The famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia has a crack in it that represents a significant point in our country’s history. Unfortunately, cracks in the walls of our shops do nothing for posterity.
However, deciding to modernize, improve or completely makeover a collision and paint facility is tough. It often takes a great deal of time, money and effort to make the kinds of changes we all envision.
If you don’t know how to achieve what you’re imagining or you’re unsure how to prioritize the changes you plan to make, help is here. With advanced planning, a solid vision and a true commitment, your plans can come together successfully. Take it from these shop owners …
• Mike Jeffers, owner, Greenfield Body Shop, Greenfield, Mo. — Jeffers’ shop represents the smallest of small-town operations, but his ideas of a makeover encompass some big-city ideas. He has a limited amount of in-shop space, so he’s decided to purchase a downdraft operating system and drying equipment. He expects to realize a 20 percent increase in operating capacity by installing the new booth.
For Jeffers, business was down in 1998. Knowing his budget and valuing operating time, Jeffers plans to do some additional, low-cost remodeling that won’t disturb his operation too much. When we discussed a new frame-straightening system, Jeffers agreed it would be a wise investment — someday. Aware of his budget and space considerations, he’s had to prioritize and knows a straightening-system upgrade isn’t in the cards right now.
• Mike Lea, proprietor, Lea Auto Body, Southwest Missouri — Like Jeffers, Lea is looking to replace a current crossflow paint booth with a factory downdraft design. He’s also planning to designate a special area to house the large amount of fabrication work his shop does. Proper paint mixing and matching is very important to Lea, and he’s planning for an in-house system. Without such a system, says Lea, paint-match problems occur more often than not. Adding an in-house paint-mixing system may require a great deal of upfront cash, but it will immediately direct more cash to the bottom line. Space in Lea’s shop is at a premium, but he thinks the small amount of space to be used for the paint system will be a minor sacrifice compared to what he’ll gain in return.
As with some other rural shop owners I visited, Lea sends some heavy hits to larger, better equipped shops. This is no surprise since the investment in needed equipment, as well as the lack of dedicated floor space, might actually cut production if he held on to those jobs. Lea is, however, considering adding on to his current facility so such work could be kept in house. For now, that part of the shop makeover will have to be put on the back burner.
• Lavern and Jimmy Kivett, co-owners, Kivett’s Body Shop, Hollister, Mo. — Lavern Kivett, an experienced and dedicated shop owner of 18 years, and his son, Jimmy, know how to dream big. They’ve built a solid body and paint business with a fine reputation to match. But the facility could use a makeover, and both father and son have been considering some changes.
The real problems encountered in this operation come from the shape of the building, making workflow a primary concern. The younger Kivett would like the makeover to include a prep station, a parts room and a better hardware-storage area. “Dad wants to relocate doors and do a major interior remodel so access can be improved,” says Jimmy. Though adding side-accessible shop doors — the kind Lavern envisions — would be a definite improvement in workflow, it’s a huge undertaking for any shop and should be carefully considered before jumping in head first.
Varying visions of co-owners can make prioritizing renovations even more challenging. Individual preferences aside, the important thing to remember in deciding what should be done first is the effect it will have on shop production. In the Kivett’s case, both agree that a factory booth is at the top of the list, mainly for increased production.
• Steve Chenault, owner, Steve’s Frame and Body Shop, Joplin, Mo. — This facility represents “makeover central.” When the renovations were completed more than a year ago, a new building found its home across from the original facility’s location. The older building houses prep and other work, while the new 20,000-square-foot building is equipped to do just about anything. The shop boasts an in-house mechanical area that can handle just about anything that rolls through the doors. In addition, there’s a glass shop that’s well-equipped and versatile. Two drive-through estimating stations are a body shop owner and estimator’s dream. Separate parts and inventory-control areas, as well as a welding shop, were also incorporated into the plans. Steve’s Frame and Body Shop also benefits from a paint-mixing center, a paintless dent-repair station, two frame benches and several lifts for mechanical and general body work. Talk about a major makeover!
Why such a huge undertaking? Chenault, who helped design the shop’s new layout, says, “If you want to avoid the crunch and stay competitive with the mega-shops blanketing the industry all over the country, you have to get bigger and better.” Until you embrace change and get your shop in order, you’ll never make it in the changing industry, he says.
Two of the biggest factors affecting the new shop’s smooth and efficient workflow are the modern spraybooths and setup areas. With the new set up, panels can be painted without visible masking lines, which translates into increased production and more profit dollars. “The insurance companies [we deal with] hate to assign rental cars for more than two days,” Chenault says. “If you can meet or beat a delivery expectation like that with a [minor or major] makeover, it’s worth it.”
• Robert Hamlin, owner, Corradino Auto Body and Paint Center, Trinidad, Colo. — Hamlin was just out of vo-tech school when he borrowed money to purchase an already-established collision repair business. He bought a building that needed a lot of work and, over the past 15 years, has put a lot of time, energy and money into fixing it. In that time, he’s also gone from a four-man shop to a nine-man shop.
In addition to the work Hamlin has done to the business’ original building, he recently purchased an adjacent building that had been used for storage. After Hamlin completed all the real estate paperwork, he then completely revamped the infrastructure. New entrance doors were installed, and the exterior of the new building was altered to match the original shop’s motif.
Next came an interior re-do, complete with major concrete work that produced an adjoining, enclosed causeway. This connecting path and doorway turned out to be one of the quickest returns on investment Hamlin has experienced. It gave the shop complete flexibility and access to approximately 10,000 square feet of additional space in the newly purchased building. Another great advantage is that vehicles can be moved from one building to the other without being exposed to the weather or without having to be backed out into street traffic. It now takes just minutes to relocate a car. “When you can keep techs in the shop doing production work [rather than jockeying around cars], it’s automatic money in the bank,” says Hamlin.
Hamlin’s shop makeover also included purchasing new equipment and relocating existing equipment to better utilize the new space. A new high-volume rotary compressor and refrigeration air-drying equipment were installed and then coupled to new over-head air reels. A complete bench system was moved to the new building, while two prep stations, one in each building, help smooth out the workflow. Reorganizing and uncluttering the original paint shop has given techs in nearby work bays plenty of elbow room for collision and mechanical work. While the in-house paint system Hamlin had been using for 10 years was adequate for the old facility, even a modest expectation of increased volume called for a new, more refined system. According to the shop’s painters, the new system has increased out-the-door production by 15 percent.
Talk about an all-encompassing shop makeover; not one area was left untouched. To accomplish such a large makeover and be successful, Hamlin spent years carefully planning every detail. And when the time was right, he was ready to act immediately.
• Keith Neal, co-owner, Dodson-Williams, Inc., Springfield, Mo. — Out with the old, in with the new was Neal’s philosophy when he built a new 8,000-square-foot collision repair and frame facility to replace the original building, built in 1961.
In his well-planned and well-executed move, Neal had the frame- and alignment-shop equipment moved to a floor area specifically designed to accommodate the work. A new bench was added, the alignment systems were incorporated as pit designs to allocate space more efficiently and drive-through estimating was put in place with two complete estimating stations. “The ability to turn out work quickly is the secret to success,” says Neal, who helped design the floor plan for the new facility. Modern styling and aesthetic design work have also paid off. As you drive by, the facility actually appears customer friendly.
If You Build It
Achieving the makeover of your dreams — or even a small renovation — takes careful planning and a solid vision. Whatever changes you’re considering, be sure they’ll do more than just beautify your building. Making changes just to make changes isn’t going to benefit you; making changes to increase workflow or improve production will more than pay for themselves if they’re planned and executed well.
If you’re just getting into the business, plan on at least a couple makeovers — small or large — in your future. And start planning now: Keep a notebook handy for any time an idea springs to mind or a problem arises that needs resolved. For those who’ve been in the business awhile, make a list of the things that went right and wrong during your last renovation. Talk to other shop owners. The more information you gather ahead of time, the easier the next makeover will be.
Keep in mind the condition of your facility is more than an image for customers. It also plays a big role in your technicians’ attitudes, work habits and production efficiency. Taking your shop the extra mile — whether it be with a small-scale renovation or a major makeover — will not only enhance your shop’s position in the public eye, but provide a more productive work place for you and your technicians.
Contributing editor Bob Leone, a retired shop owner, is ASE Three-Way Master Certified and is completing qualifications as a post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational school system in Missouri.
What’s the most important piece of advice these veteran shop remodelers have to offer? If you have the opportunity, buy enough land for expansion and don’t get yourself land locked. Without ownership of enough land, Neal says his expansion and makeover would never have
been possible. Likewise, having access to adjoining real estate “put us in the saddle for our makeover,” says Hamlin.