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Get Busy When Slow

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

All I keep hearing out there is how everyone has been so busy due to the harsh winter weather we received in many parts of the country this year. But I suspect that when spring breaks and gas prices spike this summer, there will once again be a dearth of repair work and many shops will be sitting on their hands, wondering if they can make it through yet another year. So for those shops that might find themselves a little slower due to the struggling economy and the weather shift, I say: What a great time to work on your business!

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This is what I hear time and time again: I’m just too busy to work on my business. I have too many immediate concerns to sit back and set a strategy for the future. Well, guess what? You may just find that time soon.

Let me suggest a few things you can get started with that may pave a path to success for you down the road:

Clean your shop. Just because it’s a body shop doesn’t mean it has to be dirty. Scrubbing it down is important because if you get the dirt off everything else, it won’t end up on your customers’ cars. Plus, a clean workspace will boost your employees’ morale. But also don’t forget to organize your tools and equipment so they’re not where they shouldn’t be. If a tech has to go searching for a tool or walk around a machine in the middle of the shop, that all contributes to lost time. And have you checked out your customer lavatory lately? If it looks like the john at the local gas station, that won’t provide a very good customer experience, now will it? Also, don’t neglect the outside of your building. Spruce it up with landscaping, and make sure the signage is fresh. You come to your shop every day and thus don’t view it from an outsider’s perspective. Think: What is the first impression this shop makes from
the outside?

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Spruce up your customer reception area. Have you taken a good, hard look at your reception area lately? Is it clean and inviting? Are there plants and other nice decor? Perhaps you could put in a refreshment bar with free candy and snacks and a deluxe coffee station. Are you touting your awards and certifications on the wall? Don’t forget about your company’s mission statement and/or lifetime guarantee. What about framed copies of news articles on your shop promoting your community involvement or business success? What about a play area for children? Also, does the reception area smell good? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into restaurants, places where food is served, and the first thing I smell is dirty mop. It’s never good for a foul odor to make a first impression.

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Get lean. Take a piece of paper and trace a line where a vehicle travels once it enters your shop and once it leaves. Chances are you’ll end up with something that looks like spaghetti. Have you ever thought of how to make the vehicle journey a more logical and efficient one? What about your techs? Trace their journey. Are they walking all over the shop when they really don’t have to? That reminds me of a local Subway shop I sometimes visit where the cashier walks to the back of the store to retrieve cups every time a customer orders a drink with the meal. Just put the cups next to the register for Pete’s sake!

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Crunch your numbers. This is something we don’t do enough. It’s like not having dashboard instruments in your car – you wouldn’t be able to tell how fast you’re going, whether the oil level is low or if you have enough fuel to get where you’re going!  Some shop owners look at their numbers every day. You should at least be looking at them every month to see if you’re achieving your financial goals.

Set goals. Goals? What goals? You do have goals, don’t you? You must set goals to be successful. With only one or two vehicles in your shop for repairs on a given day, maybe it’s time to set some. Be specific, and make sure to write them down. For example, one could be: Reduce average cycle time from 12 days to 10. Or, increase sales 10 percent this year. Then, check periodically to see if you’re on track to achieve those goals.

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Given all the things you can do in your downtime, less repairs might be a blessing in disguise.

           
        Jason Stahl, Editor

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