Are you still doing business the old-fashioned way? Making multiple phone calls and faxes to complete an estimate, wasting time handling paper documents and using shop management and estimating systems with limited parts ordering functionality? Are you frustrated with delays in getting parts, and also getting the wrong parts?
This frustration is unnecessary as there are inexpensive and easy-to-use computer-based tools today that can help you deal with these problems. Some of these tools are standard programs that apply to any business, while others are specific to the collision repair industry. But you definitely need both.
Why haven’t more collision repair facilities and dealers taken advantage of these technologies? It’s not the cost or lack of computer skills but fear of change. Today, there’s less justification for that fear than ever before. With a relatively small investment of time and money, you can start to see productivity improvements, higher profits and fewer headaches.
Be a Believer
Fortunately, our owner at 3-D Bodyworks is a huge believer in information technology and has pushed us to be on the cutting edge. All our shops are on Microsoft Exchange servers connected to the Internet with broadband T-1 lines backed up with cable and DSL.
We use Microsoft Outlook for e-mail and the Internet to search for and order parts. E-mail client systems like Outlook and GroupWise allow us to do a lot of things we simply couldn’t do with just a personal e-mail account on AOL or Yahoo. With Outlook, you can see when e-mails are opened and therefore when messages are received, making lost documents a thing of the past. These systems have other useful integrated functions as well. If you can use AOL, you can easily learn Outlook or GroupWise.
On the inbound side, our systems are programmed so that all incoming faxes, in-cluding invoices, get converted to e-mails through Outlook’s e-Fax server program, which automatically files the documents by vendor phone number and other subcategories. This eliminates lost fax invoices because almost every document is scanned and saved electronically on the server.
We also have Bluetooth-enabled digital cameras in all of our shops (short-range wireless communications technology that replaces cable connections). All the images taken with these cameras are automatically and wirelessly stored on our servers so that they’re available if a question about damage comes up later. An insurance company appraiser can log onto our server to see photos of the damage on a car and approve an estimate without leaving his or her desk.
On the administrative end, I believe the technology we’ve invested in has enabled us to handle twice
the amount of work that we could before.
Don’t be intimidated by this technology. Our shop may be on the cutting edge in the collision repair industry, but these same well-supported systems we’re using have been in use by the rest of the business world for some time. There are good system resellers and consultants out there who know our industry and can help you.
In addition to these everyday information technologies, the Internet has a number of useful tools designed specifically for the collision repair industry. Some provide useful, basic information in timely electronic formats, but others offer much more in the electronic parts procurement area. Introduced several years ago, this technology is really catching on among dealers and also among collision repairers, albeit at a slower pace.
ALLDATA is one of these tools. It’s a great source of service and repair information, offering recall information, technical bulletins, and diagnosis and repair for vehicles.
Manufacturers’ Web sites are also a good source of information. Through subscriptions (some free, some expensive) to these sites, we’ve gained access to all sorts of useful information. If we’re looking for a certain component on a specific car for example, an airbag control unit we can click on the manufacturer link and get this technical information.
Action Crash is a useful online site for buying aftermarket parts. You can sign in and see pictures of different parts to make sure you’re ordering the correct ones. The Web site also shows if parts are in stock so we know how long it will take to fill an order.
By far, the leading online parts ordering system is CollisionLink. Our shop mandates that every dealer we use have CollisionLink. The system lets you submit parts orders to your wholesale dealers through an online e-commerce Web site. You’ll find dealers of virtually every make using it.
The great thing about CollisionLink is its VIN database. The system automatically scrubs your order to ensure all parts are correct for the make and model you’re working on. With CollisionLink’s increased accuracy, we cut our parts returns in half, and now less than 1 percent of returns are the result of wrong parts.
Using CollisionLink, there are no fax or phone orders anymore and less time is spent on processing returns, which of course means spending more time doing other things to help grow the business and repair more cars. And it doesn’t cost shops anything because dealers absorb the fee.
Into the Future
There are certainly other technologies out there that could help your business. The ones I’ve mentioned here are the main ones we have experience with. If you’ve resisted getting online so far, it’s time to get over it. I guarantee that not one of the dealers I know that has moved forward regrets it today. They may have been doubtful in the beginning, but now they can’t imagine life without it.
Pat McCready is parts coordinator at 3-D Bodyworks, a family owned and operated body shop business since 1981 that has five locations in the Chester County, Pa., area southwest of Philadelphia. He has more than 20 years of experience in both the dealership and body shop side of the industry. For more information on 3-D Bodyworks, visit 3dbodyworks.com.