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How I Work: Ryan Hillenbrand

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Ryan Hillenbrand is a type three personality, according to the enneagram, a system of nine personality types that describe patterns in how people conceptualize the world and manage their emotions. That means he’s pragmatic, driven and success-oriented, even a role model.

For Hillenbrand, that pragmatism has been vital in growing his operation.

Roughly five to six years ago, Hillenbrand grew the collision repair side of the business by working hard to attract insurance partners and attract DRPs. The shop didn’t have any DRPs and generated roughly $300,000 in annual revenue. Once Hillenbrand started to partner with insurance companies, he grew the revenue to $600,000.

From early on, when Ryan Hillenbrand’s dad started the business, he created the shop as a dual collision repair center and mechanical repair shop to offer all types of services to the town.

Hillenbrand’s dad retired and now, Hillenbrand not only runs the entire shop operation, he also works full-time as the collision repair center manager. Within the time that Hillenbrand has taken over leadership of the body shop, he’s implemented lean principles. He’s reduced cycle time from 12 days to 7 days.

“Being successful is not about relying on yourself but being able to get past the small talk and ask the real questions of other resources in the industry,” Hillenbrand says.

He works day in and day out to hold his team accountable to constantly improving practices.


As told to Melissa Steinken


I’m an early riser so I usually wake up around 5:45 a.m. and then plan my day. When I wake up early, I focus on planning the day. I look into when I’m meeting with my team, what incoming or existing parts are at the shop and when parts or cars are expected to arrive. Then, once my team and I are in the shop, we go over the blueprinting process at 8:30 a.m. 

The mornings are all about working in production mode. I put my team in a situation in which they tear down vehicles early in the day so supplements are also written early in the morning. This way, the car gets pushed to reassembly. 


Probably one of the most profound ventures I did was to get my masters degree in business before tackling a role of leading a business. For instance, I now know how important it is to attend outside business council meetings and take regional classes on the collision repair industry topics. They constantly change. I’ve based my life around education and wanted to create a culture of training and learning.

My goal for the shop is to grow it into a stand-alone collision repair shop or a multi-shop entity. There are many challenges to growing the business, however. Right now, I think we need at least two more employees to handle the influx of work. 


We do two team meetings every day. My team and I sit down for a morning production meeting during which we get all the paperwork done. 

Then, in the afternoon, we do an afternoon schedule meeting. This happens right after all my guys take a lunch break between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. In the afternoon meeting, they’ll inform me on the times of repair completion and we’ll schedule quality control checks for the afternoon.


I’ve always been a “yes” shop. If a customer comes into the shop with a repair that would take less than 15 hours, then we’ll tell them to bring it in and we’ll turn it around quickly.. If anything is between 15 and 30 hours, then we schedule the vehicle during the week. 

In order to be able to say yes to customers walking in with repair jobs, we have to be on top of our scheduling. We use a production board based off kanban on our shop floor. Kanban is a Japanese scheduling methodology. We also schedule production in our CCC management system. However, production in CCC ONE and other tools can be cumbersome because technicians can often enter information twice. 

Our production board allows us to move the cars through the columns in our production cycle.


Despite liking new technology, I am also old-school. Every Monday, I’ll use one of my legal pads and write out four columns on it—incoming cars, cars needing supplements, cars expected to leave, and when we get paid for the car. 

By writing down the cars we have in the shop into these four categories, it’s helped with the wait time we have for parts. We’ve reduced the number of back-ordered parts we had before.


On the other side of the shop, I run my office like a doctor’s office. Every single car and customer gets a physical file folder. When we print off the estimates for the car, we print off two copies. This way, I can give my technicians one copy of the estimate and keep another copy of the estimate for the customer’s folder. Every folder is filed and kept once the customer’s car has been repaired and the customer portion of the repair paid and the supplement paid.

We keep the folders in a filing cabinet. We keep them for a year in a cabinet in my office and then store the files in filing cabinet storage for three years offsite. 


I’m generally in the shop until about 5 p.m. or sometimes 6 p.m. I  work through lunch because right now, I’m still working on the progression of the business.

I do work a lot and my focus is probably my biggest letdown. There’s always potential for me to lose my train of thought when I have to manage 14 employees and deal with customer service issues and business operations.

To keep myself on track, I write down notes for myself. It’s as simple as writing a note on a post-it so that I can remember the last task I was working on. I also use the moments when I have to drive to pick up a part or other tool to take a mental break so I can refocus when I’m back in the shop.


I’ve worked to build a team that helps me maintain my focus on goals. I’m a personality type three in the Enneagram and I decided to test the personalities of every person I hire for Urb’s. I give each new hire an Enneagram personality test. This way, I can try to hire people for their skill-sets and look for other “performers” because we work well together. 

Recently, I had to let my body shop manager go and took over as the body shop manager myself. We increased revenue for a month from about $150,00 to $250,000. 


In order to constantly work on the culture of the shop and encourage my team to keep learning, I stay up to date with our certifications. I use Trainual, which is a template that you can plug all your in-house repair procedures and SOPs into. Then it creates a training manual for your facility and allows you to scale to accommodate the size of your business.

We cross-train our auto repair and collision repair shops. I have my managers overseeing the auto repair side of the business right now but they could step in and help in the collision repair side if they needed to. To teach my younger staff how to do repairs, I have them work on rental cars. We don’t make money on the repair work on rental cars but it’s great practice.


SHOP STATS: Urb's Garage and Collision Center  Location: Burlington, Ky.  Operator: Ryan Hillenbrand  Average Monthly Car Count: 40 cars  Staff Size: 5 (estimator, body shop manager, non-structural steel technician, painter, owner)  Shop Size: 7,200 square feet Annual Revenue: $1 million  

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