Repeat Yourself: Produce the Same Operation Repeatedly and Consistently - BodyShop Business
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Repeat Yourself: Produce the Same Operation Repeatedly and Consistently

“Standardization” isn’t about cloning shops. It’s about having the ability to produce the same operation repeatedly and consistently so it can be audited. Why go to the trouble? Implementation of such standards will improve profitability and quality, reduce cycle time and chaos that keeps you busy putting out fires – but hinders you from getting anything done.

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There’s no doubt the collision repair industry is becoming more competitive every day. And this can be a very sore subject to shop owners who, in their minds, aren’t receiving their fair share of insurance work due to other shops in the area increasing their own production capabilities or improving their marketing programs and/or their value to the customer. At the same time, insurers may be utilizing their DRP network more and more to remain competitive themselves and to retain policyholders.

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This has caused many shop owners to point fingers at others and say: “They’re cutting corners. They give away too much. We no longer have control of our future,” etc., etc., etc.

Granted, the rules are changing, but something I was taught a long time ago was that when you point your finger at someone or something, there are usually three fingers pointing back at you (try it).

There are no guarantees in life or business – except for death and taxes – so believing the government will step in to protect your shop from “big business” is a pipe dream. Besides, in most cases, we find that the reason a shop is no longer competitive is because it’s not being run properly and because the owner hasn’t remained in the forefront of – and maybe doesn’t even participate in – proper management training. Being successful in this industry requires much more than the knowledge to correctly pull the latest unitized construction or to blend the latest multi-stage finish. Whoever said to own and operate a successful collision repair facility didn’t require any management skills and training? We don’t just beat metal, spread filler and paint cars anymore.

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Are You Busy Putting Out Fires?
The first step to doing something about your shop’s problems is to work on your business – rather than in it all the time. Many have used this phrase, but what does it mean? Simply that you must begin to take time to work on your business’ long- and short-term management needs rather than spending all your time on daily operational needs.

The question you maybe asking is, “How can I possibly do more?” The answer is simple. Most likely you can’t – unless you get help to change how you’re currently doing things.

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When we analyze businesses worldwide, we see some very consistent patterns, actions and reactions to daily operations. For the most part, everyone is busy, tries to do their jobs well and seems to feel they don’t have enough time to do their job completely – let alone take on something new. And this isn’t limited to the collision repair industry; it exists in almost all businesses that haven’t moved to the next level.

We also see that a high percentage of the job function relies on the skill and knowledge of the person performing the function, and not upon a system that’s part of the company’s standard operating policies or culture. This makes it almost impossible to train and provide relief, since it’s “all in the head” of the person performing the function.

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This also makes it very difficult to improve/eliminate process and operational chaos. The mayhem that begins as soon as the doors open and lasts until the doors close each night keeps everyone constantly battling daily “fires” that require their attention and focus. No one takes ownership of any process completely, and improvement is almost always stalled. This then cultivates the belief, “We’re doing everything we can, so it must not be our fault. It has to be someone else’s.”

But things can change and the business can improve if management principles are applied.

Don’t Be a Martyr
Most small businesses (less than $20 million in sales) have someone who’s the central driver of operations. Without this person, “things” just don’t get done (or at least as good as this person believes they should). Please remember that no one will be able to do it exactly as you do it, but there are many ways of accomplishing the same result – and maybe even more efficiently and with better long-term success.

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The first step to fixing this problem is to begin to document your processes to ensure they’re being performed correctly. This is a critical step. Without doing this, the following will certainly become evident:

  • You won’t be able to establish where business is, since it changes in everyone’s minds daily.
  • No one is accountable because in their minds, no one sees/knows the plan except them.
  • No one is available to train others to lessen the burden, so everyone remains too busy to train someone or to add additional responsibilities.
  • The stress level increases while productivity decreases.

This is a vicious cycle that many business owners live every day. The solution is to standardize your operation so it can function as a unit, not only as individual achievements. Take basketball for an example. Many times great players haven’t won championships. But bring in a coach who puts together the right team and the right system, and they become dynasties.

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So why, then, is this driver of operations so common? From observation and experience, it usually boils down to a few main reasons:

  • The “driver” gets personal satisfaction from being a “super person” who can solve anything.
  • He enjoys being the one on the spot (and in the spotlight).
  • He’s secure in the fact that he’s irreplaceable.

The last one may be subconscious, but we’ve experienced it firsthand. Once this person has to start documenting what he does and how he does it, he often becomes threatened and believes he’s being replaced. But the fact of the matter is this: Performing such documentation will only allow him to begin to manage his processes better and identify where improvements can be made.

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What must take place is an understanding that to improve, you need to see what you’re doing now. This process of improvement leads to great innovation and better team involvement. And once identified, everyone knows what every other member is responsible for and how his function affects others.

Standardization Is the Best Approach to Improvement
Just about every time I mention the concept of “standardization,” the reaction is that we’re promoting every shop to become a clone – all wearing the same uniform, all housed in the same size and color buildings, and all using the exact same layout of equipment and tools. This isn’t the case.

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There’s no doubt that some of these cloning concepts may be functional in “branding” your own business. Within your own organization (if you own or are part of a multiple location group), these concepts can definitely provide competitive advantages and lower costs. But when I refer to standardization in this article, I’m referring to the ability to produce the same operation repeatedly and consistently so it can be audited (proven by outside observation).

Just a simple procedure that I’ve seen wreak havoc in an operation is how the customer’s keys are managed at drop off, while the vehicle is in production and when the vehicle is ready for delivery. If you implemented in writing a standardized system and trained your staff, there’d be fewer instances of staff searching for keys to a vehicle that’s blocking the doorway (keys that are sitting on the estimator’s desk because they were given to him by the owner when the vehicle was dropped off early before the shop opened). There’d also be fewer instances of having to call everyone up to the office to find the keys to a vehicle that’s being delivered to the customer by the front desk person (keys that are in the pocket of the detailer, who had to go to a dentist appointment right after he brought the vehicle up front for delivery).

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Do you know what these situations do to your business? Time is definitely money, and it’s limited. You or your staff can never recover lost hours, minutes or seconds. And the above is but one example of why developing standard operating procedures for your business is vital. I’ve seen hundreds more examples.

Held to a Standard
Though many of you may not be familiar with an organization called ISO (International Organization for Standardization, www.iso.org), you may have seen banners posted on many manufacturing plants and even on semi-trailers that read: “Certified to ISO 9001:2000 Quality Standards.”

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ISO has developed many standards over the years for many specific purposes and for many industry segments. In years past, the old standards were primarily designed around documenting procedures. They also required a massive commitment of time, effort and expenses to obtain full accreditation. This, at times, easily exceeded $50,000 and took more than one year to implement.

The goal was to demonstrate the processes in an organization were being performed as they were documented. But there was little to do with demonstrating improvement or demonstrating that the processes were good.

But just as the year 2000 was leaving us, so were the old ISO standards. A new set of standards has been adopted worldwide: ISO 9001:2000. These new standards focus on managing effective business processes and process improvement. Key advantages over the earlier quality standards are that they’re:

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  • User friendly to small businesses;
  • Emphasize customer satisfaction;
  • Emphasize the role and participation of top management;
  • Simplify document control;
  • Emphasize process control and auditing.

This makes it a perfect framework for our industry and provides a well-proven system to improve the business. The key factor that differentiates this from many other programs our industry has participated in over the years is the certification by an independent third party and the continued requirements to meet the certification yearly.

To receive ISO certification requires independent, third-party auditing that verifies compliance by examination and evaluation of objective evidence. This validates that applicable elements of the quality system are appropriate and effective, and have been developed, documented and implemented in accordance with specified requirements. The standard is designed to be audited both internally on a consistent schedule and externally (www.QASIDirect.com).

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ISO 9001:2000 certification isn’t designed to serve as a marketing program, even though it will certainly become marketable. The role of the standards is to improve your business by following a documented process for the entire operation, including your interactions with customers, vendors, employees and suppliers. It focuses everyone in your organization on improving your business.

Many collision repair facilities in other countries have already been certified to ISO standards. In fact, in some countries such as the United Kingdom, it’s a requirement to be part of a network or group.

What’s Out There to Help?
A few options out there can assist you in standardizing your business. First, get involved in your paint company’s value-added program if you’re not already. Their support can be invaluable for beginning this process.

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Second, products can assist you in improving your operations and knowledge base, such as:

  • Mainline Operations Manual – www.autobody.net
  • BDG’s EOM – www.bodyshopvideo.com
  • The BOSs – www.TheBOSs-Online.com
  • The Q-Manager – www.QASIDirect.com
  • Autobody Online – www.autobodyonline.com

Why should you consider process improvement and standardization such as ISO 9001:2000? To keep your business competitive and to make your operations repetitive. Implementation of such standards will improve your shop’s profitability, reduce cycle time and improve quality. Your business will also become a better environment for your staff. As for you, you’ll finally have the time to work “on” your business – rather than just “in” it.

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Contributing Editor Tony Passwater is president of AEII, a consulting, training and system-development company. He’s been in the industry for more than 27 years; has been a collision repair facility owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international Instructor; and has taught seminars across North America, Korea and China. He can be contacted at (317) 290-0611, ext. 101, or at ([email protected]).Visit his Web site at www.aeii.net for more information.

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