Management: The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence - Body Shop Business

Management: The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence

To get respect and be treated as a professional, you must master your craft and be a professional. So let's set the bar high.


This is my eighth article I’ve written for BodyShop Business, and I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write about before I actually sat down to do it.

I write just like I speak – from the heart. I truly believe the things I say and the things I write. I’m very passionate about my business, my industry and my place in it.

A Game Changer

Something I believe would be a game changer in this industry is simply this: a relentless pursuit of excellence in everything we do. Many problems I see today in shops and in this industry are the result of the failure of people to pursue excellence.

Unfortunately, status quo is the order of the day for many people, and that leads to apathy. Apathy isn’t going to get you or your shop where it needs to be. I’ve seen more than one shop owner be amazed at what their operation turned into once it was sold to a consolidator or someone else. Many times, they say, “If I had only known how this place could have and should have run.” However, it was too late. They had squandered the chance to make it happen.

I’m not perfect, and I’m not standing on my soapbox. I said “pursuit of excellence” – because perfect excellence is not attainable. We’re all human, and there’s always the chance for human error. However, if we constantly pursue excellence, even in our failure to attain the ultimate goal, we bring ourselves closer than had we not attempted at all.

Short End of the Stick

So what am I getting at? What’s this all about? Here’s what’s on my mind. Many in the industry, including myself, joke about and somewhat believe that, as an industry, we’re always getting the short end of the stick. And, to a degree, we are. What are we going to do to change that theory?

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people and organizations who do a fine job and are on the cutting edge. I look forward to the day when this industry is treated like the professionals we are. However, before that can happen, we need to act like and conduct ourselves as professionals.

Let me give you a not-so-fictional example. I come into a shop I’ve never been to before and what do I observe? Let’s put it this way: not-so-great quality, not-so-great estimates, no production planning, no sense of urgency or purpose, and an unkempt and dirty shop. Where was their concern, you might ask? Their concern was, when is such-and-such going to give us a labor rate increase? Their concern could not have been farther than where it should have been. No offense to anyone, but this is a government handout model that simply doesn’t work. It just makes people more dependent on the handout. There they were, in full control of everything going on around them, but it was easier to complain and ask for something they didn’t need to do anything to earn.

Before I move on, let me clarify that the labor rate is certainly not consistent with what it should be. I’ll leave it at this: the beginner “mechanic” is charging north of $80 per hour to change oil, and why don’t you see if a basic plumber or electrician is willing to work for $46 per hour? Enough said, now back to the discussion at hand.

Be a Professional

The shop’s focus was on the wrong thing, and they were taking the easy way out. It’s much more difficult to pursue excellence and work on fixing your dysfunction than it is to change nothing and ask for a raise. To be treated with respect and as a professional, you must master your craft and be a professional. Your shop should be neat, clean and orderly – and stay that way. Your estimates should be well researched, well written and well documented. Vehicles coming out of your shop should be of first-rate quality.

When was the last time you actually performed a fit and finish on a completed job or asked someone else to perform one for you? Again, this isn’t the easy road, and it will take effort and work to get there. You’ll need to spend time and resources to educate yourself, but I promise you if you pursue excellence and change how you do things, your day will actually be easy because you’ll get rid of a lot of dysfunction. I’ll give you a small example of what I mean.

An Excellent Guy

I spent three years as an insurance field adjuster for a large insurance company. There was one small shop owner/operator who stands out for this discussion. This was a small shop, maybe four body bays and off the beaten path, nothing special for sure. But I’ll tell you what – I’ve never seen a more polished and documented estimator in my life. Each and every time I went there, he handed me the most thorough, well documented and researched estimates I’ve ever seen. Most shops made the mistake of not even bothering to write their own estimate. He wrote for every nut, bolt, clip, and operation that he could have, and none of it was BS. He was detail-oriented and backed it up with a clear and well-studied explanation. I could not shoot him down, and I could not deny it. He did his homework, and he was pursuing excellence. This guy wasn’t waiting for a rate increase; he was making the most of what was right in front of him.

Here’s a good exercise: after you’ve written your best estimate, go out and watch the vehicle get repaired, see how many things your technician needs to do and compare that to what you actually wrote on the estimate. You would be surprised at what you find!

That’s just one example of what I’m talking about. If we embraced the pursuit of excellence, acted as professionals and conducted ourselves as professionals, we could then demand to be treated as professionals. Educate yourself and pursue becoming an elite estimator, an expert production planner and a quality guru. Push yourself to set the standards high. Wherever you set the standard, there it will be. Set it low and it will be low, set it high and it will be high.

Dare to Do Better

I will leave you with this: the other day, I sat in on my kid’s karate class. I was focused on watching the master of the school teach the class and his students. His moves were flawless and crisp, and made with utter intensity. Everything he did, every move he made, every sound from his mouth was performed with utter precision and intensity. I had the pleasure of watching a master perform his art. He was the master, it was his school, he was setting the bar high for his students and he knew his moves had to be better than everyone else’s. We’re no different in our industry and our businesses. I dare you to do better! Will you join me on this road? It’s not an easy road, but it’s worth it.

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