Running a Shop Leadership

2019 FenderBender Awards: Greg Downer

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Greg Downer has a history of not waiting for his goals to come to fruition. Instead, he takes action, and works toward making them happen. 

When the body shop manager wanted to attend more events in the community, for instance, he took over as his employer’s representative at local Chamber of Commerce events.

When he wanted to volunteer in his community, he promptly offered his time as a coach for a youth hockey team. 

When Downer wanted to change careers three years ago, he entered the collision repair industry with no training. He entered the industry eagerly, diving into shop tasks alongside technicians.

“My role in the shop is to basically fill in the place with the greatest need,” says Downer, shop manager for Referral Collision in Shakopee, Minn.

In his time running the body shop, Downer has increased shop production, helping the shop’s annual revenue increase from roughly $1 million to $3 million in a three-year period. During that time, Downer helped manage Referral Collision’s transition to adding a second, production-focused facility. Part of that growth came from networking and growing referrals.

Today, Downer has an abundance of positive customer reviews on Facebook and Google.

One Google customer review notes the following: “I’m glad I brought my vehicle here. First off, Greg was very descriptive in the process and once in contact with him, he basically does everything for you from there! … If you want a simple process that is headache free, drop off your car to Referral Collision.” 

The main factor contributing to a roughly 65 percent growth in business stems from Downer’s push to increase the work for which the body shop was getting paid. For example, it was a battle to get companies to pay for diagnostic scans done on vehicles, or adjacent panel damage that occurred and had to be fixed when the technician was welding a new panel on the car. 

In order to get reimbursed, Downer focused on forming tighter relationships with insurance adjusters in his area. He sat down, outlined the repair process and spent the time with the adjuster to explain why technicians need to repair vehicles a certain way.

Downer developed a comeback tracker that is a list of areas where the vehicle had to internally go back in the repair process. The list detailed why inefficiencies occasionally occurred, like when a vehicle was returned to the paint department. By tracking such issues, Downer is able to meet with his shop floor staff and discuss areas they can improve in order to meet a scheduling goal of 400 hours each week.

“I think you need to work like hell to play like hell,” Downer says. “If I’m here in the shop and I’m working, I better be getting the job done well.”

Currently, Downer manages over $200,000 per month in sales. In July 2017, that number was $90,932 and the shop had an average monthly car count of about 55 cars. 

In May 2019, the shop increased the average monthly car count to 101 repairs and produced $211,000 in sales that month.

Through Downer’s scheduling process, smaller bumper jobs and lighter hits have a cycle time of roughly four days. If employees ever disagree on how a repair job was performed, Downer will sit down with a technician on a one-on-one basis or have an all-staff meeting to lay out the reason behind necessary repair procedures. 

These meetings typically take roughly 10 minutes and can often clarify for the team why Downer decided to sublet ADAS calibrations out to a dealership, for instance. Sometimes, the team might suggest using a different product for the car repair or using a different type of paint. 

Ultimately, the meetings serve as an opportunity for Downer to let his staff know that he heard their feedback and took their concerns into account.

From the get-go, Downer says it is important that a manager gets his or her hands “dirty” and helps the team out with repairs directly. 

“Going into the shop and talking to the team is one of the only ways to earn the respect of the crew,” Downer says.

Overall, Downer has played a vital role in shop operations.

“Greg has been a primary driver in the development and implementation of the new shop operating procedures,” Ben Furseth, marketing manager for Referral Collision and nominator, says. “Greg has a unique ability to connect with people, listen to their concerns and find solutions in a calm and collective way.”


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