Productivity Feeds Growth: Zara's Collision Center - BodyShop Business
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Productivity Feeds Growth: Zara’s Collision Center

Ahhhh! The smell of a smoldering steak … The air is filled with its spicy aroma … You’re getting hungry, very hungry, aren’t you? This isn’t the description of a favorite restaurant or a backyard feast, but instead, of a once-a-month lunch at Zara’s Collision Center in Springfield, Ill.

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The best way to an employee’s heart is – you may argue – through
his wallet. But on the contrary, shop owner Brad Zara found that
feeding employees’ stomachs is even more appetizing to them than
stuffing their pockets (which he also does).

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The in-shop steak "dinners" are a part of Zara’s incentive
plan. Keeping an upbeat environment is Zara’s way of keeping his
employees wanting to be productive. "We all eat lunch together,"
Zara says. "I get more of a response from the steak dinners
than I do from the bonuses."

Food for Thought

The pay plan at Zara’s is based on employee production, and in
addition to commission, a yearly accumulated bonus is given when
sales goals are met. A yearly sales goal, broken down into days,
is posted monthly. If at the end of the month the shop meets the
goal, small bonuses (added up to get the one, large, year-end
bonus) and steak are up for grabs – and eats.

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All of his employees, Zara says, are dedicated to quality and
servicing customers. "If they have to do something for free
to make a job right, they don’t hesitate to do it," says
Zara. How did he get these great employees? By setting a standard.
Zara says workers either survive in his shop – which has established
high standards – or they don’t.

There are 22 who did survive: two estimaters – besides Zara, a
receptionist, a bookkeeper (his father, who started in 1992),
a production manager (Zara’s sister-in-law), a parts manager (Zara’s
brother), a janitor, two full-time and one part-time detailers,
seven body technicians, three paint preppers, a painter and an
assistant (who does some painting and prep work), and one mechanic.

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Productivity and workflow are aided by the shop’s building layout
and equipment, which includes CCC’s computerized estimating system,
Akzo Nobel’s management system, three Car-O-Liner dedicated mechanical-measuring
benches, two Spraybake downdraft booths, Akzo-Sickens high-solid
paints and computerized paint-mixing system, and a Eurovac vacuum
system.

Another benefit the shop has had at its disposal is the A-Coat
Selected Program, a consulting and educational program through
Akzo Nobel. Zara says the network of other shops he’s become associated
with has been the biggest benefit. "We’re able to exchange
a lot of ideas and get a good feel for what’s going on in other
parts of the country," he says. "We could get a head
start to what might be coming to our area. The employees of the
program are very knowledgeable business people, so they’re able
to bring a lot of things to the table that we never had available
to us before."

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Program employees helped Zara’s production early on by recommending
a better scheduling format. Zara’s, like many shops, got caught
in the bring-it-in-on-Monday-and-we’ll-deliver-it-on-Friday trap.
"We found that people need their cars more during the week,"
Zara says, "so we have them drop off their cars at the end
of the week and pick them up at the beginning of the next. It
was something that was definitely causing a problem, but we couldn’t
figure out how to fix [it]."

A Growing Customer Base

Customers must be pretty happy with the clan and its work because
this is Zara’s third location, and each change was a result of
growth. At its current location since December 1991, the shop
has already been built onto twice. Within the next two years,
Zara may open another location on the other side of town.

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Zara’s main feed of business is from word of mouth and referrals.
Customers come from all parts of Springfield – which has a population
of 105,000 – and its small, surrounding towns from as far as 30
miles away. Now located among quite a few dealerships, Zara’s
has also gained their business.

The shop’s four direct-repair programs have added many to the
shop’s referral business. Zara says his modern facility, equipment
and employees ability to handle the work volume is what attracted
the companies – which all approached the shop within the last
three years. Thankful for the business, Zara thinks his DRPs are
a good thing. They mean no tie-up time for reinspections, and
up-front negotiations of claims are eliminated – things that used
to hold up productivity and workflow.

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With all this going for him, Zara doesn’t advertise – even though
there’s upward of 60 shops in Springfield. Sponsoring community
events is more his style – and the bulk of the shop’s advertising.
"We’ve always tried to stay ahead of the competition,"
Zara says. "Most of our competition doesn’t get involved
with further education, so it’s a little easier to stay ahead
of them."

Always trying to improve, Zara is an ASA member and was the local
chapter’s president for about three years. His technicians and
estimators are I-CAR trained, and any training programs available
with computer systems or equipment gets utilized.

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Jack of all Trades

Zara oversees the entire business and fills in for anybody who’s
missing – no matter which position. He started out by working
at a body shop while still in high school; first he cleaned the
shop, then progressed into light paint-prep work, then body work.
Eventually, he transformed into a full-fledged combination man.

The owner was gone quite a bit, and no one else wanted to write
estimates. Zara took a liking to it, and as he did more of it,
he realized he enjoyed dealing with people, that people responded
well to him and that they worked well with him. He also was a
perfectionist – he drove himself crazy working on cars. He figured
it was easier knowing what needed to be done, but having someone
else – who had the right temperament – do the work. Zara saw himself
in a managerial position. He was frustrated with things that weren’t
totally in his control, and it was this hunger to be in command
that eventually led Zara into business for himself.

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Meeting Challenges

Seeing the business grow and the employees with it is Zara’s greatest
satisfaction, along with seeing happy customers. His ultimate
goal: to guide the business. His greatest difficulty? Achieving
the aforementioned.

Building employee loyalty, finding new ways to motivate them and
pleasing customers are ever-changing, on-going challenges for
Zara. But Zara has a healthy attitude about challenge: "Learn
the right way to do something," he says, "do it that
way, and if it fails, you did it the best way it could be done."

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Writer Eileen Benedict is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

Hail! Hail! to the Hail, Hail

Not only does Zara’s repair a lot of deer-damaged cars because
the shop’s whole surrounding area is nothing but farm ground,
but its location also means a lot of business due to hailstorms.

Zara says it’s typical for Illinois autos to get some hail damage
every spring, but this spring brought little-less-than-golf-ball-size
hailstones to about a third of Springfield. "We’re booking
jobs into the spring of ’97," Zara says.

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The shop has learned its lesson from hailstorms of the past: If
you book them (solid hail claims), it (a bottlenecked paint department)
will come. Because most hail-beat-up vehicles require complete
paint jobs, Zara’s is only scheduling one a week mixed in with
regular collision work.

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