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In several classes I teach for paint, body & equipment (PBE) jobbers, I describe the universe of American body shops as follows:
- 5 percent: Ugh! These shops have no interest in calculating financial numbers of any kind, improving their production efficiency (what’s that?) or new and faster equipment. They’re too busy fixing cars to get any better at it.
- 30 percent: Good. These shops know they should be measuring performance somehow and organizing their workspaces more efficiently. They also understand that more productive equipment would eventually pay for itself but are unclear how to make any time to implement those needed improvements because all their repairs must be delivered by noon this Friday.
- 30 percent: Better. These shops have figured out that the only way to make serious money in collision repair is to beat the flat rate times at every opportunity. They measure a few numbers, the painters mix most of their liquid over an electronic scale, the shop sets aside some funds annually to buy faster equipment and even holds occasional meetings with their techs to discuss how they can improve.
- 30 percent: Best. These shops are tracking numbers all the time. From production efficiency percentages to parts-to-labor ratios, close rates to sales mix (how much of their sales are labor, parts, P&M and sublet), they know where their shop performance stands today and have specific future goals to meet. They communicate regularly with everyone in the shop, from the detail kid to the receptionist, and all employees have clear performance targets. These shops got to where they are through lots of hard work and consistent follow-through.
- 5 percent: Wow! These top performers also know that communication is key and that they can’t identify a win if they don’t keep score of everything all the time. They share numbers with managers, have regular shop meetings to examine current performance and receive feedback on improving it. They mix every drop of liquid over their smart scale and tie all of it to an RO number, have the fastest, latest equipment because they know speed pays, and get up every morning with a goal of getting better by nightfall. Of my five shop segments, these folks are the easiest to identify. Walk from the parking lot to the office to the shop floor, look around and say “Wow!”
Clean as a Whistle
As I travel around the country, I’m often invited to the local super shop. “You gotta see this guy,” my host says. These various “wow” body shops have lots in common with each other, which is not surprising since all body shops are in the same business and these businesses have clearly excelled at it.
First, second, third and fourth on all the superior players’ shop checklists is “clean.” As every insurance company survey ever conducted has concluded, a clean presentation is No. 1 on the consumer’s preference list. Every year, every survey, forever.
One thing that usually distinguishes the wow shops from the best shops is their production spaces. Best shops look super professional and clean from the front. Their parking lots, windows, waiting areas, estimating bays and sales offices all sparkle. Their shop spaces often look like dirty, dusty collision repair takes place in them. Wow shops’ production spaces are just as clean, well lit and organized as their front ends. All that extra care is worth it because they turn out top-quality repairs really quickly – just what the insurers’ CSI surveys all want to see. When you step through the door into these shops’ production spaces, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is, “Wow!”
Wow body shops all seem to have great signage both outside and inside. On the exterior, the lighted, professionally made signs look big-time retail. Say what? Illuminated signs from full service, commercial sign companies are very expensive. These wow shops all had the nearby stamped-vinyl place do their inside signs but paid the big bucks for real-deal outdoor advertising signs.
The parking and estimate areas are clearly marked with even more professional signs. In no uncertain terms (two signs for every command), they direct apprehensive customers where to go next. Not to mention the entire lot itself is squeaky clean – there are no weeds anywhere, there are mowed and trimmed grass areas (it does look cool), parking stall lines are freshly painted, and there is a shaded cover if the shop is in an extra sunny market.
Check out the sparkling glass, too. The difference between a $200 auto detail and a $5 car wash in part is the glass. Wow shops keep all their window and door glass crystal clean every day. It’s a subtle clue, you think, but next time you’re shopping at the mall, check the big retailer’s display glass. Smudge-free glass makes a difference and sends the “we care” message your shop would like your potential customers to hear.
Inside the brightly lit reception areas, the top shops have waiting spaces as nice as the ones in doctors’ offices. Plus, there’s free Wi-Fi and professional seating areas with attractive furniture (nothing left over from the owner’s old living room set). Current issues of both this week’s photo and news magazines are racked neatly nearby. A kid’s play area and a guest desk or two for those trying to work while their estimate is created sends the thoughtful message of, “We’re glad you’re here, and please be comfortable while we complete the paperwork” – even if the customer doesn’t have kids or a critical
Perception Is Everything
Notice that none of my body shop segment descriptions had anything to do with actually fixing the collisions. I’m willing to concede that even the “ugh” shops could perform a safe, attractive repair. My point is that Mrs. Smith (my universal consumer) won’t give them the chance. If your shop doesn’t look as nice as your best-looking competitor, it doesn’t matter how good your techs are or how accurately your equipment performs. She wants to go somewhere that looks like they’ll take good care of her second-most valuable possession.
It isn’t easy; neither the best shops nor the wow shops were born looking like that. It takes a major daily commitment to keep everything clean and dust free. It takes an ongoing commitment to buy better equipment, train faster processes and constantly improve. It takes an iron-clad will to persevere in the face of the many obstacles on the road to top performance. Wishing your shop were better won’t help.
Make those business improvement commitments and the next time I’m speaking in your area, the locals will want to take me to your wow shop. I look forward to seeing it.
Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 26th year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.