goals, avoiding major changes in direction, patience and, of course, prompt payment of bills. Having done the up-front planning for your project will place you in a good position to build the relationship that will work best for both of you.
Insurance: Ask if the shop has insurance coverage for the cars in their care, custody and control. Consider what could happen should there be a fire or other calamity at their shop, and who will pay for it. This is also the time to consider whether or not you should get your own insurance coverage. Some insurance companies may offer coverage even for projects in progress.
Experience: How extensive is their experience in restoring Corvettes? Not all shops are experienced with either your particular car or with the work involved in repairing and painting fiberglass. Do they specialize in restoration work, or do they also handle collision repairs? A specialist may be not only more experienced with the work involved for your project, but also less subject to having other work interfere with its completion. Ask them to show you examples of their completed projects, as well as works in progress.
Work Control: Can the shop do everything you want themselves? Some folks like to deal with one shop which can handle the vast majority of the work themselves, and not require you to coordinate other work. The next best option is a shop which can handle the majority of the work, and has good working relationships for the specialty work that they outsource.