Running a Shop

Fueling Effective Shop Floor Communication

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In recent years, Aaron Glaser has undergone an evolution.
“You beat your head against the wall for so long, you realize you’re doing some things wrong,” says Glaser, the owner of four Glaser’s Collision Centers in Kentucky.

A second generation shop owner, Glaser learned to run a shop through osmosis, almost automatically. For years, he thought leading by example would be enough to inspire his staff. So, he arrived at work each day and promptly placed his nose to the grindstone. 

Yet, Glaser eventually learned something was missing. There was a disconnect between

what he envisioned with regard to shop floor workflow and the reality he witnessed. It’s an issue all too common at body shops: communication starts lacking as shop leaders fail to get every employee on the same page. 

In recent years, Glaser, who oversees 53 staff members, has learned the value of frequent communication on a shop floor. 

“I realized you need to slow down, ask employees how they’re doing, and have a real conversation,” says the shop owner, whose business currently boasts a 98 percent CSI score. “When you have those connections and relationships—and a better understanding of each other—it makes the whole company run better.” 

Here’s a look at the keys to communicating in a manner that fuels efficiency on a shop floor—with tips from shop owners in multiple corners of the country, as well as longtime Axalta shop consultant Robert Rick.  

THE ESTIMATE

Rodrigo Torres’ staff says a lot by saying very little. 

Torres, now in his 13th year owning T&R Collision Center in Kingman, Ariz., has established processes that heavily utilize non-verbal communication. Autowriter markers play a large role, but so does visual documentation in what Torres calls his shop’s “blueprint room.” Refined procedures have helped make the estimating process streamlined at the Arizona facility, which produces an annual revenue of $1.5 million. 

“In most cases we don’t even need a repair order,” Torres notes, “because it’s all written on the vehicle.” 

The primary elements of T&R Collision Center’s estimating process include: 

estimators use Autowriter markers to note, in green, any areas on a vehicle that require repair

a CSR drives the vehicle to the wash bay, where a detailer gives it a 10-minute wash 

the vehicle then moves on to the blueprint room

And that 1,600-square-foot blueprint room serves as the key cog in an estimating process that has helped Torres’ 10-person staff find success. In the blueprint room, located next to the shop’s office, T&R Collision members build upon the initial estimate that was produced at vehicle drop-off. Then, they perform a 100-percent disassembly, and write in detail, with a marker on the vehicle, the type of repair work that lies ahead for technicians, as well as the projected labor time. If, for example, a repair part is discovered, an employee will simply write REPAIR in marker. 

It’s a simple, repeatable process that communicates a lot without requiring lengthy conversations. 

“Absolutely everything gets documented in the blueprint room, like if it needs frame work, or suspension,” Torres explains. “Then it goes on to the repair shop.” 

Of course, it helps to have parts pre-ordered and on-site, and to have the parts’ availability noted on a shop production board, so customers can be provided with a fairly accurate assessment of a delivery date. Torres’ staff sets up parts carts in the blueprint room, in a manner in which parts that will need to be replaced are set on a cart’s bottom shelf, parts in need of repair are placed on the middle shelf, and so forth. 

“Once the vehicle’s in the blueprint room and it’s completely disassembled and the blueprinter writes the initial repair order, we go over it together,” Torres says. “That blueprinting process was the best process we’ve adapted here—it just (creates) close communication.” 

TRACKING REPAIR PROGRESS

At Glaser’s Collision Centers, the shop floor kicks into gear at 8 a.m. sharp. “Not 7:59, not 8:02—8 o’clock on the nose,” owner Aaron Glaser notes. 

Yes, Aaron Glaser values precision. That’s why most of his employees begin their days by talking about what appears on shop production boards, analyzing each vehicle scheduled to roll out of the shop over the next 48 hours .

“We also try to give employees some other kind of information, like a cycle time report,” Glaser explains. “We talk about our goals. 

“For a long time I didn’t share numbers; I just didn’t think (employees) cared. Now we share our DRP scorecards with them, and it’s pretty cool how much ownership they took of it.” 

And those employee meetings aren’t exclusive to technicians; Glaser makes sure that his estimators, parts employees, and detailers attend, too, so everyone’s on the same page (he prefers to leave CSRs at the front of the shop during such meetings, to answer phones). 

Glaser tries hard to clarify his expectations for all repair work. That way, each employee

understands “the big picture,” he says. If a repair process is ever delayed, the instance is documented on a “process improvement form” and the staff reviews the issue at week’s end. 

At Glaser’s Kentucky shops, production boards are dedicated to repair work defined as paint, body, detail, office work, or total losses. The total-loss boards, for example, clearly explain if a vehicle was towable, if it has been released, and if the shop staff has its keys. 

In total, the dry-erase boards note each vehicle set to be delivered from the Kentucky shops within the next two days. And, next to those dry-erase boards, each of the four Glaser’s facilities has a roughly 60-inch monitor, mainly used to display updated CCC KPI dashboards. That means that, anytime an employee walks by those boards, they can quickly assess if the shop is hitting its goals. 

Clear, frequent communication, Glaser explains, helps employees strive to complete repairs on schedule. And, it helps his staff work as one. 

“We tell (employees), ‘We’re a team,’” the shop owner notes. “The enemy’s not inside these walls. If there’s an issue, let’s talk about it. You know, if you’re getting mad because the body men aren’t doing something, well, let’s ask them why; maybe they didn’t understand expectations.” 

PAINTING PROCESSES

Accountability, more than anything, has helped Shaun Arroyo’s Stockton, Calif., shop produce $1 million in annual revenue, despite the fact it was down to just one painter recently. 

Arroyo, whose eight-employee shop boasts a 4.9-star rating on carwise.com, makes sure staff members are handed production schedules every day, and that painters are included in repair planning, and kept updated if parts have yet to arrive from the dealer. And, if vehicles have to be primed at Aurora Collision Center, employees note on a white board the associated RO number, along with the car and primer. 

That largely ensures that the paint department at Arroyo’s facility is in sync with the rest of the shop. 

“We have checks and balances so nobody can say they didn’t know” something, the longtime shop owner says. 

To facilitate a solid stream of communication between Aurora Collision Center’s employees, Arroyo utilizes a CCC One shop management system. He invested $4,500 to purchase 10 used Motorola walkie-talkies for employees to use throughout his 14,000-square-foot facility (“If there’s a problem with a color on a bumper in the paint shop, technicians will call the front office and say ‘You need to come look at this,” Arroyo says with regard to walkie-talkie use. That way, “They’re not walking back and forth between departments.”). 

And, as vehicles shift from the body area to the paint department and move toward their delivery date in his northern California facility, Arroyo expects a quality-control check to be performed and, if necessary, discussed among employees. 

“The paint shop knows that, when the car comes over from body, they need to inspect it,” says Arroyo, whose business typically employs two or three painters. “Are there any imperfections that need to be handled? If so, then they tell the technician that brought it over, ‘Hey, this needs to be fixed before I can prime.’

“The paint shop knows that, if they prime it, they own it.” 

Arroyo always welcomes feedback from employees like his painter, too, in an effort to shore up any processes that fall short of his high standards. 

“It’s always good to check in and say ‘Okay, we fell short here; how can we improve this? What did you see out there?’” the shop owner says.  

Consistent, open-lines of dialogue, Arroyo notes, typically help a shop’s workflow roll along smoothly. 

DETAIL WORK

John Magowan prides himself on attention to detail. 

As a result, at the Wisconsin shop owner’s business, Ernie’s Auto Body, every procedure is documented throughout the repair process. And, every member of the shop floor team at the Hayward, Wis., facility is part of the huddle, as repair work is planned. That includes his detailer, who’s often coached by veteran staff members. 

“Our entire staff, especially on the shop floor, is a team,” says Magowan, who has worked in collision repair for over 30 years and serves as the vice president of Key Choice Collision Centers, a group of shops that does group purchasing and training.  

Before detailers are hired in Hayward, they’re interviewed in a group setting. Then, Magowan discusses with the group whether or not the prospective detailer looks like a good fit with their staff, as well as if they appear to have an exemplary work ethic. 

Those group discussions have worked well; the last five detailers hired at the Wisconsin shop have eventually ascended into long term roles there. 

“With us being in a team atmosphere here, all of the technicians are motivated to bring the lower-level (employees) along,” explains Magowan, who puts detailers in charge of the intake of vehicles at Ernie’s Auto Body. “If we can get a detailer involved in the repair process, and make them as efficient as possible, it benefits the entire repair as far as the movement throughout the process.” 

Magowan urges the detailer at his $2.6-million-per-year shop to have their eyes on the repair process as vehicles move throughout the facility That way, the detailer typically has a good feel for when a car is going to require their attention. And, during the Wisconsin shop’s two, daily production meetings, the detailer is also kept abreast of when they’ll likely need to apply the finishing touches to vehicles prior to delivery. 

Detailers “also get involved in the reassembly process if they’ve got time available,” Magowan notes, “so they know that a car’s going to be coming to them.” 

During Ernie’s Auto Body’s 15-minute production meetings, everybody, including detailers, “lays hands on a car,” says Magowan, whose shop boasts a 95-percent CSI score. “Typically, that’s been a big win for us.

“The last five people that have held that position have moved (up) within the company,” he adds of detailers, “to become employees that can embrace change, become part of a learning environment, and have a strong participation in our mission for constant improvement.” 

Above all else, transparent communication helps shop floor employees work as one. Glaser, for one, has certainly seen evidence of that at his Kentucky facilities. 

Production meetings, dry-erase boards, and consistent postings of KPI dashboards have his staff as motivated as ever. 

For instance, these days, performance goals are a constant source of conversation at Glaser’s Collision Centers. Employees pay close attention to their sales figures and cycle time in relation to their market. 

“It’s really pretty cool to watch them strive to meet the (shops’) goals,” Glaser says of his employees. “Over time, mainly through communication, we’ve been able to build a culture where people are here for more than just a paycheck.” 

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