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10 Things That Will Absolutely Kill the Cycle Time in Your Body Shop

These are 10 things that body shops do every day that make no sense in our industry and only serve to make us more inefficient and less profitable.

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Angelo DiTullio started in the collision business in his father's shop at seven years old. He has been both a shop manager and regional manager for the past 20 years. He has worked for the insurance industry, family-owned body shops, regional MSOs and national body shops. He's currently a district manager for Abra. He can be reached at [email protected]

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In the day-to-day operation of our businesses, there are certain things we do that just don’t make sense. Of course, this is based solely on my opinions and myown experiences. The goal of this article is to identify these issues that appear from time to time and give you some ideas that may help you overcome them. They’re presented in no particular order, just the order they came up in my mind.

Before I begin, I shouldn’t need to remind you of how important cycle time is in the collision industry today. No other single factor is more important than cycle time. In order to be profitable in the modern-day collision industry, you need to consistently move vehicles over the curb. The profit today only comes in small batches with large numbers of vehicles as opposed to large profit in few batches. Accepting this, the things I’m going to write about are all cycle time killers. Extended cycle time leads to lower customer satisfaction and lower profits. There’s no point in repairing vehicles only to have little or no profit and unhappy customers. Here are 10 things that don’t make sense to me:

  1. Unrealistic estimates. How often has a vehicle arrived at your shop with a bad or unrealistic estimate attached to it? I’ve seen it plenty of times; it’s a fairly regular occurrence. Whether the estimate was written by an insurer or another shop, there have been times when I’ve wondered if I was looking at the wrong car or had the wrong estimate. This obviously sets the repair off on the wrong tone for several reasons, one being that it gives the customer the wrong expectation. If they arrive with an incomplete estimate, they have an incorrect assumption as to the price and timetable of the repairs. If uneducated, the customer could view you as being more expensive and slower because the delivery date is going to be after what they were initially told. If you don’t educate your customer, they may view you and your shop as the “bad guy.”
  2. Reconditioned bumpers. A bumper has sustained damage, been taken off, inspected, deemed unrepairable and put in a trash pile. Someone pulls it out of the trash and takes it to an unknown location, where it’s then “repaired” by unknown people of unknown experience using unknown materials and unknown techniques. Then, someone decides we should buy back this former piece of trash for a few dollars less than a new part and put it on the car. From real experience, I have a very low opinion of reconditioned bumpers. Allow me to be clear, I fully support repairing bumpers when they’re repairable. What I’m against is the unknown factor of having someone else repair them. The biggest mistake you can make is to receive the bumper and put it – still wrapped – on a shelf somewhere, only to be opened by the painter when it’s time to paint it. In my experience, only one out of every 10 reconditioned bumpers works properly.
  3. Technicians assuming something wasn’t working before. We had just completed repairs on a newer Audi QX7. Not a big deal, just repaired the rear door and the quarter. We go to pull the completed vehicle out and none of the brake lights are working. It gets pulled back in and I tell the tech who worked on it to check it out. After about 15 minutes, he says it must have been prior, can’t be anything he did. I said, “Hold on. Do you really think the customer on this new vehicle has been driving around with no brake lights?” He said he didn’t take the lift gate apart and double checked everything he did touch. I said no way, I don’t believe in coincidences, we had to have touched something. He told me no way, it wasn’t possible. When I didn’t budge, he called a friend who was a tech at an Audi dealership and realized he hadn’t plugged in a connector inside the interior trim of the rear body panel. Don’t assume it wasn’t you unless you can prove it.
  4. Material caps. I don’t know any company out there that could do business by capping expenses. If I bought five widgets and paid for five widgets, how could I buy 10 widgets and pay for five? If you don’t already have one, you should look into a materials calculator. If you don’t use a calculator, you should be familiar with your paint manufacturer’s software, which allows you to run reports showing your actual materials cost on a specific job. Obviously, some colors cost more than others, and when you exceed the cap, you should supplement that to the insurer.
  5. Open blends. By now, we should all know there isn’t a paint manufacturer out there that will stand behind an open blend. I’m also sure we’ve all seen a failed sail panel blend before. Let’s face it, for such a small area, it’s just bad policy not to go the extra small area and do it the right way. Think of how silly it is that someone won’t pay you to paint the rest of the panel, but who’s paying you to buff out the open blend? If they’ll pay you to buff it out, why wouldn’t they pay you to do the job properly in the first place? Because possibly you’ve been doing it for free up until now.
  6. Refinish deductions. You’re working on a 2015 Chevy Impala, and the leading edge of the front door has a chip on it from the fender tapping it. I get it; it’s not a blend, and it’s not a full refinish either. We have just entered the magical world of the refinish deduction. For the sake of time, I won’t quote chapter and verse of the P-pages for refinish time. All I’ll say is that the color application stands only for a small portion of the times allotted. I’ve often seen excessive paint deductions that have no basis in fact and are too exorbitant. Have a good working knowledge of the P-pages and be able to explain your position. Don’t just take someone’s uneducated guess as to the deduction.
  7. Prior damage. There are plenty of examples of prior damage we see every day. There are three factors I want to address in reference to prior damage: first, ignoring prior damage on panels we’re already working on and painting. Second, assuming it’s prior damage. Third, ignoring it. A customer is not going to necessarily understand what damage is and isn’t going to be repaired. A big mistake is to paint over panels with “prior damage.” I have witnessed expensive repairs performed only to be ruined by unaddressed and unrepaired damage. When questioned, I’ve heard office staff proudly say, “Oh, that’s prior damage.” Come on, folks, it may be prior damage, but it’s making the rest of your job look less than stellar. Determining what is and isn’t prior damage should happen on the initial estimate, and it should be clearly confirmed and explained to the customer. Once it has been determined as prior damage, you may have the opportunity to upsell it. If the customer declines, at least now they understand what to expect when they pick up their vehicle.
  8. Painting over chips or other surface damage. Right or wrong, when a customer picks up their vehicle, they don’t expect to see dings, scratches or chips in panels that have been refinished. Again, I wish it weren’t true, but many times I’ve questioned a hood that looks like it has moon craters on it, only to be told, “Hey, it was only a blend panel.” I get it, but how do we think it’s OK to clear over chips and magnify them? You at least should try to upsell repairing the chips so the hood looks decent. If the customer declines, you’ve at least had the discussion and they won’t be surprised at what they see.
  9. Techs installing bumpers or parts that don’t match. Your detailer calls you over and asks, “Hey, can you take a look at this?” It never seems to be because he wants to show you how great something looks. There it is, a fully assembled vehicle with a bumper that’s seven shades off. How did this happen? Why didn’t the painter or the tech who put it together see this? Or anyone for that matter? I don’t know either, and it has happened to me plenty of times. I’m sure it has happened to you, too.
  10. In on Monday, out on Friday. This is a recipe for failure, and it just doesn’t work. Doing this will not help your cycle time. In fact, it will do the opposite. Each day should be treated the same. Monday is the same as Friday, and the first of the month is the same as the 31st. Your cycle time will actually improve if you break the habit.

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