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Bigger and Better: Increasing Productivity

Since productivity was such a priority to shop owner Leonard Lassak, he really did his homework on it. Lucky for us, he’s letting us borrow his Cliffs Notes

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“[As a shop owner], increasing productivity is obviously one of your top priorities,” says Leonard Lassak, owner of Thoroughbred Collision Center in Auburn, Wash.

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Chances are, you already know that. Chances are also good that you, like most shop owners, struggle a little bit to keep your shop productive and efficient. Lassak struggled, too. Forced to relocate his small but efficient shop because of a freeway project, Lassak had to devise new ways to maintain and improve productivity in a much larger – 30,000 square feet – facility. Since that time, his cycle time has decreased from 13 to nine days.

Bigger and Better

When Lassak found his body shop “smack dab in the middle of an interstate project” and realized he needed to relocate, he found out it was much more difficult to keep his bigger and better body shop more efficient.

“[Our original building] was 8,500 square feet, and the place did almost $3 million a year,” Lassak says. “It cranked. It was efficient because it had to be.”

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Although it took two years, Lassak’s new 30,000-square-foot shop is also “cranking.”

To make the new Thoroughbred Collision Center more efficient, Lassak devised a process called segmentation of repairs. Lassak and his technicians use this process to put cars into one of five categories – from the least amount of damage to the most.

“Each segment is identified by the resources of equipment and technicians,” says Lassak. “For instance, a category one repair doesn’t go to the brain surgeons.”

Lassak also divided his technicians into teams who work on certain categories of cars. “We have teams of technicians where 75 percent of their work is category three through five,” he says. “I have other teams who are just the opposite – 75 percent of their work is on category three or lower jobs.”

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In a category five repair, all levels of techs and equipment are needed. “This way, the entry level technicians, who work closest to the master technicians, still have identifiable work left to do on that car,” says Lassak. “There are segments of any job that lower level technicians can work on.”

Another benefit to segmentation of repairs is that Lassak and his employees know almost exactly what kind of equipment they’ll need to repair a car based on the category it’s in. If it’s only a category one or two, they know they won’t have to worry about something like dimensioning , so that cuts down on equipment usage. If it’s a category five, they know they’ll probably need most of the equipment they have.

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To make the process even more efficient, Lassak has the lower categories of repairs done at his two smaller shops. “[The larger shop] does category four and five repairs,” he says. “The other stores never do category five work. They occasionally do fours, depending on their workload. [Because of this] the smaller stores are very streamlined and can move very quickly. I’ve narrowed their focus.”

How did Lassak come up with this segmentation process? “I grabbed five significant technicians and I said to them, ‘I’d like to devise something with you guys as the master technicians so you won’t be doing this lower category work all the time. You’ll be governing teams of less experienced people, and you’ll be doing all the fast-paced handwork,’ ” he says.

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Most of the techs took to the idea right away. The idea of governing their own day plus not having to mess with the category one and two work was appealing.

A Master and an Apprentice
When Lassak learned he might be moving his shop, he figured the best way to improve upon it would be to learn from some of the masters, so he traveled around the country to more than 40 body shops. Even with everything he saw and everyone he met, Illinois shop owner Paul Chapman sticks out in his mind.

“He had five stores, which today is no big deal, but back then, it was
a big deal,” Lassak says. “He operated five stores, and his day wasn’t any busier than mine. He walked around, pollinated each store, patted a couple of people on the back, shook hands with a couple of people, etc.”

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Chapman kept track of statistical data in his shop regularly, so he always knew when there was a productivity problem.

When Lassak got back to his shop, he took the advice of his newfound friend and had his employees give him performance data so he could see what was going on.

“Deliveries, dollars and estimates,” Lassak says. “By those three numbers, I can tell the performance [of my body shop]. If I created a process that says I have to deliver 16 cars a day and we only deliver nine, then I know I need to talk to production.”

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Does It Work?
Lassak measures his productivity by stall efficiencies. For instance, if your shop is open 174 hours a month, each stall should be in use 174 hours that month to be 100 percent efficient. Lassak’s stalls are about 80 percent efficient. According to him, if most body shops pay attention to their stall efficiency, they won’t like what they see.

“They’re going to find out that their stalls are doing about 70 hours (about 40 percent),” says Lassak. “That’s a waste of a lot of space.”


Writer Emily Canning is an intern with BodyShop Business.

A Team Effort
Lassak isn’t the only one at his shop who strives for efficiency. His employees work hard at it, too, including his front office staff.
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“We hired a new claims specialist assistant, and after working there for about a week, she asked me why we put a package of forms in Zip-Lock bags and left them in the cars after repairs were completed,” says Lassak.

Lassak explained they’d always done that – but that wasn’t a good enough answer for his new hire. She told Lassak: “Well, sometimes I’m not receiving the packages until three days after the car leaves the shop, and many times some of the forms aren’t even filled out so I have to run around trying to get somebody to document them.”

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Lassak asked her to show him one of the packages. “We broke it apart, and we saw how ridiculous it was,” he says. “It was a waste of a lot of Zip-Lock bags and a waste of a lot of people’s time.”

Since then, the shop has gotten rid of the post-repair packages and, as a result, eliminated unnecessary paperwork.

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