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Clark’s Corner: Wise Advice from (Really) Old Collision Industry Veterans

In a series of conversations with some old friends and customers, we generated a non-inclusive list of ways to save labor time, get organized and produce better work faster.

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Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 32nd year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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The 2016 I-CAR survey suggests there are 40,962 body shops in the U.S. and 195,000 collision techs go to work there. That makes 4.75 techs (let’s call it five whole production people) per shop. They suggest the average shop sells $1.2 million of collision repair each year, or about $25,000 in sales each week. Using an estimated $2,500 average repair order, the average U.S. shop paints just two cars per day.

Grow Your Profit

Most of those 41,000 shops would presumably like to sell more repairs, paint another couple of cars and make more money, which is most economically done by producing more work in the same hours. The number of flag hours any tech completes during their contact hours is a measure called production efficiency. Sixty flag hours in 40 contact hours makes that tech 150 percent productive (labor hours sold divided by labor hours available 60 / 40 = 150%).

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Many shops’ thoughts regarding calculating, comparing or even talking about “production efficiency” are negative. “We’re too busy fixing cars to worry about some math problem,” says my average owner of the $1.2 million I-CAR median body shop. Knowledgeable techs say it all depends on the labor hours sold up front, while front-office people say it all depends on how effectively the techs spend their time out back. The truth is that exceptional production efficiency numbers are a function of both sides of that equation.

Shop management experts, industry consultants and other know-it-all voices always have the best solution for your shop’s production problems. Sign right here to find out how. Clearly, lots of folks in our industry don’t like doing business math. Hiring professional help in many cases is just having someone to hold the business ownership accountable to what they pledged to do. Rather than having someone nag you into helping yourself, I say any shop owner can do it alone. They must really want to make more money next month, though. Saying you’ll change is easy. Delivering just one more car each day (three, not two) would increase the average I-CAR shop’s sales by $600,000 and gross profit by $250,000. Sound good?

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Same Old, Same Old

Well yeah that sounds good, sign me up man. Sorry to say it’s not magic or wizardry that will make that wish come true. It’s the same collision repair mantra as always: Eliminate wasted efforts, work smarter and get organized. If that were easy, every shop would already be rolling in cash. Increasing production with the same crew and equipment next week is a time-consuming challenge, but it’s worth it on the net profit bottom line.

In a series of conversations with some of my old friends and customers (see “Clark’s Corner” from the December 2016 issue of BodyShop Business), we talked about the many changes in our industry since the 1970s, both good and bad by our reckoning. Some of these techs were now the heavy-hit, go-to senior guys at their shop’s structural repair bench or rack. Several were working shop managers and/or lead metal techs. My favorite customers (the ones who bought all the expensive paint) appeared to have suffered minimal brain damage from their 40-plus years in the spraybooth. What we generated together was a non-inclusive list of ways to save labor time, get organized and produce better work faster:

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  • Get the work flow organized. Stop taking every car on Monday morning. All you need is a chalkboard with the days of the week and the labor hours per RO to make it work. But you have to stop scrambling to get today’s work delivered long enough to plan smooth flow for tomorrow’s.
  • Get organized in the all-important parts department. Pay a decent wage to have a trained parts person manage this key component of efficient production and minimize wasted labor time.
  • Get the physical shop organized. Trying to get home by 6:30 some nights would be much easier if the tech hadn’t spent 45 minutes looking for a missing part and another 20 finding the right glue kit to attach it.

Metal Shop

The consensus among my friends was that the frame guys missed older, simpler measuring systems. Most of them were operating the latest laser targeting, display screen, printed-result repair systems but missed the simplicity of the old mechanical “go-no go” locating points. Rather than focus on the specific brand or type of structural repair equipment, they suggested a thoughtful overview of the hard-hit repair process. Having the frame stall(s) located to take a car off a hook easily, protecting the surrounding stalls from flying chains and having needed welders, torches, clamps and anchors always within easy reach was their sound advice.

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More glue and more joining components with adhesives is a good thing and makes for faster repairs, my seasoned teammates said. Get fully on-board with sticking stuff together correctly; get training, stock the right stuff and spend the necessary time on the exactly correct surface prep. New seam sealers are much closer in looks and performance to the factory, making pre-accident condition easier to achieve. Their key takeaway was to actively manage a suitable variety of adhesives and the required application equipment. If the process requires U/V or I/R lights, auxiliary heat guns, induction heaters or nitrogen gas, have them on the same rolling cart.

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Many of today’s specialized adhesives come in a kit and should always be billed out as a part, not paint and materials. And because it’s a kit, don’t try to re-use excess material to save money, my friends said. We all remembered our early days when nothing got tossed until we scraped the inside of the can/tube/cartridge squeaky clean. “Pay once, bill twice” from those olden days isn’t worth the likely product and repair weaknesses with today’s sophisticated adhesives.

My crew said that good crash parts management is the No. 1 key driver. At some point, everyone will have to leave their stall for another roll of sandpaper or some mysterious trim clip, but good parts folks have the double-checked, unwrapped replacement parts in the right stall…on parts carts! These guys have worked in a variety of shops over their careers, and they flagged more hours and made more money in the shops that lived and died by rolling carts – not only for staging the crash parts but for holding the detail supplies or plastic repair material, aluminum repair tools and many other items.

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Paint Shop

Leave two flat bays between prep and booth, and use I/R lights to speed dry while awaiting the next step. Find and correct every problem before the car is in the booth.

My old painter friends had all worked in shops where last-minute repairs or unmasking/detailing tasks were routinely completed in the formerly clean spray cabin. As head painters these days, they can (and do) fire co-workers who don’t get that message.

Their best single efficiency tip to get one more car painted every day and increase sales by $600,000 was to have the first car for tomorrow as close to ready as possible before going home tonight. By the way, we all agreed paint products are safer these days, proof being we’ve all lived this long.

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