Instill Communication and Quality
A high school auto shop instructor became lifelong inspiration for Courtney Smith. His teacher taught him principles of determination, flexibility and compassion, which he brought with him to Kniesel’s Collision.
Smith first joined the auto industry as a freshman in high school, which is when he enrolled in shop class. He would arrive early to tinker with cars and learn more from the instructor. After school, he worked at a tire shop in order to learn how to mount and dismount tires. The same year, his school district in Santee, Calif., cut funding to the auto shop program. Rather than calling it quits, Smith’s instructor hosted a car show to raise money for the program.
Along with a group of students, Smith and his instructor hosted the car show and then opened shop to perform repairs. All money from the repairs went to donations for the school’s program.
The first show was bigger than expected. Attendance spilled out from the high school’s football field to adjacent soccer fields.
From then on, Smith felt a sense of accomplishment associated with repairing cars. He saw real-life results from hard work and what can come from perseverance.
Despite pressure that continues in the job today—demand to get cars done on time and to answer questions that arise every five minutes—Smith learned from his high school experience that the way to handle the pressure is through keeping a level-headed demeanor and thinking outside of the box when problems arise.
After high school, Smith continued to work in the industry at tire shops, diesel truck stops, and worked his way up to assistant manager at a Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Ram dealership.
Now, Smith has worked at Kniesel’s Collision for eight years. As production manager, he spends his days wandering between each shop building and encouraging improvement among his team.
I try to arrive before the commotion of the day starts. I get into the shop between 6:30 and 7 a.m. I go over the list of cars we have leaving for the day, which parts need to be sublet and where the car is in repairs. I find my list from our operating system, CCC, and then put the list on a production board so every technician and estimator can see what needs to be done for the day.
I spend about 45 minutes per day meeting individually with each technician and estimator. Around 8 a.m., I meet with each technician about what needs to get done for the day. This could take about 45 minutes to an hour. Then, I’ll sit down with the general manager and we’ll meet with each estimator. I like to get my meetings done in the morning in order to be more present on the shop floor in the afternoon. Each day, I finish around 11 a.m.
There’s a 40-inch television in between the paint and body shop of the main building, where I post the jobs for the day. I think of it as the command center because it’s accessible to all the techs.
We use two-way radios to communicate between buildings. Just at my location alone, we have four buildings on site. It started with one and then we outgrew it when we started a fast-track program with GEICO. We added a building for jobs through GEICO. We also started working on Tesla cars, which requires us to have a clean room. We leased another building in order to work on Tesla aluminum-body vehicles. In addition to these two buildings, we have a main office building and a smaller, mechanical building.
I like to use two-way radios because it’s more direct, wireless and very high powered. The radios we use are similar to walkie-talkies and I believe can reach a distance of two miles apart. I’m always running around the industrial park and sometimes driving to the Tesla building—the farthest building in the park—so the radios are a good way to get a hold of me.
In the afternoon I like to be present in the shop floor to let the team know they did a good job or offer help. A lot of times you run into unexpected challenges that will make a car repair take longer. I like to have my eyes in the shop and be there to communicate with my team in case any problems arise. I’ll also go up to them and tell them they’re doing a good job. Just thanking someone for the hard work goes a long way.
I’m always looking to fine-tune processes with a staff this big. For example, there’s the new Tesla 3 model coming out that will be a less expensive Tesla compared to the model S and model X. I think that will have a big influx of business, so I spend time on the floor making sure we’re prepared for that arrival in our Tesla building.
I try to forecast ahead by keeping an eye on new cars being towed in, dropped off or getting close to paint. I like to keep ahead on project completion dates.
I try to host monthly get-togethers where the whole staff can sit back and relax. I try to come up to the guys and say hi during the day, but we also have monthly get-togethers. We host barbecues or bowling nights. Over the holidays, we hosted a White Elephant party in which we exchanged gifts. I usually just get a bottle of an adult beverage. I enjoy the camaraderie with the team and like to keep “in the trenches” with them.
One of the things that made me want to work here is that it’s a shop owned and operated by a family. I treat everyone here like family. I’ll always find time to talk to anyone that has issues, whether they’re work related or not.
I have kids so I try not to spend my whole life in the shop and try to leave between 5 and 5:30 p.m. I’m always direct and convey deadlines to the staff but don’t try to pressure them. At the end of the day, I’ll update the computer as far as where cars are in the process. I’ll make sure the car location is updated so I don’t have to do that again in the morning. I have a son and daughter so I do want to get home with time to spare at the end of the day.
I could work 16 hours per day, every day, and still feel like there is something that needed to get done. I only leave at 5 p.m. because I discipline myself to do so. We get things done here, and if we need to come in early or stay late to do so, my team and I will do that.