The Tale of One Shop Continues - BodyShop Business
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The Tale of One Shop Continues

…with Paul and Teresa Slate

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In recent months, we’ve visited with Paul
and Teresa Slate, new body shop owners in Tennessee who agreed
to share their experiences – both positive and negative – with
us. In this issue’s update, we read from Teresa’s September and
October journal entries.

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September

– We began the month with a day off like most
shops, I assume. Being closed Labor Day allowed all of us to enjoy
a much-needed three-day weekend. Of course, that makes for a short
week, which can be difficult unless you’re careful to schedule
around it. This was our second Labor Day to own the shop, and
we’ve noticed our business is slower this time of year than any
other. Holidays always seem to make a difference, but the previous
owners said the biggest factor this time of year is the starting
of school. People are preoccupied with getting their children
into school and put off vehicle repairs. In spite of this, we
were still covered up with work.

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– We’ve been without a detail/cleanup person
for a month now, allowing our sons to fill the gap and having
no luck finding someone through word of mouth. We’ve decided to
give temporary services a try with the intention of finding someone
permanent.

– The last six months we’ve had an increasing
problem meeting promised delivery dates. There can be a lot of
uncontrollable reasons for this, but we began to notice that most
of our problems were due to the lack of thoroughness on the part
of shop employees. A part not getting ordered or not asking for
a part to be ordered until you need it can put the completion
date of a car days behind schedule.

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This month, we initiated a system with our
body technicians in which their commission will be 5 percent less
if the vehicle doesn’t leave on its scheduled date and if we can
determine they’re directly responsible. Receiving incorrect parts
and waiting for supplemental reinspections are not within the
body tech’s control and are not counted against him. The employees
seem to be tolerating the decision. In the past, we’ve been uncomfortable
making these kind of decisions, but you come to the realization
that you have to make unpopular decisions if you intend to run
a successful shop.

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– Another decision in September involved insurance.
If a shop is busy enough to keep a body tech working and making
a good income but his lack of motivation is causing his pay to
drop so low that it costs the shop to have him working there,
you have to establish some incentive. For this reason, we’ve set
a target salary per week that each body tech is required to meet
or he’ll be responsible for paying his own insurance for that
week.

– The renew date for our Section 125 Plan
came up this month. We discovered during the last year that we
were paying a local company $500 a year to write this plan for
us and to do our yearly tax reports. We also discovered that we
can do this ourselves – eliminating the $500 fee. We’ll be able
to acquire the proper tax forms, and our accountant will be able
to help us fill them out correctly. Evidently, it takes several
years to identify all the areas in which you can be more self-sufficient.

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– During the last week of September, our paint
supervisor was on vacation, which is always a difficult time for
us because he’s a very hard-working, driven man who keeps the
paint shop organized and running efficiently. To help us out,
our paint supplier sent a man to work with us for the week. Of
course, this person worked slower because he wasn’t familiar with
the shop flow, but just having someone at all was a great help.
Everyone else in the shop pitched in, and we survived.

– We agreed to become a direct-repair shop
for a local car-rental company. At present, we’re a direct-repair
shop for several fleet insurance companies but have never ventured
into the rental-car business. We’re anxious to see the results.

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– We’re in the process of trying to put together
an employee and shop procedures manual. We would have liked to
have done this in the very beginning, but more urgent things required
our

attention.

– We’re working very hard to accept and enjoy
our business without expecting it to function perfectly every
day. There are problems, situations and difficulties unique to
the collision-repair business, and we feel that as new owners,
we’ve taken them way too seriously – expecting ourselves to be
immune to difficulties as long as we did everything right. As
you know, you can’t do everything right all the time. We’re striving
to relax and be proud of our achievements and accomplishments
and to be thankful for this opportunity. Things are really going
great, and we’re learning to take one day at a time.

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October

– In September, we told of our decision to
use a temporary service for a detail person. That hasn’t worked
simply because the agencies have not sent us anyone. We did hire
one individual, but he only stayed two weeks. To pick up the slack,
we hired a part-time employee from the local technical school,
but he recently finished his training and returned to his home
in Virginia. It’s odd that a position that basically requires
no training is so difficult to fill.

– Our employee incentive programs, which we
wrote about last month, have been very successful. Not only did
our employees accept it, but we seem to have achieved our desired
results. Cars are leaving closer to promised dates. Also, the
body technicians are working harder to achieve a level of income
that makes their employment beneficial to the company.

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– Our endeavor to be a direct-repair shop
for a local car-rental company has proven to be a good business
relationship. We give them quality work, and they pay on time
– perfect setup.

– We’ve experienced great frustration trying
to obtain payment on supplements from insurance companies. Some
always send the money with no problem, but then there’s always
a few you have to beg. Sometimes, you have to be forceful and
almost rude – and we don’t enjoy being that way. We’ve learned
to check our supplement list weekly. If there are any still outstanding
after one month, we begin calling and don’t give up until we have
a commitment date for receiving payment. If payment isn’t received
on time, we call again. We truly believe there are some companies
that wouldn’t pay us if we didn’t insist.

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– This year (1996) was the 50th anniversary
of our shop, so we’ve decided to capitalize on that accomplishment
using various means of advertising. We normally give our customers
insulated mugs printed with our logo, and recently, we added "Serving
Nashville for Over 50 Years." We have blue and gold seals
announcing our 50th anniversary that we stick on each customer’s
receipt, and we also plan to add painted lettering on our front
window, reminding Nashville how long we’ve been providing quality
service.

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