How I Work: Robert Walne
While Robert Walne’s position now is not like most others at collision repair shops, his story to get to where he is now has threads of commonality with other shop operators.
Herb Walne, Robert Walne’s grandfather, started the business in 1956, so, like many other shop owners, Robert Walne grew up in the collision repair industry. For more than 60 years—and to this day—the shop remains in the hands of the family in the Dallas Metroplex. After he graduated from school, he spent a lot of time doing odd jobs around the shop, Walne says.
In 2004, after he graduated from Baylor University with a BBA in finance and real estate, Walne started full-time at Herb’s Paint & Body, a shop that has eight locations in Texas. Walne delved into estimating, parts and production at the Richardson location and eventually went to the corporate side of the business in 2005. Today, Walne is the president and chief operations officer (COO) for the operation’s eight locations.
“I’m working on the company’s strategic plan and putting that in place,” Walne says.
There are five main departments in the shop and people that carry out the yearly formed strategic plans, he says. At times, if it is needed, Walne will step in as general manager of the shops but currently works alongside his dad, Alan Walne, who is the business’ sole owner.
Walne goes over how his typical days managing the shop locations and planning ahead are set up.
As told to Melissa Steinken
I’m usually in the office by 7 a.m., maybe a little before, and typically wrap up around 5:30 p.m. While I try to stay within these work hours, it’s not uncommon for me to pull a laptop out and work outside the office for a couple hours. Everybody can get a hold of me some way, somehow, whether that’s through email, text or phone call.
I’m pretty much always readily available to come in and help. My office is in a separate building on the same piece of land as our third location. It is not connected to the body shop but it is in close proximity to the shop.
As part of the strategic plan for 2019 that I spend my days working on, we’re focusing on KPIs. A lot of what we’re working on in 2019 is improving cycle time and improving our customer service index (CSI) score.
Overall, our KPIs in these two areas are in the single digits but is that to say it’s where we want to be? No. It’s definitely an area that we want to focus on and improve. Right now, we do track cycle time and customer satisfaction on a daily basis.
I think time management helps me prioritize my work throughout the day. It’s important to know that you need to have a delicate work balance between being available for an employee if he or she needs you and, at the same time, getting your tasks done for the day.
I spend a lot of time at my computer, responding to emails and making appointments. I don’t keep track of a specific breakdown of how much time I allot for tasks and help sort issues, but I do set aside some time, whether that be an hour or half an hour for unexpected issues.
I prioritize work based on the urgency. If there is an email that needs to be answered, I send a response to the email before I do another task. I also have specific routines and reports that are associated with the days of the week. For example, I go over the company’s monthly reports roughly three to four days after the month ends.
There are also some weekly reports that I call “snapshots” in which each location’s performance is outlined for me. I go over these reports on the first Tuesday of every month.
Then, my other time is spent working in person with the staff. I like to help them tweak processes or help with a problem, if I can. I think it’s important to spend time with each team member and tend to the needs of the employees.
We’ve always been focused on giving back to the communities. We contribute to several, local nonprofits, raise money from our golf tournament to the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas and contribute to several of the schools in the communities we serve. We also partner with elementary schools, junior highs and high school booster clubs.
We started giving back to our community because my grandfather was very passionate about this. He believed that if he was going to run a business in the community and accept money for his services from those community members, then he needed to give back to them.
We’ve also started to look into Recycled Rides events. Currently, we’re working on an event in our area with first responders to provide them training with vehicles.
I do attend monthly 20 Group meetings through my paint company. Our paint company is BASF and I attend our 20 Group meeting in order to find out what is going on in the industry and hear perspectives from other leaders.
The other leaders in our group are part of different markets than us so in some cases, if you bring an issue to the group, another owner could offer advice on how he or she dealt with that in the past.
I also attend other meetings throughout the week. I meet not only with my 20 Group, but also with parts vendors, software vendors, insurance companies and my management team internally. Internally, I meet with the human resources person, or IT person to see what they need and what they’re working on. Then, I can take that information and apply it long-term to our strategic plan.
I probably have 15-20 official meetings in one week. When I meet with my staff, we meet in our office’s conference room and discuss goals for the week or month. It’s important for the team to understand what our quarterly goals are and what we’re trying to accomplish.
Our overarching philosophy is my grandfather’s statement and something he proposed. Everything our team does goes back to trying to make an unpleasant experience into a pleasant experience for the customer. An accident is an unpleasant situation so that is our No. 1 goal. So, if adding a location helps us make a situation more pleasant for someone in a new part of town, that’s what we’re going to do, or if improving our cycle time helps with that, then that’s what we’ll do.
We don’t necessarily say we want to be at a certain number within eight months or another timeframe. We have goals and we take whatever we were at last year and improve on that, but if we improve on those KPIs, that’s going to accomplish our overarching goal.
SHOP STATS: Herb's Paint & Body Location: 8 locations in Texas. Operator: Alan Walne and Robert Walne Average Monthly Car Count: 1,250 Staff Size: 185 for all locations Shop Size: average shop size is 16,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;$40 million