Running a Shop

Rethinking Safe Business Practices Amid Pandemic

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In recent months, the spread of COVID-19 left countless shutdowns in its wake. 

The responses have varied across the United States. At the beginning of May, several states began reopening businesses. Body shops were deemed an essential business since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with the coronavirus simply not fading away, collision repair facilities need to prepare their business for the new normal.

Greg Smith, owner of Boruske Brothers Collision Center in Dayton, Ky., has remained open at full capacity with his shop since the beginning of the pandemic. He and his team are gearing up for more business for the $1.5 million body shop toward the end of June. 

Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, shares advice on how a body shop can successfully handle various reopening directions. Ralston’s background is in corporate taxation and public policy. Iowa is one of the states that began opening its retail stores in certain counties in early May.

Smith shares his experience preparing for more business and Ralston shares his tips for small businesses to implement. 

Mike Ralston

What are the best practices for a business to navigate the coronavirus?

Businesses want to make sure to keep their employees safe and healthy. Make sure to deep clean the facility. Make sure that their employees wear masks. Other good practices include temperature screenings for each shift and to wear gloves. If there’s a way to do it, certainly try to keep employees six feet apart.

What are the challenges you’re hearing from businesses?

The biggest challenge is: What if you have a situation where you can’t keep employees six feet apart? Employers are doing a couple of different things. One, they might try staggered shifts so employees are working different times. Two, they might install barriers.  I know of manufacturers installing barriers between workstations. They might reconfigure their production floor to provide more space. 

What are the best resources a business owner can turn to for more information about the COVID-19 virus?

There is a ton of information on the IBA’s COVID-19 page right now. There’s information on how to help employees file for unemployment, how to access the Paycheck Protection Program and items like that.

The other place I’d recommend is CIRAS, which stands for the Center for Industrial Research and Service at Iowa State University. It’s absolutely a fantastic place to go to for information on COVID-19 assistance. 

If an employee is concerned about returning to work, how should employers handle that?

If you’re an employee that’s exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, you need to talk to your employer. That dialogue is really important. In every instance I know of, employers want to work with their employees to keep them safe. Make sure they get the help and the test they need. 

If  they’re concerned, I as an employer would want to know that and want to find ways to have the employee come back to work. 

Greg Smith

What safety measures have you put into place while remaining open?

Our facility’s 10,000 square feet and we have a team of 10 here, so practicing social distancing has been fairly easy. We’ve implemented temperature checks with an infrared thermometer and all my employees are wearing masks and gloves.

For customer vehicles, we’re disinfecting the car right when it comes into the shop and right before it leaves. The detail guy pays close attention to all the touchpoints of the car like the steering wheel, the gear shift, door handles and temperature control knobs.

Do you offer any online services to make it easier for customers?

Back in October, we started using BodyShop Booster and that’s been a huge help now. We typically pick up a vehicle and drop it off for the customer and, through BodyShop Booster, we’re able to send the customer a link for them to follow a tutorial. The tutorial guides them through taking pictures of the damage  and sending them to the shop. We’ll write the estimate here and often send the estimate through email.

How have internal communications changed between you and your staff?

We still conduct a daily production meeting at 8:15 a.m. every morning but now we try to make the meeting shorter and have everyone stand around in a circle with distance between each other. When we’re all working, we definitely have increased the use of text messaging, emailing or assigning each other to tasks through our CCC management system. We see each other less throughout the day for updates on the repair.

I’ve made it a priority to tell my team that if they’re not comfortable with events happening, they can come to me any time off to the side and we can talk. We did have one employee with a wife who worked at the hospital. She got sick and had to be tested for COVID-19. So, while we waited for the test to come back, that employee was home and quarantined. 

Do you expect to see more business now that other stores in your state are reopening?

During this COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen fewer cars in the shop but we’re only down in business by about 15 to 20 percent. We do predict that business will pick back up in June, since more people will be driving during the reopenings.

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