Pump Up the Volume - BodyShop Business

Pump Up the Volume

Can you increase volume by 35 percent without compromising quality while still working within insurance companies' guidelines? This shop manager says, "Yes."

My first experience with a body shop was back in 1973, when I took my first car, a Dart GT, to a local shop for some small repairs. I can still remember that shop as if it were yesterday.

Today, I visited Braman Collision Center in Miami, and as I compare Braman to that very first shop back in ’73, I’m convinced that not only have 31 years gone by, but that the collision industry has advanced and improved dramatically.

Braman Collision Center (and Braman Motors) is owned by Norman Braman. (Name sound familiar? For you NFL junkies among us, Braman was the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles back in the mid-’80s).

This 55,000-square-foot facility is centrally located, staffed by 47 devoted and well-trained individuals and is the largest BMW-certified and ultra-luxury car collision center in the United States.

The responsibility for running this state-of-the art-facility falls on the shoulders of body shop manager Joe Rodriguez, who’s been with Braman’s for 13 years and has been in the industry since age 14 – when he worked as an apprentice at his father’s shop during the summers.

Rodriguez’s responsibility is not only to ensure that the shop maintains its present volume of 450 cars and $750,000 per month, but also that the shop continues to grow and prepare to meet new challenges and goals.

When Rodriguez is asked about the goals and challenges facing him, he shakes his head and smiles. The goals are to increase shop space, hire additional techs and purchase the equipment to support a planned 35 percent increase in volume. The challenge is to do this without compromising quality or losing sight of customer service and, at the same time, working within insurance companies’ guidelines.

Finding Quality Technicians

Rodriguez plans to increase output by 35 percent by increasing manpower and equipment. Volume work, says Rodriguez, is part of being profitable – adding that he knows increasing volume will hurt his profit margin, but in the end, the shop will be making more money overall.

At these volumes, space in the shop is very valuable, and Rodriguez can’t afford to have a car in the shop any longer than necessary. And he certainly can’t afford to be doing cars again because of quality issues.

At present, the shop has 18 techs and two quality-assurance advisors. These advisors follow the work-in-process to make sure the job is done right before it proceeds to the next stage.

“One big concern we have that can certainly affect how quickly we can reach our goals is a lack of qualified technicians,” says Rodriguez. “Without quality people, the work will suffer. And we will not compromise quality just to increase output.

“Don’t get me wrong. There are many talented bodymen out there. But if they’re not willing to accept and learn the new technology and repair methods, they’re left out of the loop.

“I understand that it’s difficult to change the way you do things when you’ve been doing it a certain way for a long time, but the reality is that the materials and methods used to manufacture cars today are different from 30 years ago …

“The collision industry is changing, and we have to change with it. If we don’t, we’ll be left out. And that’s what’s happening to many good collision technicians. They’re not keeping up with new developments and they’re being left behind.”

Making matter worse, says Rodriguez, is the fact that it’s become increasingly difficult to attract young people into the collision industry.

“One of the problems is the image that people in general have of our industry,” he says. “We as an industry need to do more to market ourselves and promote our new image in order to make it more appealing and to attract young people.”

To do their part, Braman Collision Center contributes to the development of new technicians by donating parts to Sheridan Technical, a local technical college. Rodriguez is also implementing a mentor program, where qualified retiring technicians are asked to maintain a part-time status and to serve as mentors to young techs coming into the industry.

“It would be a great loss to the industry to lose that kind of experience,” he says.

Insurer Involvement

Another obstacle in the way of achieving their goals is the ever-growing presence of the insurance industry.

“We participate in several DRPs and maintain a good working relationship with the adjusters, but our goals are mutually exclusive in some respects,” says Rodriguez. “The insurance company wants to spend the least amount of money possible to repair a vehicle, while we have to answer to the customer who wants his vehicle repaired in the best possible way. The body shop is in the middle. We have to satisfy the customer and work with the insurance company. Today’s body shop manager has to be a diplomat.”

Both Rodriguez and the owner decide on what DRPs to join. If the shop can do the work and still make a profit, then they’ll consider joining that DRP.
Like in any good business, profitability is important. At Braman Collision, volume and profits are not mutually exclusive. In order to achieve volume, says Rodriguez, you have to give up some of your profit margin. But with volume, certain economies can be gained. These economies help profitability. The trick, says Rodriguez, is to achieve a balance.
You also need to achieve a balance with your technicians. There are times when a tech may not get paid for a particular procedure so, according to Rodriguez, he’ll negotiate with the tech and make it up to him on other jobs.

Because of Braman’s relationship with insurers – and because they also draw a lot of business from the dealership side of the business – they don’t spend any money on advertising.

Tackling Challenges Head-On

To meet the challenges of today’s collision repair marketplace, the staff at Braman Collision Center follows a formula where quality, customer service and profits are the end results. According to Rodriguez, the components of the formula are many, but the most important are:

s The customer. The customer must be satisfied. In order to do this, the customer must be treated fairly and cordially. He has the right to expect the work to be done correctly and to be done on time. This goal can only be achieved by having a staff who’s well-trained and up-to-date and a shop that’s well-equipped and organized.

s The staff. Hire the best and, when possible, promote from within. The technicians at Braman’s are kept up-to-date with the latest technology and repair methods. All the technicians are required to take 16 hours of continuing education a year. The cost of ASE and I-CAR classes and certifications are fully reimbursed upon successful completion of the courses.

Approximately half of the techs are ASE Master Technicians, and three have been extensively trained at BMW’s Spartanburg facility in the science of aluminum collision repair. Additionally, the mentor program will help to train young techs in-house.

s The shop. The location is an impressive seven-story building housing the collision center on the ground floor and six floors of parking above. The collision center covers a total of 55,000 square feet (and growing). The shop area is well-lit and clean to promote a good working environment. The facility is wired with 110-V, 220-V single-phase and 220-V three-phase power where needed. It has a healthy supply of shop air, fiber optic lines and a T3 line.

s Technology. You have to keep up with technology and repair methods. For example, when it became apparent that aluminum cars were an important part of the business, it was a well-thought-out-but-easy decision to invest $100,000 in equipment, training of technicians and a dedicated aluminum repair area.

s Equipment. To produce quality work consistently, you must provide technicians with the right tools to do the job right the first time. One of the reasons that Braman’s can consistently move 450 cars per month through its facility is that the techs have the tools and equipment they need at their disposal. There’s no waiting around for a lift or a spot welder to become available. Also, the equipment available is the latest and best for the job.

The equipment is laid out throughout the shop in a logical way to enhance the workflow. Frame machines are set side by side, while the welders are kept in a staging area so techs don’t have to go looking for them.

s Suppliers. Braman’s expects quality and excellent customer service from its suppliers.

“In order to produce a high volume of repairs per month, we cannot have equipment set aside because it’s not working,” says Rodriguez. “If we have a problem, I need to know that I can call my supplier and that the problem will be taken care of. We also expect to receive the proper training from our suppliers.”

Offering Something Extra

“There are shops shooting to take our place as the leader in our market,” says Rodriguez. “The competition drives us to stay sharp.”

This means being different and providing something more to the customer. Some of the different services offered at Braman’s include:

s Rapid Repair is a same-day or next-day service and doesn’t allow any heavy hits (and absolutely no pulling). The type of work that’s done covers replacement of mirrors, trim, bumpers and other minor parts and light cosmetic repairs. This type of work is scheduled in advance, and the shop keeps an inventory of hours available for this type of work. All parts are ordered and received before the customer brings in the car.

s Saturday-Only Repair While You Wait is complemented by free coffee and a movie in the comfortable, clean customer waiting area. This works basically the same as Rapid Repair. The scheduling is done in advance, and the tech who’ll perform the job is present for the estimating and has a say if the job can be done while the customer waits. This way, there are no surprises.

Some of the work that’s done on Saturdays is blending, wet sanding and buffing and other light cosmetic work. One of the things that helps is that they have two UV lamp systems that dry the paint very quickly.

Customers are pleasantly surprised when they’re told the job can be done while they wait. Since last December, the shop’s been doing two to three cars every Saturday. Only recently has Braman’s begun to advertise this service.

s Aluminum repair. Braman’s is a BMW-certified aluminum repair facility and draws customers from as far away as Texas. As far as Rodriguez knows, there are only two places on the East Coast where you can take a BMW Z8 to be repaired – the factory in South Carolina and Braman Collision Center. This helps to reinforce their reputation for quality work. Rodriguez says they get a fair amount of this business, but “it won’t pay the rent.”

Luckily, the career Rodriguez chose does pay the rent. He says his favorite aspect about collision repair is that when he comes to work in the morning, he knows that he’ll be doing something different than yesterday. He’ll be meeting new people and solving new problems.

If it weren’t for collision repair, Rodriguez says he would’ve become a music record producer (a hobby he still practices). Rodriguez, it would seem, has the best of both worlds – the sound of Braman’s humming along is music to his ears.

Writer Bill Berman has been heavily involved in the welding industry for the past 20 years with special application to automotive collision repair. Berman is the president of Cebotech Inc. and, as such, is the liaison between several European equipment manufacturers and U.S. auto manufacturers.

Shop Name: Braman Collision Center

Location: Miami, Fla.

Established: 1979

Square Footage: 55,000

Owner: Norman Braman

No. of Employees: 47 – 4 office,
7 writers, 1 production manager, 1 foreman, 3 mechanics, 5 painters, 17 body techs, 5 washers and 4 prep techs

Repair Volume/No. of Cars Per Month: 450 cars – $750,000/month

Average Repair Cost: $1,500

DRPs: GEICO, State Farm, Progressive,
Travelers and Aetna

Behind the Bays

Prep booth: 4 Garmat – 1 single and 3 dou-
bles. All are heated and downdraft, and all
are certified for painting.

Spraybooth: 4 Garmat booths.

Lifts: 16 Rotary Lifts – 4 above-ground and 12 in-ground.

Straightening systems: 3 Chisum, 1 Car-O-
Liner and 2 Celette.

Measuring system: 1 Car-O-Tronic.

Welding equipment: 4 Tecna spot welders, 1
Cebora MIG welder and 3 Miller welders.

Vacuum system: 2 Eurovac.

Paint-mixing system: 1 Sikkens and 1 Spies

Curing lamps: 2 IRT UV lamps.

Paint: Akzo Nobel and Spies Hecker.

Estimating system: ShopLink and Pathways.

Future equipment purchases: more equipment
for working on aluminum.

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