Managing through Change
SHOP STATS: Classic BMW Location: Plano, Texas Operator: Maas family Average Monthly Car Count: 225 Staff Size: 40 Shop Size: 50,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$12 million
A budding economy prompted the established clientele of Classic BMW dealership in Texas to move closer to the city center of Dallas and away from suburban Richardson, where the dealership was located—leaving its body shop behind.
With the BMW dealership located right next door to the collision center, David Williams, collision center director, saw an influx of customers who were buying used and new cars. Whether the customer bought a high-end or low-end vehicle, Williams and his staff had the opportunity to easily establish relationships with those customers on the collision side. In essence, the sales team was the body shop’s best source of marketing.
But, when the dealership moved, so too did the stream of customers. Suddenly, the body shop didn’t have those customers coming through the door every day to buy new vehicles and seeing the body shop in the process.
While it was easier for the shop to remain in “green” financial numbers at an established facility that was paid off versus a new facility requiring large investments in equipment, the repair shop still lost business initially.
The shop lost drop-in customers that the dealership offered. Now, the shop was left alone and not located on a main street.
“We thought, ‘How do we get our old customers in our door now?’” Williams says.
To combat the potential issues, Williams implemented several unique processes—including adding staff at the new dealership, moving to a team-based system and upgrading the facility—that not only solved those issues and raised revenue to $12 million last year, but also ensured that the body shop could position itself for continued success in the future.
When Classic BMW moved to Plano in 2009, the body shop was left behind because the town voted against the body shop from joining the dealership due to potential noise, smell and traffic.
Williams set out to sell the quality of his repairs to customers. For him, the secret to sell more work was emphasizing the shop’s certified repair work and that it was a non-DRP shop.
Williams brought an idea to the management team of sending a letter from the collision center to each dealership customer. The letter is a typed letter from Williams, which he personally signs and sends out. This is a way of making first contact with customers who might not know the shop is available for warranty repair, for example.
The move also added a day to the shop’s repair process, because the porter at the dealership took so long to transport the cars to the body shop. So, his team added an estimator to the Plano location. The estimator is available for customers to drop off their vehicles at the dealership and then transport the vehicle to the body shop.
“What we’ve morphed into is less of a drive up and drop off for customers,” he says.
Next, the shop had to tackle quality customer repairs in a facility that hindered efficiency. The Richardson facility is split into 10 buildings, with an alleyway dividing them in half. Due to the unique layout of the complex, Williams had to find a way to effectively manage his team and reduce time wasted on all-staff meetings.
“Our facility is a workflow nightmare,” he says. “The flow of cars is not ideal.”
Instead of the normal layout in which cars go in one door to the service area, through repairs and out the door upon being completed, the Richardson buildings are not connected. Cars have to be repaired in one building and then when they’re done, have to be pushed outside. And to top off the extra time spent moving cars, if it storms in the area, cars have to be covered and moved inside immediately.
When Williams factored in the time his customers already had to wait for repairs, he knew efficiency was key at the shop in order to prevent more time wasted in the process. So, he changed his staff dynamic to focus on teamwork.
Each of the six teams is led by an estimator who will meet with their team in the morning for roughly 10–15 minutes and tell the technicians what repairs need to be done for the day. The buildings are separated by job and team. One is for paint, one for prep, one for teardown and so on.
Williams does meet every day for brief periods with his managers and estimators but the teams act as a trickle-down effect.
“If you try to micromanage every little thing, you’ll slow down production,” he says.
He also focused on high-quality equipment for his team. To produce good work, the team needed to be motivated by profit and the work environment, he says.
Williams used many of the same tactics he learned managing a team of volunteer firefighters who did not get paid to work. He motivates his team to get on board with quality in safety procedures and OEM procedures by incentivizing with profit.
“By that, I mean if you buy into my line of thinking and I can show you how to make more money and produce a better product, would you be open to try?” he says.
The painters work in downdraft paint booths with fresh air breathing systems to use while they’re painting. Speciality respirators are available for each type of job the painter is working on, whether it is grinding, sanding, body filler, sanding primer and even sweeping the floor.
The vacuum used for collecting carbon fiber dust is explosion proof. All shop buildings are air conditioned for better air quality.
And to make sure the buildings are up to snuff on safety equipment, Williams hired an outside company to inspect the facility. He also makes his team go through safety training every year.
No stranger to dealing with distance as a regular commuter covering 60 miles between work and home each day, David Williams turned to building team relationships and a reputation for certified repairs.
He used his secret talent. He’s been in everyone’s shoes in the body shop and even outside of the shop; he’s been a porter, cleaner, advisor for the local technical colleges, and even a volunteer firefighter. He’s learned that success in turbulent times is not about the money.
“At the end of the day, it’s about caring,” he says.
Since Williams worked with the shop’s unique position rather than against it, the shop has seen a jump in revenue.
And estimators have been able to retain repeat customers, he says.
“If you have a guy that spent $750,000 on a car and he comes in for repairs, make sure you keep him happy,” he says. “That idea goes for whether the customers bought low or high-end vehicles.”