Leadership Operations

Smarter Scheduling

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Case Study

The last appointment of the day for McCollum Auto Body in Portland, Ore., is 3 p.m. So, when an insurer drops off a one-day repair after that cutoff, it means that repair automatically becomes a two-day repair—if not longer.

When a job like that comes around, general manager Bryan Andersen says that it’s a matter of squeezing it in and doing whatever they can to get the repair done, despite all of their jobs being scheduled 24-48 hours in advance.

Now, the little jobs don’t even phase them, all thanks to only a slight change in their process.

And for Joey and Dave McCollum—owners of their family’s shop in Vancouver, Wash.—that slight change had to happen in the paint department.

Andersen decided to spark better department throughput by starting with one of the fundamental basics in any business: scheduling. It was an effort to not only better cycle time, but also service more vehicles in an allotted amount of time.

By changing the way he scheduled his two painters and two preppers on staff, he ended up reducing the shop’s cycle time and increased his paint department hours without staying longer in the shop.


The Backstory

Andersen, who has been in the automotive industry for over 25 years, has been with the McCollums for 11 years now, holding roles such as production manager, parts manager and, eventually, general manager.

With only two booths, two painters and two preppers, Andersen says his team had a hard time being able to complete a high workload in the shop’s business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Taking in jobs whenever he could, Andersen remembers the constant stress of having to ask employees to stay an extra 20 minutes or an extra hour here and there. He knew people would get tired of it and it was time to change.

It was a matter of worker smarter not harder, so Andersen had to find a way to to reallocate the paint department's tasks without adding staff members, which came down to the way that the day was being broken up.


The Problem

Back to those last-minute, one-day repair jobs from the insurer: They dragged on for days, mainly because it was a matter of working on them whenever there was any time between other scheduled jobs. Instead of them being the easiest jobs to crank out, the shop couldn’t handle the high volume.

And it all added up to missed opportunities, Andersen says.

At the time, their mindset was to grow the business any way they could, which included selling any job they could to bring work in. The business was growing, but the shop was having difficulty keeping up. They were also lagging in some of the performance metrics that DRPs track, such as cycle time, which he did not track.

In addition, since the shop only had two booths, having one booth per painter from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day was not going to produce more billable hours.

Working more didn’t fix the problem of those jobs creating bottlenecks, so instead, Andersen and his team focused on producing more work without extending the amount of hours the crew had to be there.


The Solution

In 2014, Andersen decided to implement a method that he had tried at a previous shop with great results, and that was staggering the painter’s shifts.

He split the crew of four into pairs and created two sets of shifts: one from 4 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and another from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This added four extra hours in the day, without adding staffing.

The 4 a.m. crew comes in and already has vehicles in the two booths ready to go from the night before that they can begin painting.

Once the 8 a.m. painter comes in, there is one booth per painter, but when the 4 a.m. crew leaves at 1:30 p.m., the 8 a.m. crew has two booths to work out of for the remainder of the day.

Andersen says that by staggering the shifts, each painter has the opportunity to work out of two booths versus one for at least four hours per day.

On Saturdays, the shop is open part of the day, but since they have caught up on work throughout the day, the painters working out of one booth each is not a problem.

After implementing the new paint process, the McCollums also brought in Mike Anderson’s consulting team to help them ensure they were being as efficient as possible in all of their other departments.


The Aftermath

The biggest benefit has easily been the volume and cycle time, Andersen says. Being able to capture more work has helped the shop maintain competitive numbers, roughly 2.7 days below market range for cycle time. The shop is consistently at 10 days or below.

Their efficiency has also significantly improved. Instead of capping out at 1,100–1,200 billable hours, now the shop can hit 1,500 hours or above.

Now the shop is focused on standardizing all their processes throughout all of the locations.

Above all, Andersen says that the shop morale has increased significantly. Technicians and team members from other departments now frequently show up early at 5 or 5:30 a.m.

The shop is almost working two shifts, he says. Observing the sudden shift, Andersen says that if a tech that comes in very early in the morning comes to him at 3:30 p.m., has all his work completed and wants to go, he’ll let them go.

He says that by the time he comes in at 7:30 in the morning, the shop is running as though it’s been open for hours already.


The Takeaway

Some of the positives have been the sales that the store has achieved, Andersen says.

“To me, it’s the health of the store,” he says.

The McCollums also echo that, saying that since the workers are commissioned, being able to complete more work motivates them because they can take home extra income.

Overall, Andersen says that employees have grown and there are many growth opportunities that have come from the scheduling changes. Work is getting done in a timely fashion and the team morale is incredibly high, he says.

SHOP STATS: McCollum Auto Body   Location: Foster Road, Ore.  Size: 6,500 square feet   Staff Size: 30  Average Monthly Car Count: 175  Annual Revenue: $5.5 million

Expert Advice


As the owner of J. Hunter & Associates, Jim Compton helps shops account for their materials in the paint department.

He also participates in many 20 Groups, helping shops by pointing out areas in their paint department that need improvement. Dave McCollum is, in fact, in one of those 20 Groups with Compton.  

When it comes to throughput, Compton says that the biggest mistake that body shops can make is leaving their paint department until last. As a result, it puts the paint department in a situation where they have to make things happen very quickly, Compton says.

They need to allow time for paint as they do with any other department, he says.

A lot of the time, shops don’t measure their material usage, not actually analyzing the materials being used at any given time.

For scheduling, some jobs are scheduled with the body shop in mind, not the paint department. Not having a schedule can ultimately hurt your ability to complete jobs.

When you plan jobs for the body shop, replicate the same processes for the paint department. This will help you keep your refinish hours top of mind.

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