By Jason Stahl
3/7/2011 9:02:33 AM
As many of you probably know, I spent the week of Feb. 14-18 working at Nagy’s Collision Specialists and writing daily about my experiences on the BodyShop Business website.
My goal was to get out from behind my desk and jump headfirst into the trenches to see what life at a body shop was really like. And boy did I!
From washing cars to painting to sanding to sweeping and also witnessing what goes on in the front office and in the boardroom, I got to see and do pretty much everything. In doing all that, I was able to make many observations. Some things I had thought about the industry and its employees were proven wrong. Other things were right on the money. And still others were entirely new revelations to me. Here are some of those observations:
You guys really are rocket scientists. I didn’t realize the extent to which you have to put vehicles back together. Some vehicles were so torn apart and disassembled, I thought it a minor miracle that someone could even dream of putting it back together completely as it was before. Of course, it would be harder for me to do that than someone who has experience and training, but I likened it to taking on a massive, maddening jigsaw puzzle with a million tiny pieces.
Every day at my job as editor of BodyShop Business, I immerse myself in the macro-level issues that challenge the industry. I just assumed that shop employees would, too, but I found that they’re not so concerned about them. Sure, they know they’re probably not paid as well as they should be. And they’re aware of steering. But their focus is on production. If they spent the day worrying about labor rates or OEM vs. aftermarket parts, they probably wouldn’t get much done. They’re laser-focused on their work and really don’t have time to muse about the various ails the industry is going through. Also, they’re focused on what the customer wants and at the shop chain I was in, the customer is both the insurer and vehicle owner. I asked one tech why we were doing one particular procedure a certain way, and he shrugged his shoulders and replied simply, “It’s what the customer wants.”
I tend to hear on a daily basis about the immense struggles shops are going through. So it was refreshing to experience a shop that is actually thriving. I know Nagy’s is in the minority here, but I got to see firsthand why they’re succeeding. Part of it has to do with the fact that they’re a multiple-store operator. Owners Ron and Dan Nagy saw the future well before it got here and were able to position themselves to take advantage of the collision repair business as it stands today. On my first day, Monday, I said, “Today’s one of your busiest days of the week, right? All the cars come in on Monday and go out on Friday, right?” “Oh no,” the office manager replied. “We don’t do that. We load level among all our shops.”
Visiting all of Nagy’s shops made me realize there is no single, ultimate, perfect model for doing collision repair. Even though they’re experiencing tremendous success, they’re far from perfect. They’ve begun instituting SOPs and lean principles, but they’re not finished because they and other lean students know that the journey never ends. And actually, the Nagys prefer to call what they’re in pursuit of “continuous improvement” rather than that used and abused “lean” term. But the bottom line is they make their own unique circumstances work for them. The ultimate goal is happy vehicle owners, happy insurers and happy employees, and as long as that’s achieved, it doesn’t really matter how they get there.
This won’t be my last foray into the collision repair work world. But I do have some work to catch up on here at BodyShop Business, so it might be a while before I venture back. Still, I look forward to the next go-round.
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