It’s no surprise that Neal Cummings draws inspiration from Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. Both have similar leadership mentalities, and you won’t hear any yelling or whining from either of them. This calm under pressure approach guided Dungy and the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006, and it’s helped Cummings lead a successful team as facility manager of Church Brothers Collision Center in Avon, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis.
While Church Brothers’ Avon shop and the RCA Dome aren’t the same ballpark, they’re both venues for teamwork and individual excellence. “I treat everybody as a leader,” Cummings says. “Everybody in my shop has the ability to stop any process that’s going on, even if it’s not the car they’ve worked on.” Cummings, who has been a Colts season ticket holder for 23 years, has also adopted Dungy’s motto of, “No excuses, no explanations.”
As the son of a body shop owner, Cummings has been involved in the collision repair industry his whole life. He didn’t move into management because he wasn’t cut out to be a technician he was the 1995 BodyShop Business/ASE Master Collision Repair & Refinish Technician of the Year. Instead, Cummings transitioned into a leadership role because he wanted to take control of a shop and improve its operations. That same thinking is what made him Technician of the Year more than a decade ago. “I wanted to put myself in a position where I was the expert,” he says. “So I started taking a lot of I-CAR classes and doing a lot of extra work to be a better person.”
With a desire to continue to improve himself, Cummings set out to be a shop manager in 2000 and was running the Avon shop three years later. After Cummings joined Church Brothers, owner Dan Hall told him that the shop and its decisions were the facility manager’s responsibility. Cummings has passed that philosophy onto his employees.
“You don’t tell me it’s not your job, and you don’t tell me it’s not your fault,” he says.
Cummings manages 18 employees minus his porter, who’s serving in Iraq. “The way I manage is I hire the people to do their jobs, and I let them do their jobs,” he says. The Church Brothers shop is I-CAR Gold and ASE certified, and three techs are I-CAR Platinum certified, including Cummings, who also has all five ASE certifications and is a Master Collision Technician.
Established in 1929, Church Brothers Collision Center has five locations in Greater Indianapolis, including the Avon location. Fittingly, Cummings’ brother manages the company’s downtown location. The company provides consistency across its locations with a mission statement and employee covenant.
Church Brothers uses NexConnex, a management system from Nexsyis Collision, to better the production process. Nexsyis Collision is a company spun off by past employees of Church Brothers and Collision Team of America. Church Brothers and Alamo Body and Paint in San Antonio, Texas, offered assistance with and input on much of the original and current programming, product development and testing.
Each customer has a folder in the system that includes the check-in sheet, extensive photos of the car and damage, invoices, alignment and frame specifications, directions to pay and any other information pertinent to the repair. The system, which uses different colors to represent where a car is in the shop, extracts estimate information from CCC Pathways to ensure accuracy. After all information is input, the system assigns the repair to a tech.
As a student of lean management and the Toyota way, Cummings uses NexConnex to keep things running smoothly. With his laptop, Cummings can monitor each car’s progress from anywhere in the shop. The management system calculates repair target dates using each insurance company’s formula. Cummings then sets internal target dates based on this.
“What I like to do is under-promise and over-deliver,” he says. This is especially true, he notes, if the repair has a supplement.
Every day, the body techs receive a report outlining the day’s agenda and listing what parts each repair needs. A full-time mechanic frees up the body techs from any mechanical repairs, and the shop installs its own glass, which is less about extra profit and more about convenience. Cummings notes that this speeds up the repair process, resulting in fewer rental car days. Two flatbed wreckers are a source of extra profit and also make the repair process more efficient.
Make Insurers Copy You
“The insurance companies obviously are here to stay,” Cummings admits. With that in mind, he adjusts his goals accordingly. “I want to create a shop that does things in such a manner that insurance companies are looking at what we do and trying to reproduce it instead of trying to teach us to do what they want,” he says.
Church Brothers aims to improve cycle time and over-deliver quality and customer service when dealing with DRPs as well. Both customer service managers have dedicated DRP accounts, and Cummings hopes that more customer service at the beginning of a repair will mean fewer problems when it’s completed.
When signing on to a DRP, Cummings says shops need to realize that issues will arise. Ideally, potential problems should be addressed before signing the contract, he notes. Regardless of your opinion of DRPs, he says, if you’re on one, you’ve agreed to its terms.
“When you sign up as a DRP, you become a representative for that company,” Cummings says. “And they expect you to provide them with someone who represents and handles their company. They’re not sending you a check, though, for that guy.”
Cummings says the greatest challenge his shop faces with insurers is that they can change the rules while he can’t. So when conflict rears its ugly head, Cummings and his team try to work with them to resolve both parties’ issues.
“We do it in such a way that it’s diplomatic,” he says. “You have to realize that the guy on the other end of this DRP, he’s just doing his job, too.”
A Look to the Future
The Church Brothers’ Avon location recently added a new color-coded product mixing system for efficient detailing and cleaning. The shop will switch to Spies Hecker Permahyd waterborne paint later this year, which will be highlighted in its advertising campaigns. Ads air on a local radio station, and the company uses billboards and the sides of city buses to advertise. In 1997, Church Brothers sponsored Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Busch Series at Bristol Motor Speedway, and it creates brand identity by prominently displaying its name on its own vehicles.
Even with his positive outlook, Cummings knows not everything will always be as bright as his new waterborne paint. “The real challenge from the top to the bottom is customer expectations,” he says. “Managing your customers’ expectations means getting everything together so you can get their car delivered in a timely fashion and meet all their needs.”
Another area of concern is procuring OEM parts. He worries that challenges facing the Big Three domestic automakers will affect the availability of parts in the future.
Like everyone else in the industry, Cummings worries about training enough qualified techs, so he serves on the advisory board of the Lincoln College of Technology’s Indianapolis campus. He says that shops need to develop relationships with schools and invite students to their facilities. Students visit Church Brothers once every couple months to tour the shop and meet Cummings and his team. Then, if all goes as planned, the best of the bunch return to seek employment after graduation. Lincoln Tech also gives Church Brothers referrals.
From scouting recruits to managing his current roster, Cummings continues to find Dungy’s words beneficial. The coach’s book, “Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life,” has provided the facility manager with a source of management information.
“I believe you put your employees first, and they’ll put your customers first,” Cummings says. An employee told him early in his management career that as long as the manager cared, the employee would care. Today, Cummings continues that philosophy at Church Brothers in Avon.
Michael T. Peltier is managing editor of BodyShop Business. He can be reached at (330) 670-1234, ext. 261, or [email protected].
Church Brothers Collision Repair
Location: Avon, Ind.
> Behind the Bays
Estimating System: CCC Pathways
Management System: NexConnex from
Prep Booths: 2 CWMs
Spraybooth: 1 CWM downdraft, 1 CMC
Lifts: 1 Nussbaum SPL 8000, 1 Hanmecson
Straightening System: 10 Korek systems
Measuring/Dimensioning System: Blackhawk
Welding Equipment: 5 Millermatic 130XP
Other: Autotron Induction Heating System
Paint Mixing System: Spies Hecker/DuPont
Paint: Spies Hecker
Future Equipment Purchases: Updated