As collision repair technicians, we sometimes forget the importance of company profits. But, as we all know, profits are the reason for all our hard work — as well as the source of everyone’s paychecks — so it’s in everyone’s best interest to maintain the highest level of profit possible. After all, increased profits give us the leverage we need to request increased earnings from our employers.
With that in mind, take a close look at your work habits and consider implementing the following suggestions:
1. Clean up — We’ve all seen those guys who scatter everything all over the place and never clean up their work areas or throw anything away. While they don’t think it slows them down, the rest of us see them wandering in circles looking for tools they just had in their hands.
One of the easiest things you can do to increase productivity and reduce costs to the company is to keep a clean work area. A clean work area will also reduce the number of lost or misplaced items that have been removed from the vehicle. It’s much easier to keep track of parts and tools in a clean, well-organized work area. In addition, you want customers and insurance adjusters to see a well-organized method of repair used on their vehicles — not to mention that a neat and orderly shop projects the most professional image.
2. Get organized — The two most important tools I own are a clipboard and a pen. Keep a legal pad handy and take notes. Notes remind us to follow up on things and to check on parts, supplements or the painter’s progress. You may even want to keep track of the dates you request supplements, parts are received, vehicles go to the paint shop, etc.
When you receive a job assignment, keep a copy of the estimate on the dashboard of the vehicle. This enables you to check on things without running to the office. You can track parts, supplements and job progress with the dashboard paperwork.
3. Help with supplements — As you disassemble a vehicle, keep a legal pad and pen handy so you can make a thorough list of everything you’ll need to repair the vehicle. The more thorough your list, the more efficient the repair process will be since fewer items will be overlooked or forgotten. Include damaged hardware, plastic clips, light bulbs — things that many shops consider a cost of doing business. Attach a photocopy of your list to the dashboard paper work. Whenever possible, the shop manager or the advisor handling the job should go over the vehicle with you to locate all damages; two people working together are less likely to overlook damages.
4. Remove old parts — Keep everything you remove from a vehicle until the vehicle is delivered. As soon as it’s delivered, check with management to find out if any of the parts need to be photographed or retained for re-inspection. Everything else should go to the trash immediately to maintain adequate working space.
Salvage yards often send much more of a car than we need for the repair we’re making. Before you drag any of these pieces outside, strip them of usable hardware, plastic clips, wiring harnesses and connectors of all sorts. All these items can be organized and stored in bins on your workbench so you don’t spend a lot of time waiting or looking for small items.
5. Check new parts — When you receive replacement parts, thoroughly check them to ensure you have the correct parts and that they’re not damaged. To help track parts, you can use a marker to highlight all parts listed on the dashboard paperwork. As you receive parts, cross them off in red. This enables you to quickly check the paperwork to see which parts you have and which ones you still need. This also enables management to get the information when you’re unavailable.
6. Make equipment last — Some people tell technicians to treat shop equipment like they’re paying for it themselves. The technician’s physical labor pays for everything in the shop, so the shop equipment belongs to the employees. When employees respect one another by properly using and maintaining equipment, everyone in the shop can benefit from its use.
It also helps if employees choose an area in the shop where equipment will be kept when not in use. Welders, torches, jacks and even brooms should be kept in the equipment area at all times when not being used to reduce the amount of time technicians have to spend looking for them. Remember, we can all make more money if we keep shop equipment easily accessible and working properly. In addition, properly maintained equipment will last longer than abused equipment, which keeps shop costs down.
7. Conserve materials — Over the years, I’ve seen at least a million dollars worth of usable material go into trash cans. By keeping small parts boxes (approximately shoe-box size) on your workbench, you can organize materials you regularly use. Keep sandpaper with usable grit for small jobs, so you can finish those repairs using only the sandpaper that most technicians would have thrown away after a previous repair. Spare parts removed from salvage parts, such as plastic clips and rubber plugs, can also be stored in this manner.
8. Be productive and responsible — The most common habit of collision repairmen and painters is tardiness. For an extra 30 minutes spent at work each day, you can have an exceptionally clean work area. In the afternoons, stay around long enough to pick up all your tools, put them away and sweep the floor.
Too often, we like to say, “It’s not my job,” when it comes to shop duties such as cleanup and maintenance. But if everyone works together as a team, big jobs become small, and the whole shop runs more smoothly. Also, when we work together as a team, we make each others’ jobs easier, which helps us all be more productive.
Most of all, technicians should communicate with each other about frame-machine scheduling and about equipment and material usage and maintenance. Technicians should also make a habit of notifying management before running out of materials to avoid delays when orders have to be placed. Improved communication between everyone always improves productivity; a lack of communication always causes a fumble.
Also part of being responsible: Show respect for the customer’s vehicle, no matter what kind of vehicle it is. I’ve seen bodymen and painters sit in customers’ cars, smoking or eating, listening to the radio and changing stations or drawing maps to the latest fishing hole in the dust on the hoods or deck lids. We should only touch the radio to turn the volume down, and we should protect the car interior from everything we do.
Also, keep the cars as clean as possible. If you remove a door, go to the paint shop and find a discarded plastic cover or 36-inch paper from a previous job and cut out a piece to tape into the doorjamb. In three minutes time, this will save the detailer at least 20 minutes worth of cleaning up shop dust. Nothing should be piled on top of or leaned against the cars either. Remember, the time your manager spends getting chewed out about something stupid is time that could be spent ordering parts you need.
9. Establish working relationships — Collision technicians should make the extra effort to ensure all plastic work is straight and free of pinholes before sending the job to the painter. This will reduce later interruptions in the process. Painters can help body shop technicians by checking repaired panels in the shop with the technician. To do this, soak a clean cloth with wax and grease remover and wipe the repaired panels. While the solvent is still wet and shiny, look at the panel from all angles to locate waves in the repair. Painters should also remove all tape and masking paper and scuff and buff, if necessary, before returning the car to the body technician. Communication between collision and paint technicians, as much as anywhere else in the shop, will have a definite impact on total shop production.
10. Double check the details — Try to give re-assemblies top priority. As soon as the painter is finished with the scuff and buff, build the vehicle, double checking gaps between adjacent panels and parts. Check fasteners to ensure everything is tight and secure, and open and close doors, hoods and trunks to ensure smooth operation. The closer you are to perfection the first time, the less likely it is you’ll see the car before its next accident. Remember, comebacks cost everyone time and money.
Boosting Your Bottom Line
While not all shops will be able to use every suggestion offered here, many shops will find at least some of these methods useful. You may want to show this list to others in the shop and talk over ways that some of these suggestions can be utilized. Remember, it’s easier to get the raise you want if the company has consistently shown increased profits. It’ll be easier yet if you can get the whole crew working together to keep profits as high as possible.
Writer Paul Bailey has been a collision repairman for 16 years and is an avid photographer and writer who maintains a consumer-awareness Web page in his spare time. He resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.