Ganging Up on Repairs
Chris Pohanka’s family has been in the automotive business for so long that when his grandfather first started Pohanka Automotive, Woodrow Wilson was president, the male life expectancy was only 48.5 years, a 12-day cruise cost 60 bucks, and Congress had just ratified the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote.
The year was 1919.
But the Pohanka family hasn’t kept the business successful this long by clinging to the past. (Same goes for you. If you’re still stuck on the fact that women can vote, let it go. What’s done is done.) Chris Pohanka — along with all those who came before him — haven’t been afraid to reevaluate, re-think and restructure the business whenever necessary to keep it current and profitable. In fact, the direction Pokanka has taken the three Virginia collision shops he now owns has few ties to the past.
For example, when faced with the possibility of losing two valuable techs, Pokanka listened to their concerns, their ideas and their goals for the future, and then established repair teams to keep them challenged and motivated.
The team concept came about like this: A couple employees approached Pokanka, telling him they were tired of being collision repair techs and wanted to start their own shops. "They wanted to get out of ‘turning wrenches,’ " says Pohanka. "I told them it would take a lot of money to start their own shop and that it didn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be turning wrenches."
While thinking about how to correct the situation, a light bulb went off in Pohanka’s head: A fellow Virginia shop owner had implemented an assembly-line process into his shop. And if it worked for him …
Pohanka discussed the idea with his two techs and, together, they decided to establish repair teams. "That way, you’ve got the right guys doing the right job," says Pohanka. "A guys who’s been a body man for 10 or 15 years shouldn’t be prepping a bumper or de-trimming a car."
Not only did the solution satisfy Pohanka’s two troubled techs, but other techs have since gotten involved. At the Chantilly, Va., shop, Pohanka has established four teams with four technicians each. Two of the team leaders are the same two techs who approached him, ready to leave the shop.
Besides helping retain two valued techs, the team concept has increased morale, production and efficiency because the right people are doing the right job. They’re also working together rather than as individuals.
On one team, for example, the team leader is a tech who’s very organized. Pohanka also assigned to the team:
- A technician helper who was capable of quality work but couldn’t organize his paperwork. With his organizational skills, the leader was able to take over the paperwork, allowing the helper to focus on what he did best: repair cars.
- A technician who used to be a painter and later worked in the front office of a shop. He took over doing all the supplements because that was his strength.
- One of the best techs Pohanka has ever employed, but who could only take on two or three jobs at a time because when he got stuck on a project, he’d lose focus on everything else. This tech needed someone who could organize his work, which is what the team leader has been able to do.
Using the team concept, we promote apprentices to helpers to technicians, so they never really leave the team," says Pohanka. "At each level, they’re doing what they should be doing all day and if they need help, they’ve got the team to back them up."