In the labor-oriented collision repair industry, every shop owner and manager naturally wants his facility to be as productive as possible while keeping operating costs down. Although a well-equipped facility is a necessity in this ever-changing industry, increased production doesn’t necessarily require major equipment purchases. By taking a closer look around your shop, you may find a variety of ways to increase production — most of which cost little or nothing to implement.
Let’s look at a list of some of the more common and more effective methods:
1. Expedite supplements — The moment you receive customer authorization, it’s a good idea to assign the vehicle to a technician so he can immediately disassemble the damaged area for inspection. In a short time, a technician can remove fenders and bumper covers or access inner structures and floor-pan areas, exposing a tremendous amount of hidden damage.
Whenever possible, the shop manager or advisor handling the job should go over the vehicle with the technician to locate all damage. Two people working together are less likely to overlook damages. In addition, I’ve found that supplements tend to be more thorough if we put aside the insurance company estimate and write our own thorough estimate. Usually in less time than it takes to compare an insurance estimate to the vehicle, one can write a complete estimate and then compare the two.
2. Utilize paperwork — As soon as you receive an approved estimate/supplement, make copies for each technician who’ll be working on the vehicle. Make another copy to be kept on the dashboard of the vehicle at all times. This dashboard paperwork, in addition to other uses that are covered later, can be used to track parts that have been received by the technician. When the order is placed for a part, that part can be highlighted on the dashboard paperwork in yellow, and when the part is received, the technician can cross it out in red. With this method, management and technicians can be sure all parts are ordered and received. This would reduce last-minute delays due to forgotten items.
3. Establish strong communication lines — I can’t stress the importance of communication between technicians and management enough. Direct verbal communication can be improved greatly through weekly shop meetings. Even if some of your employees don’t want to participate, it’s a good idea to set aside one particular time during the week when the bulk of your staff gathers to address problems, share ideas and focus on improvement.
The dashboard paperwork also can be a valuable bridge across some communication gaps in the shop. Additional pages can be attached to the dashboard paperwork, such as a checklist for things that often get overlooked until the last minute or a tracking sheet that could be updated first thing every morning to track the daily progress of each job.
4. Get organized — There’s one rule that has no exception: A clean and well-organized shop is a productive shop. The less time your technicians spend looking for things they need to do their jobs, the more time they can spend actually doing their jobs. Cabinets or shelves where materials and hardware are stored should be well-organized with similar items grouped together. If possible, keep materials, hardware, shop equipment, etc., together in a centrally located area of the shop to make everything easily accessible to all technicians. Shelves can be a great space saver as long as they’re used to store parts that are still needed, as opposed to a "pack rat" savings of items that may or may not ever be used. Every possible square foot of shop space should be utilized for the production of labor because labor is your company’s largest producer of profit.
To assist with job scheduling, you may want to use a grease pencil to write basic information on the windshield or the driver’s-door window. Include the customer’s name, the bodyman’s initials, the painter’s initials, the date the job is assigned and the date of expected delivery. You may try something similar to the diagram below:
By keeping this information posted, you make it easily accessible for everyone. This also makes it easier for technicians to decide which jobs to give the most priority because they have a reminder of the time frame allowed on each job.
5. Establish strict parts policies —Whenever possible, try to get technicians to check parts when they’re delivered, preferably before you sign any invoices. As much as technicians hate to drop what they’re doing to look at parts, they hate to get wrong parts even more. It’s good practice to have the person working on a particular vehicle inspect incoming parts for that vehicle. As mentioned earlier, the received parts should be checked off the dashboard copy of the paperwork.
And be sure to inform your technicians of damaged parts that need to be retained for inspection by insurance appraisers. It’s also a good idea to label or mark these parts to remind technician’s and others not to discard them until further notice.
6. Properly equip your shop — An important key to productivity is a properly equipped facility. A huge arsenal of equipment can be a waste of money if equipment isn’t carefully selected. Choose equipment that will be used often in your shop.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your long-term technicians about equipment purchases to get ideas about what equipment would be most cost effective in your shop. The more use each piece of equipment in the shop gets, the more lucrative the equipment will be to the company. Also, your technicians are more likely to use equipment they chose themselves.
7. Get the most for your materials bill — Every collision repair facility in the industry seems to have its own method of distributing materials, and many struggle with materials cost. My only suggestion, I’m afraid, is somewhat costly to implement, but it can pay off in the long run. First, provide each technician with a cabinet that can be locked. Technicians would then order what they need from your suppliers. When materials arrive, each technician would account for items ordered, and each technician’s material usage would be monitored. By monitoring his material usage, you can compare his materials cost to the materials allowance generated by his repairs. Offer your technicians a percentage of the savings when their materials cost is less than the materials allowance. A quarterly bonus check will motivate most technicians to be surprisingly conservative with materials.
8. Never pass an opportunity to boost morale — It’s a proven fact that employees who feel appreciated will be more productive. But you don’t always have to pay the highest hourly wage in town to get good technicians who’ll produce for you. Technicians have been known to leave good-paying jobs for better working conditions at a lower-paying job. It’s important to tell your crew when a job is done well or when you have a productive and profitable month. You may even consider setting production goals for the crew to meet and offer an equal bonus to everyone in the shop when the goal is met.
Outside of the workplace, some employers feed the crew once a month, sponsor softball or volleyball teams, or take employees on fishing trips. Employers have also been able to find discounts available for their employees on goods and services offered by other local businesses. Membership in a local wholesale club can be a reasonable benefit to offer employees. A collection of small benefits can add up to make an attractive package without cutting too deeply into company profits.
Increased productivity is a top priority in any line of work and, with a little bit of effort, is a reasonably achievable goal. By carefully studying your individual situation, you may discover a variety of ways, in addition to those listed here, to get more production from your facility and your crew. With the right motivation and work methods in place, your technicians will be sure to meet increased production goals — helping you to meet your profit goals.
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.