How I Work: Marc LaFerriere
Looking ahead for what lies in store for the shop and making sure it succeeds never stops for Marc LaFerriere. While LaFerriere owns Dents Unlimited in Columbia, Mo., his duties as owner don’t stop him from taking a front-end role in the business, welcoming customers and spending his days helping out writing estimates.
He’s so dedicated to the business, he often comes in early at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to help out where needed.
LaFerriere opened Dents Unlimited as primarily a paintless dent repair shop and soon learned that the Missouri hail storms that happened once every two to three years did not bring in enough business. So, he moved the business to Columbia, which is a town of about 110,000 people, and expanded to offer collision repair, mechanical and paintless dent repair services.
He expanded the business from a mere 3,000 square feet to over 17,000 square feet, and has learned a lot along his journey into collision repair and body work.
Now, LaFerriere goes in Monday through Friday, working later days and making sure, above all else, quality and accurate repairs are done.
As told to Melissa Steinken
I go in around 6 a.m. at the latest and spend about two hours catching up on work from the night before. My estimator recently left, and we decided to wait until the new year to hire a new one. So, lately, I sometimes come in earlier at like 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to catch up on estimates from the day before. I love working with customers for as long as I can throughout the day so I don’t mind coming in earlier than usual to do some work I might have missed.
I survive the mornings by drinking two-thirds of a pot of coffee. Then, I sit and answer the emails I haven’t answered from the previous night. I sift through roughly 65–70 emails per day. I answer those throughout the day, but sometimes a customer will come in or another estimate will come through and they don’t get done by the end of the day.
After answering emails, I go through files I have from adjusters and see if I need to approve anything or sign anything.
Every day, I have a brief check-in with my production manager. We meet every day just informally for a few minutes and I check in on why something happened in the repair or why something is taking longer than it should have. We meet at least once per week for 30 minutes to an hour to talk about the positives and negatives from the week. He does the production meeting with my team and schedules what cars are going through the week.
Overall, we have a very productive team that doesn’t keep to a set schedule. We don’t schedule breaks every two hours or something. In order for me to keep track of the moving parts, I use a stack of sticky notes to write down reminders.
We’re always trying to improve our processes. It’s important that my shop focuses on doing the correct repairs. When I made the move from paintless dent repair to collision repair and also mechanical repair, I was concerned about incorrect repairs. Now, I focus on researching OEM procedures for every estimate and even charging for those estimates. I make sure to tell the customer that our estimate rate might be higher because of the research that goes into it.
We receive a lot of our industry data from our Axalta Business Council and, other times, I read industry stories. Right now, we’re in deer season and the roads are slick, so that extra business is something we take into account and try to work on.
Our annual revenue for the shop is $2.2 million and while it is hard to work as a non-DRP shop, we also average 8–9 days for key-to-key cycle time. I chose not to have DRPs because I didn’t want to get a scorecard from the insurance company at the end of the repair and also have to rely on them for how they want the car fixed versus how I want to have it fixed.
I have piles of sticky notes to remind me. I have reminders about meetings, what estimates I need to write or if I need to help someone in the shop. I keep them stacked around my computer and my desk that has dual monitors.
Another scheduling hack I use is dual monitors because it helps when I have to open so many tabs at once. Everyone who has a computer at the shop has dual monitors now.
I spend a majority of my day with customers either in person or remotely. I spend a lot of my day out in the lobby talking to customers. I like to go out if their vehicle is being delivered or if they come in for an estimate. When I’m at my desk, I also read through our online reviews and make it a priority to respond to those reviews, or as many of them as possible.
Our shop averages a 4.8-star rating based off 1,000 reviews. Through the shop’s management system, CCC ONE, we have close to 200 reviews through Google and another site from which we get notified. Shops near us only get about 50 reviews and this difference really helps us stand out from our competitors.
The roles that I help with in the shop depends on the year. We had an estimator, but, for about three months now, I’ve helped out writing estimates because I want it done correctly until I can find the right replacement for my previous estimator.
I write a lot of estimates in one day (roughly 6–12 myself) and we are an independent shop, with only one DRP and not heavy on the insurance side at all.
I focus a chunk of my overall year on marketing for the shop. The shop advertises on cable television as well as radio every year. For television, we have about 800 commercials playing in one month. I am the one that usually talks in these and then we get footage of the staff and the rest of the shop but I like to talk so it seems more personal.
I spend twice per year and roughly two hours each time to make the commercials. I’ve used the same companies for a long time so they’ve kept the same rates for me and it only costs $1–$2 for the radio commercials. I’ll sponsor some early morning radio talk shows because there is also a captive audience on that platform.
My day ends around 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. I don’t work on the weekends in order to spend time with my family. So, I tend to work longer days during the week to get everything done.
I encourage my team to spend time outside of work. I like for them to leave earlier at around 5:30 p.m. I give them vacation and sick time every year, and make it so that if they don’t take the time off, they lose it. I’ve found that motivates them to actually take it and not just let it roll over. I also host events for them to get together as a team and not focus on work. Recently, we all went race car driving.
SHOP STATS: Dents Unlimited Location: Columbia, Mo. Operator: Marc LaFerriere Average Monthly Car Count: 65–80 collision jobs (another 50 is mechanical) Staff Size: 14 (3 body technicians, one general manager and estimator, one office manager, one CSR, one PDR technician, two mechanical technicians, one parts person, one detail technician, one painter, one paint prep technician, one production and back-end manager) Shop Size: 17,500 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$2.2 million for both mechanical and collision ($400,000 in mechanical and paintless dent repair)