Well, Alison, this is a loaded question.
We can approach this from so many different directions, and I believe most of them would be a matter of opinion. We could address different types of production setups – like inline, fast repair and assembly line, technician combination work bays and team cells, to use a few industry buzz words – along with different layouts and designs. We could also talk about the pros and cons of flat-rate vs. pay-per-hour in relation to production.
But since few of us are in a position to build or rebuild our existing shops and changing pay structures midstream may cause more havoc than it’s worth (I’ve seen lynch mobs started over this), let’s approach this from the direction of what you, the owner or manager, can do with your existing establishment to produce safe, quality repairs.
This means the answer to the above question comes down to you. It’s all about management and accountability.
Measure to Manage
There have been superb articles in BodyShop Business on how to track the production of your technicians, perform job costing and benchmark your business. I don’t want to get into a lot of technical number crunching, but not knowing what your technicians are capable of producing will wreak havoc on any production and scheduling plans.
For example, if your techs are capable of producing 250 billable hours a week but you schedule in 400 hours, you may get the production through, but producing safe, quality repairs is out the window, i.e., the proverbial wind noise, water leaks and generally very upset customers.
As you tweak your production line (when you implement some of the advice I’m about to give you), your productivity will increase and you can adjust your scheduling accordingly.
For more information on benchmarking, search past issues using the key word, “benchmark.” You’ll find two articles: “Does Your Shop Measure Up?” by Tony Passwater and “On Your Mark … Get Set … Go!” by Larry Edwards.
Keep It Clean
How many articles have you read in BSB about needing a clean work environment in order to have maximum production? I’ve lost count myself. It may be a fact that not all profitable shops are clean, but I’d bet my last two greenbacks that all clean shops are profitable.
I can’t overemphasize this point. If you think you can’t afford to stop and clean up, let me say this: You can’t afford not to stop and clean up.
I’d hate to admit that I’m in love with an industry where 80 percent of the shops have no idea where their floor starts and the wall ends. Take a look around your place. Are you wondering where that ’65 Mustang restoration went to – only to find it under a ton of broken parts and cardboard? This is no joke. I’ve seen this happen. I could support my family comfortably on what a large, busy, dirty shop wastes in man hours, lost and broken parts, and wasted materials.
Get It Off the Floor
A good rule of thumb to help your shop not get cluttered is to follow this statement: If it doesn’t have wheels, it doesn’t belong on the floor.
One of the most basic pieces of equipment that you can have on the floor that will increase production is one that you can build yourself – a parts cart. You can also by them for reasonable prices from most of the reliable body shop supply houses. A simple three- or four-tier rack with small casters on the legs is simplistic beauty where organization is concerned.
When new parts are delivered to your store, sort them, check them in and attach the appropriate repair order to them. Then store these parts on the parts carts. When the job comes in, you can roll the parts carts over to the vehicle and can check the parts against the vehicle, catching any wrong or damaged parts in the beginning of the game.
The same goes for the damaged parts coming off the vehicle. Making it a law that no parts are to be stored on the floor will increase your production area and will also result in an automatic increase in your gross profit.
Storing jack stands, small hydraulic jacks, your blocks, etc., on a parts cart will help you to keep everything on wheels and not clutter valuable space. Gone will be the days of hearing someone scream, “Has anyone seen another jack stand?”
WHOOSH! You need to hear the sound of a toilet flushing your money down the drain when man-hours are wasted looking for equipment or parts.
Teaching your men and yourself that everything has a home can save you thousands of dollars in man-hours every year. Everything from the welders to vacuum cleaners to the chains on the wall should be put back in their place when they’ve served their purpose on the job. The money saved on this alone could buy you a nice new piece of equipment at the end of the year, or you and your family could take that much-needed vacation. Which of us couldn’t use that?
Encouraging your technicians to bring the tools to the job will save thousands of non-productive steps a day, too. Small tool carts that the technician can roll over to the job will stop the technician from wearing paths in the floor to snatch up the next necessary tool.
Be Open to New Ideas, Equipment & Products
The technology and equipment in our industry have almost reached the point where we can wave a magic wand over the vehicle and make like it’s never been repaired. But you’ve got to use them to benefit from them.
Vehicle lifts to raise the car to working height will pay for themselves in a matter of months. Studies have shown that lifts can increase your technician’s productivity by up to 20 percent. Who wouldn’t like to see that happen?
Then there are dustless sanding vacuum systems. I know I’m starting to sound like the TV show detective “Monk.” And yes I do have an obsessive/compulsive cleanliness disorder. But the less time spent cleaning to keep the shop clean means more time spent on production. And clean employees have more self-respect, present a better image to the public, and are healthier, happier and more profitable.
And let’s not forget resistant spot welders. For many years, they didn’t have I-CAR approval. But since at least two types now produce a nugget to match OEM quality, I-CAR stands behind this procedure for the repair of all non-structural panels. Our technicians can now weld on a pickup truck bed side in 15 minutes once the panels have been prepped. And I mean it’s ready to go!
Utilizing new products such as UV curing primer also will save a tremendous amount of time for smaller repairs, increasing your cycle time and employee productivity. Check with your paint manufacturers to learn more about UV curing primers.
Because our booth is a little small, things can get tight. Spraying the panels off the vehicle at the same time as spraying the vehicle in the booth will take a little getting used to. And your booth walls will quickly look like a graffiti-ridden subway car if your booth is small. Spraying the booth walls down with spray-mask enables us to rinse the overspray off the walls without having to re-paint the booth every month.
Did I say spraying the panels off the vehicle? I sure did. In January 2001, BSB ran an article called “Off with the Parts!” on painting the parts completely off the vehicle, negating the necessity for jamming parts, assembling and then painting again. I took to this idea like a barracuda to a wounded fish. My technicians all thought I was nuts when I called an afternoon meeting immediately after reading this article and explained that as soon as we had the parts racks necessary for this procedure, we were going to start using it.
Have you ever seen an old Western where the mob turns ugly? This wasn’t an easy sell, but now, there’s not a technician who works for me who’d do it any other way! Not only does it increase productivity, but it can make it virtually impossible to tell that a part has been painted. Color-corrective bulbs are now available that will double the K illumination from your existing fixtures in your booth, which will make this process much easier to implement.
To read “Off With the Parts!” search past issues using key word, “Barone.”
Hold Daily Meetings
Daily morning meetings are the backbone of a smoothly scheduled day. This meeting should be short and should include all the production personnel. During the meeting, give everyone a sheet of all the cars scheduled in and out that week. You’d be surprised how much smoother things go when everyone knows what everyone else is doing. This also will give all those involved a chance to know what’s coming their way and to comment on where they are on their particular job. This also allows you to hold them accountable for it.
Accountability is something that’s going to be a daily training session for your technicians. And this is something that needs to be brought up consistently in your morning meetings. It’ll sound redundant so use your imagination when explaining it so often.
Be sure to commend technicians publicly when they’re working well within the system, whether your shop is big or small. You’ll need to have one-on-one meetings to help those who are having trouble getting with the program.
Production Manager = Quality Control
Now’s a good time to discuss our “production manager.” Every shop needs one. And a good one at that.
If you’re thinking that your shop is too small to have a good production manager, guess what? You are the production manager.
Without someone accessible to guide and control the repair process on the floor, you’ll have chaos. He (or you) needs to keep an eye on everything that was discussed during the morning meeting.
Case in point: Just recently, we had a 2003 Subaru in our shop for what looked like a simple rear bumper replacement. But after teardown, it became evident that we had much more damage than originally expected. The rear body panel was damaged, but because it looked like it could be salvaged with a simple pull on the frame rack, the technician thought it was a done deal.
After the technician thought that it had been pulled to satisfaction and that the rear hatch fit perfectly, a quick look inside the body panel revealed what looked like one of those horror stories out of a diminished value case. The rear body panel was double walled, and there was no way to make both the inner and outer panels meet our quality of repair.
Without the production manager keeping an eye on the repair, this job may have left our shop in this condition – unknown to anyone until someone (the customer maybe) needed a tire change and uncovered the hidden damage. The point is that even the very best technicians won’t always make good management calls.
Teach Techs to Be Subcontractors
Make sure the car’s clean before it comes in to be worked on. The cleaner the vehicle, the easier it’ll be not to miss associated damage. And writing the repair order number, customer name, insurance company name, technician assigned to the vehicle and delivery date on the window with a dry marker puts a wealth of information at everyone’s fingertips.
After jobs have been assigned at the morning meeting, the only way a technician will clearly know what his responsibilities for that repair are is to have a clearly written RO. If your shop doesn’t have those capabilities, a copy of the estimate will have to do. Remember though, not all estimating systems are user-friendly when it comes to interpreting them. If you have less-experienced techs reviewing it, make sure the production manager goes over it in detail. Keep the RO under the windshield wiper at all times.
It’s important to teach all your technicians to act as subcontractors. They’re accountable for putting out a proper repair. Never accept less. They “buy the job” as they get. In other words, your metal technician reviews the RO with the production manager. If the RO is deficient – meaning operations have been left off of it, such as R&I of necessary parts, hidden damage or broken parts missed – he’s responsible for bringing it to the attention of the man who handed him the RO And he isn’t going to “buy” the job as it was presented, knowing full well he’s the one responsible for a proper repair. This will eliminate the “but it wasn’t on the sheet!”
Also make it policy to have the technicians list clearly on the back of the RO any missed damage, additional broken parts and even mistakes such as listing parts that don’t need to be replaced – correcting an estimate by creating a negative supplement. For those of you who aren’t familiar with negative supplements, let me explain. Just as we find things that are an addition to the estimate (a positive supplement), there are also times when we find we’ve overwritten an estimate (a negative supplement). It can be something as simple as an apron that we thought needed to be replaced, only to find that a simple pull would suffice. Creating negative supplements certainly does wonders for your integrity on a re-inspection from the insurance company.
By following the process I’ve outlined here, all it takes for the production manager to write the supplement when the appraiser shows up to re-inspect is to simply grab the RO off the windshield and go over the additional damage with the appraiser.
The same philosophy applies in the refinishing department. Before a painter should accept a job from the metal man, he needs to thoroughly inspect it. If there are dents, waves or other imperfections that shouldn’t be painted over, now’s the time not to “buy” the job. If you paint it, you own it.
When the job returns to the metal shop after refinishing, this product needs to be “bought” again by the technician assembling it. The metal technician shouldn’t accept the job if it’s been refinished poorly. You get the idea.
The finishing touch that will help save you from having your customer test drive the finished product (and finding problems you missed) is a simple completion tag that the technician hangs from the rearview mirror when the car comes back from the detail department.
The completion tag has a checklist that guides the technician through the job to make sure it’s completed. Listed on this important document is “test drive.” Often, the all-important test drive is simply overlooked, leaving it open for the owner to find the proverbial wind noise or rattle in the replaced door. The completion tag should help eliminate this oversight.
Many of the items listed may not even have anything to do with the repair itself, such as fluid levels and tire pressure, but they’ll certainly increase your CSI. This will also help to heighten your technicians awareness of the quality that you – and they – are presenting to the public.
It Starts With You
The instructor at one of the best management seminars I’ve ever attended made an art out of getting his point across in simple terms. Imagine now, this man energetically reaching out and putting both his hands on the desk in front of me as he explained that when you walk onto the shop floor and look around, there’s a simple way to judge if you’re making money or not.
“Look around at the technicians” he said. “Hands on the car equals making money!” as he tightly gripped and shook the table.
He then stuck his hands in his pockets and walked in front of us saying, “Hands off the car equals dead air!”
Because I don’t have time to rewrite an operations manual for a collision shop, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of your paint manufacturer’s management training programs. The great thing about our businesses today is that we as shop owners or managers don’t have to figure out the right way to run a shop. You know, the old trial-and-error routine.
Back in the ’70s, I can’t tell how many times I thought I had a great idea, only to find out it wasn’t that great after all. These days, it can be as simple as paint-by-numbers. Whoops, did I say simple? Reading an article like this about the right way to do it and then actually implementing are two entirely different things. But rather than think it’s too complicated or difficult, you need to view it like Nike does: “Just do it!”
And ultimately, doing it falls on your shoulders.
If your establishment incorporates none of what I’ve suggested here and you try to implement these procedures, your technicians will be in for quite a culture shock – and you’ll be in for quite a lot of griping. But trust me, the best technicians in the country work well within these boundaries, so when you present your ideas for change to them, present it to them this way:
You’re looking to move forward – and you’re bringing them with you. Writer Bob MacCargar is the body shop manager at Benedict Corporation in upstate New York. MacCargar has 36 years of industry experience and has been an owner, manager and technician during his career, starting out in the family business in 1967. He’s I-CAR Platinum Certified, ASE Master Certified, MVP Management trained and PPG Paint Certified. In his spare time, MacCargar researches and rehabilitates exotic reptiles. He can be reached at [email protected]
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