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Starting Over

Russ Manley and his father, Ron, have run Manley and Son Auto Body and Paint in Forsyth, Mo., for 34 years. In the early years, custom work was the bread and butter for the shop, but because of poor work conditions, paint jobs that went wrong were as prevalent as the ones that went right.

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“The custom-work problems cost us time,
materials and space,” says Russ. “As soon as a job went
wrong, we were covered up with other work that needed doing. The
shop space – which consisted of 10 usable stalls – was broken
up because the building had three doors and was shaped like a
bowling alley. If you tied up a stall, you blocked three other
cars and halted work on three more.”

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At the root of the shop’s problems was the
paint shop. The paint booth originally had only incandescent lighting.
Though fluorescent lights came later, the high ceiling and years
of overspray allowed for shadow and light-absorption problems.
Even under these conditions, Russ did all his paint matching in
the booth because the lighting was less dismal than in the shop’s
open area.

The booth also was too narrow, too cold and
too dirty for the custom work the shop became known for. “We
were known for being the elitists in the area of custom work,”
says Russ. “We were forced to let a lot of that go because
it was just too difficult [under the conditions].”

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Keeping dirt down while painting a vehicle
sometimes involved wetting down the booth’s floor with a garden
hose prior to spraying paint. Though the booth was ventilated,
the painting equipment fogged up the area. Water spots, dirt and
foreign material in the compressor often soiled potentially good
jobs.

As if problems in the paint shop weren’t enough
to overcome, Manley experienced obstacles in just about every
other area of the shop as well.

High-tech body work led the crew into unibody
and bench work. But the limitations of the building prevented
the shop from establishing a consistent work area for the more
sophisticated repairs, and the expensive frame bench purchased
was underutilized because of a lack of organized work space.

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A Second Chance

Leaving the conditions behind him, Ron recently
decided it was time to enjoy the more-relaxing things in life
and passed along the business to his son. With such work obstacles,
it’s surprising that both Manleys didn’t hang up their spray guns
and post a “for sale” sign in the parking lot long ago.
But they didn’t, and when a development company made an offer
for the property on which the outdated facility was located, Russ
didn’t hesitate to accept it.

With a chance to start over and give the shop
much-needed updating, Russ relocated the shop a few miles down
the road. Soon after choosing the new site, he and his father-in-law,
a part-time contractor, made plans for the shop’s new building.

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Some of the improvements include:

  • Frame work has been relegated to a separate, but attached,
    facility.
  • To make loading a disabled car or light truck easier, access
    to the frame racks is a step down from the main floor level –
    this places the working surface of the frame rack at the main
    floor level. With a short ramp system, even a disabled vehicle
    can be readily loaded onto the frame machine. With this system,
    manpower replaces tow-truck power and relieves Russ’s tow trucks
    of mundane shop duties.
  • Paint and prep areas, which were combined in the old shop,
    have been separated and updated. A new downdraft booth has been
    ordered for the new facility. The new booth is an environmentally
    controlled, well-lit paint enclosure that has flow-through ventilation
    and all the safety and high-tech features missing from the old
    booth.

“The booth will present a clean contact area for painting,”
says shop foreman Paul Boaing. “Because of the placement
and location of lights and heating elements, paint jobs will be
more precise and finish work will be superb.”

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Also, a station equipped with the most up-to-date equipment and
supplies has been set up for paint mixing and matching.

  • Floor-heating and overhead radiant-heat systems were installed
    in the new shop. “The old shop chilled you to the bone,”
    says Russ, “and work quality, as well as production, will
    be the payoff with these particular systems. When the weather
    warms up, the lower floor level and added height in the frame-repair
    area keeps that area 10 or so degrees cooler than in the main
    shop.” The heating systems will also help maintain an enhanced
    drying atmosphere for cars in various stages of prep.
  • Though square footage has actually been reduced in the new
    facility, the new multidoor construction and separated work areas
    are expected to boost production and work flow. The steel-stud
    construction of several outboard interior walls allow for future
    expansion – something Russ predicts will be necessary because
    of the area’s growing population.
  • Designed by Russ more than a year ago, a customer viewing
    area was integrated into the shop’s floor plan. The viewing area
    allows customers to be partners in the repair process by keeping
    them involved but out of the way of technicians and impresses
    insurance companies, says Russ.
  • A dual air-compressor system has been included in the shop’s
    equipment cache. One isolated air circuit serves the paint department,
    while a second circuit equipped with air dryer/separators is used
    for the power equipment and other ordinary use.

Better Odds

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With a fresh outlook on the collision-repair industry and a second
chance at being a part of it, Russ is intent on keeping his shop
productive and profitable. It’s taken a lot of work, but he and
his team expect to see a 50 percent increase in work flow due
to the initial changes made at the new shop.

Was it worth the risk? Well worth it, says Russ. If you never
take the chance, how will you ever know?

Bob Leone is a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

 

If You Could Change One Thing …

No flat surfaces,” was the tongue-in-cheek response from
one body shop technician in Kimberling City, Mo., when he was
asked what he would do differently at his shop if he had the chance.
Any flat surface in a body shop, he says, will sooner or later
collect junk – old molding clips, tack rags, etc. – and no shop
can afford to lose space to such nonessentials. His bottom line:
Don’t be a pack rat.

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While one technician would eliminate all flat surfaces, another
might suggest expanding the paint department to alleviate a bottleneck,
yet another might suggest installing a shop-wide computer network.

If thoughts of redesigning your shop have been lingering in your
mind or if you’re toying with the idea of opening a new location
– no holds barred – consider the following insights gathered from
several shop owners.

Physical Improvements:

  • Set up a mechanical center for front-end, chassis and C/V
    powertrain-associated work. Your shop may be one of many losing
    money because it lacks the space and capability to perform mechanical
    operations in-house. Combine this work with the front-end alignments
    you should already be doing.
  • Money can be a limiting variable in redesigns and expansions,
    so use every square foot of space frugally. Construction costs
    vary throughout the country, but the average is a minimum of $15
    per square foot.
  • Relocation may be the key to your shop’s success. Think about
    leasing an existing structure rather than building, but realize
    there’s no expansion capability when you lease. If you do relocate,
    take note of the restrictions set by local planning and zoning
    commissions.

Equipment Updates:

  • The estimating area of any shop should be equipped with an
    electronic estimating system and staffed with qualified technicians.
    Only by allowing the best techs available to work on the repair
    evaluation and to accumulate the necessary data can your expensive,
    high-tech frame equipment start turning a profit.
  • Equip your paint shop with the latest in downdraft spraybooths
    and paint-mixing centers.
  • Figure that VOC problems will be addressed through waterbase-paint
    formulas somewhere down the line. To be prepared, incorporate
    the appropriate support areas that will eventually be required.
    Consider the layout of the paint department, the equipment and
    the technical support needed. If the waterbase-paint systems that
    are mainstay on the West Coast haven’t yet caught on in your part
    of the country, you can bet they will.
  • Outfit the metal shop with a TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding
    machine, a MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding machine, a plasma cutter
    and several types of direct-contact spot welders. Other equipment
    to update the metal shop with: a sheet-metal shear (hydraulic
    design preferred), an S-TRSW (squeeze-type resistance spot welding)
    system and a bending brake.
  • Get your painters working with HVLP paint equipment – it will
    save paint and reduce VOC emissions.
  • Incorporate infrared heating and drying systems into your
    shop’s work flow. Short- and medium-wave infrared equipment is
    the most popular addition to any paint shop with a downdraft booth.

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