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Top collision repair experts reveal the ideas that took their businesses to the next level.
Listening to the Industry
Executive Vice President, G.W. and Son Auto Body
Oklahoma City, Okla.
My best idea ever was to listen to the industry.
From a business model standpoint, the auto body industry, for the most part, has vested itself in DRPs. Once the good ol’ boy network turned into a viable, measurable referral source, a lot of us bought into that and began using it. But now we’re increasingly seeing the insurers accumulating data that gives them the upper hand and allows them to know what’s going on in our businesses and then convince us to do things differently than we normally would.
As we began to expand our business, we were going down that same path. We were reaching out to as many insurers as we could to build more relationships and increase volume. But the more I listened to shop owners who were part of that business model, the more I heard the truth: that DRPs were a necessary evil.
So we began looking at ways to divest ourselves from that arena. And that was the best decision we ever made.
Scheduling by True Capacity
Owner, Zara’s Collision
The greatest idea I ever had was to implement a scheduling system geared around our true capacity. That’s something I find a lot of shops still don’t do. It has been extremely helpful to us in that it has helped us manage our workflow and get away from the “everything in on Monday, out of Friday” scenario. When we’re tainted by what we know, then we don’t believe that people will bring their vehicles in on Thursday or Friday for repairs. But we quickly found out that if there is a method to the madness, people will do whatever you ask them to do.
Becoming a Farmer
Manager, Waikem Collision Center
My greatest idea was to become a farmer and plant the seeds to change my shop’s culture.
When I got here, it was very bad. Out of 15 employees, only one survived. I went through several people until I handpicked a team that could understand that we were a team. But for me to affect change, I had to come up with a way of doing it.
I seek knowledge constantly. At any one time, I’m reading three to four different books. So the way I affected change was to grab articles from BodyShop Business and read them to my guys at morning meetings. Sometimes I would give them copies and tell them to read them when they got the chance. I wouldn’t bring it up again for three to four months, then I would ask them what they thought about the article. They would typically reply, “Oh, I forgot to read it.” And then I would give them a week to read it so we could then meet and talk about it.
After I started planting these seeds, the crop blossomed with ideas. And now I have them asking me for information. I never get to read the hard copy of BodyShop Business anymore because it disappears off my desk. I have them reading everything, and they’re now telling me (as opposed to me telling them) what will or won’t work. They’re developing their own culture. I empowered them to run the shop, and now it’s very efficient.
Opening a Second Location
President, Nagy’s Collision Repair Specialists
The greatest idea I ever had was to open a second location. We met at a small coffee shop and decided to run with it. The idea came from being involved in the industry and having a hunch that multi-location shops might be the future. We sat down and put a plan together that we thought was thorough. We now have eight locations and we love what we’re doing.
Owner, Gunder’s Auto Center
The best idea I ever had was to take my business back and keep it from going down the trail of bankruptcy. And that was the day I decided to go legal. I had to gain knowledge so I wouldn’t get blown out of the water, plus I had to find a great attorney and a consultant because I didn’t have all the answers. It literally saved my business when I decided to fight back. All I had to do was look at my numbers to know I was in trouble, and I refused to be a good man who was forced to do bad things in order to make a profit. Cutting corners was not an option for me. I recommend that shops stand up to insurers, but whether they go legal or not is their choice. They need to tell insurers that we are the repair professionals and we know how to fix cars, and they sell insurance. Please pay us properly and reimburse our customers properly to have their cars fixed back to pre-loss condition.
Vice President of Operations, Laney’s Collision Center
El Dorado, Ark.
The thing that has worked the best for me was starting a release meeting every morning with all of our employees. I think it really does help make the day go better with everybody being on the same page when you walk out the door to go to work in the morning. We’ve been doing it for about two years. Before that, it always seemed like somebody had to be running around and be the “walking boss.” We just talk it out and touch on every car that’s here and what stage of the process it’s in. That way, everyone knows the parts should be here today for this vehicle so it can move to this stage, this one is coming over from the body shop to the paint shop so my paint shop will be looking for it, this one will be coming out of the paint booth so I know I’ll need to be looking for it to put it together, etc. It keeps someone from having to run around all day and tell everybody what’s going on.
Scheduling by Severity
Collision Repair Manager, Lang’s Chevrolet
The best idea I ever had was scheduling by the amount of damage or severity: light hits, medium hits and heavy hits. You get more production that way because you’ve got the right person assigned to the job. If I have a heavy-hit guy who’s hanging a bumper, he’s not working at his full potential. He could be making me more money working on a frame rack. Then I have the fast-track guys who can take those little jobs like fixing a bumper and run it right on through to the paint shop and out the door so we can get two- to three-day turnarounds. That allows the heavy-hit guys to spend more time on the heavy hits. We found in the past that if you didn’t keep a guy on, say, a 50-hour job, the job seemed to die. Now that we schedule by severity, they seem to stay on those jobs a lot better.
Buying P&M Calculating Software
Owner, Kenwall Autobody
Purchasing paint and materials calculating software was the best thing I ever did. I got it a few months ago, and now I get $50 to $500 more per estimate depending how big the job is. Instead of getting paid, say, $250 for paint and materials, I’m now getting $350. Or instead of $750, I’m getting $1,250. All the insurance companies are paying it except one. I try to tell every body shop I know about it because not many of them are using it. And it’s only $300 per year, and one job will cover that. The insurance adjusters who come in to my shop used to say they never heard of it, then they would call up their managers and they would end up paying. One insurer even let me put in a 10 percent markup! It’s really made a big difference in my profitability.