You built a successful collision repair business and then decided to expand to additional locations. Sounds simple, right? But replicating that consistent performance and successful business isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The First Location
I started with one store, then joined CARSTAR in 2003 and worked with them to create a blueprint for the store – from layout to repair standards to business management and customer service. My team was trained to follow that blueprint. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the first location and was able to grow sales from $750,000 to $2.8 million. Staffing was key to building strong leaders and technicians, as was creating a learning culture – which I realized was the foundation you need in place in order to expand to a new location.
My second location opened in 2014, and that was quite the learning experience! We built that location from the ground up, and new construction is a whole different ballgame. Building a new facility allowed us to incorporate the layout and processes that worked at our first location, while also providing the opportunity to make facility improvements to drive even better performance. When we opened a third location in 2018, we followed the same formula.
Today, running three locations successfully as a sole owner requires discipline, determination and a focus on the details. There are three things that can deliver consistency in your performance: process, procedures and people.
Let’s start with the process. If you’re part of an MSO or 20 Group, you can access their key learnings on the most efficient and effective processes for vehicle throughput in your facility. By working with CARSTAR, their operations team will visit your facility and do an assessment on your workflow and help make improvements. As part of the CARSTAR EDGE Performance Platform, I was able to refine my process and create a series of linear workstations. These made it easier to move a car through the repair steps without having to waste time moving cars in and out of the facility. Also, having parts carts that stay with the car throughout the repair process improves the efficiency and ensures better communication about the repair from station to station.
Being able to create a streamlined process that can be replicated from one facility to another can dramatically improve your cycle time, decrease length of rental, reduce downtime for technicians and ultimately deliver a better repair.
The next step is procedures. For today’s vehicles, the repair procedures are changing rapidly, so this is an area that requires a great deal of attention. As part of CARSTAR, we have operating procedures that outline the recommended steps for each stage of the repair process. My managers and I provide continual training and reinforcement of these procedures so we are consistent at all three locations. We also require our technicians to be I-CAR Gold so they are up-to-speed on the correct repair procedures.
We work with our vendor partners on training programs for specific procedures, which are incredibly important for new and long-time technicians. At each workstation, we post the steps of each procedure as a reminder, and we do a quality check at each step to ensure they are being followed.
Since much of our repair work is for insurance claims, it’s important that we communicate the repair requirements against that specific carrier at the start of the repair process. Reviewing the OEM repair procedures for each vehicle is important, as they vary as well. We have daily communication meetings to review the status of each vehicle in process, discuss the procedures for each repair and address any issues before the work is done to reduce re-work or non-payment.
The third step is people. As anyone in the industry knows, it can be challenging to find and keep top technicians. I try to hire good people from the start, invest in training and give them opportunities for growth. When you’re planning a new store, hire the manager and technicians in advance and have them work side-by-side with your staff at your current store. Then, when your new store opens, send your seasoned team there to ensure everything is working efficiently.
Across the three locations, we cross-train technicians, estimators, front-office staff and managers to ensure they all share the same skills and approach to serving our customers. This allows us to load-level our staffing to help one center with a significant number of cars, say from a hailstorm, or backfill if folks are on vacation. Having everyone trained on the same processes and procedures makes this possible and ensures that we deliver the same quality at every location.
In addition, we do events with all of our team members – some focused around training and business improvements, some to build teamwork and our culture. We created a mentoring program to pair experienced technicians with new technicians or interns to make sure they’re learning the correct approach to handling repairs and facility operations.
Once you have all of these in place, the final critical piece to delivering consistency is measuring your performance and results on a daily basis. For instance, I look at each facility’s metrics, then do a comparison across all three. While there may be a few variations, I expect to see similar numbers in terms of cycle time, LOR, technician time, product/supply use and downtime. Reviewing this with my managers weekly allows us to identify areas for improvements and see what one location might be doing better than others. It also helps us determine what can be replicated, and provides insight on where we can save additional time or money. These learnings are all factored into the constant improvements we make in our process, procedures and people.
The bottom line is that once you have the right processes, procedures and people in place, it isn’t hard to recreate that for another facility or to train additional staff for an expanded operation.