I work for a multiple-shop operation (MSO). How I wound up there is a long story, but one that might be similar to yours.
As I pondered what to make of our “modern” body shops, it led me to a melancholy place somewhere between where it all began decades ago, where we are now and where we’re headed.
What triggered an old body shop guy like me to ramble on like this? I suppose I felt compelled to share a point of view with the leadership of the MSOs to help them see things from a different perspective…one that gravitates towards the logical and obvious conclusion that we are still, in fact after all these years fixing smashed cars.
Of course, MSOs like the one I work for make up only a small percentage of body shops, and they cater primarily to insurance companies and their responsibility to restore property value and/or financial loss to policyholders and claimants alike. To not include the majority of shops would be negligent on my part. After all, it’s at one of those places where I began my life in the business.
So what does all this have to do with unauthorized smoke breaks and strict rules and policies? Why bother trying to share my insight or self-proclaimed wisdom? Call it crazy, but maybe I care.
A Dirty Job
With my Captain Obvious cape on, I’ll point out that fixing cars is a dirty and difficult job, one that takes a certain type of person to do. It takes those people who are willing and able to fix cars to do the job so the shop gets paid and can pay all the bills, stay in business and hopefully make a little profit for the owner(s) to boot. Somebody smashes their car and needs a repair (or maybe they have a vehicle they just want to have look or work better). Someone or a group of people who can do the work offers to fix the car and provide the service. You put that person or people under a roof, hang up a sign and call it a body shop.
Here’s the tricky part and the one that trips up those who try to make a bigger deal out of fixing cars than it really is. These “people” who have the ability and know-how to fix a smashed car or customize, build and beautify a vehicle are a certain type of individual.
People are the cornerstones of a body shop. At this point, anybody with a head for business or entrepreneurial spirit would say, “Well of course, Captain Obvious everyone knows that it’s the people in your organization who make it work and produce profit.” Ah, therein lies the problem: assuming that any business is just business as usual, and the business of profit is as simple as collecting people under a roof and making them build, service or perform whatever it is you happen to sell.
In an episode of the old TV series “Kung Fu,” Master Po gives young Caine (Grasshopper) some advice:
Caine: “Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?”
Master Po: “If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.”
This quote is no less applicable to the body shop business and collision industry as a whole.
Body shop workers have traditionally been an eclectic mix of creative-minded individuals who, for whatever reason, went to work in a body shop. Perhaps they loved cars and had a natural talent for fixing them and couldn’t believe there was actually a profession where you could do what you love and get paid for it. Or perhaps they found a way to turn a wrench, pound a hammer, spray paint and make a buck. Or perhaps they may have chosen it as a career and went to a vocational school to learn the trade. However, it seems to me there are less and less body techs coming into the business. Either way, collision is a skilled trade that has attracted endearing individuals with quirky personalities, a flare for the creative and the skill to turn sweat into profit.
When I quit high school and went to work in a body shop, what was I thinking? For starters, I could earn $400 or more a week working on cars! Not only that, but body shops were cool. What other job offered such fine amenities and fringe benefits like loud music, pinup calendars, smoke breaks whenever you wanted, the ability to work on your own car, and laugh and joke with the fellas? Plus, you were respected.
Here we are years later, and many of the same types of individuals are now working for MSOs. Cars are now a blur of sheet metal, plastic, rubber and glass. Production, throughput, lean operations, cycle time, CSI and key performance indicators were unheard of before, but now have somehow taken priority. While I don’t have any statistics to back this up, I would venture to say that MSOs are facing a new challenge: how to retain and attract body and paint techs.
Let me offer a few thought-provoking ideas in test format:
1. You want your body shop to produce more revenue. What should you do:
A. Create and enforce rules and penalties, including write-ups and discharges, to motivate your staff members and technicians.
B. Let technicians and staff members know how much you appreciate their hard work by prohibiting unauthorized breaks.
C. Figure out how much revenue you need to make and then ask your staff and technicians to help you reach your goal.
2. Your body shop has a lot of work to do. The best way to get all that work done is:
A. Send staff members or technicians home or fire them for breaking rules and guidelines like taking unauthorized breaks.
B. Keep as much staff on hand as possible and tell them you appreciate their hard work and long hours.
C. Transfer staff members or technicians to another location because someone got fired, quit or is on
3. Your body shop is busy but needs to save money, reduce cost and produce more revenue. The best way to do this is:
A. Hire another manager or promote someone into management so that you can enforce rules, regulations and company policies.
B. Fire a staff member or technician who is not following rules and regulations and taking unauthorized breaks.
C. Encourage your staff and technicians to come up with and implement creative ways to save money and increase efficiency.
4. Your body shop needs to increase the quality of repairs, while reducing cycle time. You should:
A. Encourage, motivate and reward technicians for the extra effort to make a job as good as can be, while providing training or coaching in weak areas.
B. Create a quality control check-off sheet and hold staff and technicians accountable when they don’t fill it out properly.
C. Write-up and discharge staff members or technicians when a job is not done to company standards.
5. You need a greater volume of sales to reach a target fiscal financial goal. You should:
A. Purchase less expensive coffee, paper towels and toilet paper.
B. Do a better job for the insurance company DRPs you currently have, while trying to acquire more insurance companies to do direct repair work for.
C. Discharge employees who take unauthorized breaks.
The evolution of the collision industry is forever changing and fluid. I suppose where it ends up depends on those innovators in the industry. I would just plead with them not to forget about the basics.
Todd Donald got his first job in a body shop in 1979 and has worked his way up from shop helper to general manager. He can be reached at [email protected].