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Office Procedures to Prevent Chaos

Don’t run your business reacting to problems as they occur and lose time trying to solve them. Taking certain precautions on the front end of a job help to cover your back end — and to ensure your operation runs smoothly and professionally.

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Writer Mike West, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, retired and closed his shop in Seattle, Wash., on July 1, 2011, after more than 40 years in collision repair. The mayor of Tukwila declared that day “Mike West Day” to honor West for his 39 years as a businessman in the city. He is keeping active by restoring a 1933 Rockne Sedan Delivery and a 1934 Pierce-Arrow Rumble Seat Coupe. He plans to continue administering the I-CAR in-shop welding series in the Western Washington area.

Do you remember these words to an old song, " … and suddenly, I get that old feeling"?

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Even if you don’t, you’ve probably experienced déjà vu when the friction builds and a job begins to head south — usually because certain precautions weren’t taken on the front end of the job.

"What the heck is he talking about?" you ask. I’m talking about working smart and diligently on the front end, which reduces friction and hassles on the back end.

I know a lot of you out there are "action junkies," people who crave the excitement of a crisis on a regular basis. A lot of you love the thrill of reacting to problems as they occur and actually run your businesses in this manner. In fact, some of you may even consider this a legitimate method of operating a business — a kind of organized chaos (which, in itself, is a contradiction since chaos can’t be organized).

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The amount of time that’s lost operating this way is staggering, not to mention the state of mind the friction puts you in. Ever felt a little edgy and kind of snappy after you’ve waited two days for that last part to arrive on delivery day? And when it finally arrives, guess what — yeah, you guessed it — it’s wrong. Talk about excitement! It’s a $10,000 job, and you’re short a $22.57 door molding, which makes the entire job look like it’s got its fly open.

What happened?

Most likely what happened was quite predictable and avoidable. "The office" probably could have prevented it.

Take another scenario: A lady comes in with her late-model European "prestige car," drops it off, gives you the keys and catches a cab for the airport to begin her Hawaiian

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vacation, which will last two and a half weeks. An hour later, you stroll out to move the car into the shop because you want to get started right away since it’s a big job and will take most of the two and a half weeks your customer will be gone. As you unlock the door, what sounds like a dozen fire engines having a contest to see who’s the loudest makes you the star of your neighborhood. After 15 minutes of running in circles, you stuff rags in the hidden sirens to muffle the sound, drive the car into the shop and tell a technician to disconnect the battery. He finally finds the hidden hood-release handle and gets the negative cable disconnected.

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What the !*#[email protected]?*

The siren continues, and everybody in the shop is beginning to tire of it, not to mention the fact that they have all gathered around to help you. But it’s OK, there’s no rush — after all, you’re paying them.

Boy, this is sure productive!

After 10 minutes, the siren continues like it’s headed for the world finals. Out of desperation, you take your wire cutters and sever the offending wires. What?! It’s still screaming mercilessly — it must have a separate power source in the siren. So you take a screwdriver and remove it.

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As you walk down the street to the back lot with it still wailing away, people turn and stare, wondering what the heck you’re doing. You lift up a pile of cardboard with one arm, toss the siren into the middle of the pile and let the top sheets fall on it. The sound seems ever so slightly diminished, but maybe that’s because you’re walking away from it.

A few minutes later, the police arrive and ask you to shut off your burglar alarm. To make things worse — as the police are standing there staring at you — a technician approaches and asks, "Where’s the mag lock? I can’t get the wheel off, and I need to, now, please!"

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While searching frantically through the glove box for the non-existent mag wheel lock, you notice the words "anti-theft radio" emblazoned across the radio face. Uh, oh!

Suddenly, you get "that old feeling."

Granted, this story may be a slight exaggeration of what’s happened to many of you, but probably not by much. I’ll admit it: Each one of these individual things has happened to me, in some form, and they were all predictable — and preventable.

How? By anticipating the negative to maximize the positive. In other words, head off the problems and pitfalls before you’re knee deep in them.

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Checklists to Prevent Chaos
How can you keep everything from going south? It’s impossible to remember everthing in your head, isn’t it? Yes.

But just like me, you can take just about any procedure and list all the possible problems you can dream up, and then list a way to prevent those problems. The list of preventative measures you come up with will be your pre-production checklist for that particular procedure. And if you diligently follow this procedural checklist prior to the job going into production, you’ll dramatically reduce friction and increase production.

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My theory has always been that there are enough possible problems that can happen when you’re trying to do everything correctly, so why leave things to chance when you don’t have to? It’s actually much less work to take the necessary preventative measures on the front end of the job than to go through all the pain and agony of reacting to problems once you’re into the job. Plus, you don’t look like a moron to your customer by calling him to ask where his wheel lug lock is, what his radio security code is or how to shut off his vehicle’s security system. Instead, why not develop a checklist that, when answered by the customer, will preclude your having additional and unwanted friction added to the job?

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You can use several checklists and pre-repair procedures to help a job run more smoothly and with less friction. Notice I said, "less friction." That’s because there will always be some friction in every job. Why? Because the repair process is fraught with animals called "human beings," who bring all the foibles of life onto the job with them instead of leaving them at home. But, that’s the way "real life" is for all of us. Outside problems affect our doing our jobs to the best of our abilities. Whether it’s the boss, manager, parts person, adjuster, technician, estimator, detailer or customer, they all can — individually or collectively — cause utter havoc to enter the repair process unless you take preventative steps on a consistent basis to stop havoc from getting a foothold.

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Reducing Friction
To help you reduce friction, I’ve included a few of the "front office procedural checklists" that we use in our business.

• Pre-Repair Customer
Questionnaire:
1. Does your vehicle have an anti-theft radio? If so, what’s the code?
2. Does your vehicle have locking lug nuts? If so, where’s the key?
3. Do you have an alarm system? If yes:
— How do you shut off the system?
— How do we operate the alarm system? Show us.
4. Where’s your canopy key?
5. Where’s your tool-box key?
6. Are these all the keys we need to open your vehicle?
— Ignition
— Door locks
— Trunk
— Glove box
— Gas cap
— Spare-tire padlock

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• Used-Parts Checklist:
1. Order the same year and model only. Never deviate from this.
2. Wipe down with wax and grease remover to clean and reveal defects.
3 Check for original paint. Accept no parts that have been re-painted.
4. Look for dents in reflection of wet wax and grease remover.
5. Inspect the condition of paint (blistering, peeling).
6. Inspect for rust-out.
7. Inspect the condition of hinges for worn bushings, pins or elongated hinge pin holes.
8. Look for re-work (plastic).

Parts-Ordering Procedure:
1. Take the VIN number, production date, body number and/or model number from the vehicle.
2. Inspect the insurance estimate (if this applies) to see that parts specified are listed correctly, per side, color, etc.
3. Look carefully under the hood, bumper, inside trunk, inside wheel wells, etc., to determine if other parts may be needed.
4. If you’re not sure about specific part breakdown, look up the specific area in the collision
estimating guide for detailed identification.
5. Order everything you think could possibly be needed before the vehicle arrives.
— If glass has to be removed for repairs or is damaged, determine if moldings, clips and retainers need to be replaced. If so, order them.
6. When a vehicle arrives for repair, follow the parts procedure sheet.

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• Parts Procedure:
When a vehicle goes into repair status:
1. Immediately assess the job with the Repair Order and determine if any parts were missed by the estimator. Write down any missed parts.
2. The parts person and technician each independently check and verify new parts for damage, correctness as to right and left, front or back, and molding or stripe size and color, etc. Be thorough, be accurate. Be sure …
3. Immediately after tear-down, determine missed parts and write those parts down. The parts person is to determine in advance with the technician when tear-down is to take place and visually assist the technician in inspecting for damaged parts.
4. Do not deviate from this format. Carry the checklist to the job with you, and follow it precisely in numerical sequence.

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Life Is Full of Enough Surprises!
Why leave more up to chance than what you need to?

For example, we all know the insurance industry wants us to save money by using used/salvage parts, and we also recognize that we’re being environmentally responsible when we use these parts. We also recognize that certain repair jobs lend themselves more readily to repairing with used/salvage parts than with new parts. This having been said, I must also add that the actual process of trying to employ their use can turn into one of the most maddening experiences possible in a collision repair shop. I’m not kidding. The process of ordering and using used/salvage parts is fraught with more opportunities for failure than just about any other process in the shop. But, these opportunities for failure are preventable if you have a "Used/Salvage Parts Checklist" and follow it faithfully.

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In my 27 years of being a shop owner, I’ve learned that you’ll always have friction — such as the friction caused by using used parts — but most of this friction is preventable. How much friction you prevent is up to you.

If you’re like me and you’d rather spend a few minutes in the beginning assuring that all the possible controllable pitfalls are covered, you can proceed ahead profitably — and with your dignity. If, however, you refuse to take preventative measures and end up looking like a moron to your customers, maybe, just maybe, you are a moron.

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Writer Mike West, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, has been a shop owner for the past 25 years and a technician for 34 years. His shop in Seattle, Wash., has attained the I-CAR Gold Class distinction and the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence.

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