Taking the Reins as a Young Owner
Like many family-owned collision repairers, Dingman’s Collision Center is shifting its leadership to the next generation while making the transition from mom-and-pop operation to finely tuned business. These twin challenges test even the finest shops, but Andy Dingman, 31-year-old co-owner and general manager, is leveraging his family’s trademark integrity, a customer-first approach and an emphasis on running lean to seamlessly handle the changes.
The Dingman family built a solid reputation as a trusted collision repair business in Omaha during the past 14 years. As competing collision repair outfits saw business slow, scrapped for jobs during the recession or just plain closed up shop, Dingman’s has enjoyed steady work. The company expanded to two locations, each 12,000 square feet, and chalked up record years.
Taking on increasing responsibility and leadership in recent years, Dingman belongs to the next wave of shop leaders who are helping modernize and professionalize the collision repair industry. A third-generation member of the auto repair business, he mastered the Dingman way just as his father, Boyd, learned it from his father.
The Dingman approach has earned the family significant recognition, including being named the city’s best auto body repair shop by Omaha Magazine for five years straight. In addition, Dingman’s earned the Integrity Award from Omaha’s Better Business Bureau in 2008 and the Small Business of the Year award from the Omaha Chamber of Commerce in 2006. The business results have followed: Dingman’s 25 employees repair about 50 vehicles a week, bringing in $4 million in revenue annually.
Boyd and Diana Dingman built their business on a foundation of integrity and doing the right thing for customers. “I’ve had employees tell me that they appreciate our willingness and our drive to repair the vehicles correctly,” says Boyd Dingman. “Without customers you have nothing and without good employees you have nothing.”
The couple hoped to attract some or all of their three children to the family business. Andy did just that in 1999 after attending college. Though he wasn’t positive he wanted to run Dingman’s, he always enjoyed working with his hands as a technician. Andy decided to make vehicle repair his life’s work after learning the nuts and bolts of the business and growing to love its varied challenges. “The industry is very complex,” says Dingman, who became a part owner when the shop added its second location in 2005. “No day is the same, so that keeps things interesting, exciting and fun.”
Dingman also discovered a deep satisfaction in upholding the shop’s values of first-rate work and customer service while working to advance the collision repair industry. Through industry involvement, Dingman learned new ways to run the collision center more efficiently—and profitably. Doing that, he believes, will help keep the Dingman family in business for years to come. “It feels good to contribute to that legacy of upholding our values over the course of a very long time,” he says.
Young, motivated folks like Dingman are just what the industry needs, notes Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). He finds this younger generation passionate about making a difference. “You constantly hear about this lack of youth coming into the industry, but then you see young guys like Andy jumping in feet-first and getting involved,” he says. “He brings that fresh perspective and can address issues that have been bothering the industry for decades.”
It’s important for shops to do more tracking of business metrics and to make decisions based on that information, rather than gut feel or tradition. That can be tough for family-run shops, Schulenburg acknowledges, but it helps them transition into professionally run companies. “The shops succeeding today have done a good job of running their business like any other business. That’s the key to the success of our industry today,” he says.
Similar to many young guns who are establishing themselves in the collision repair industry, Dingman has upended traditions and instituted new systems to make the repair center a better-run place. Professionalizing the company is a process Dingman launched several years ago, in partnership with his parents. It’s all part of his mission to marry the family’s honest operations with modern thinking on lean.
After working at Dingman’s for a while, Andy noticed some chronic sticky issues related to work flow. Learning tips and strategies from industry conferences and classes, including a Sherwin-Williams seminar, he developed strategies for eliminating waste and making Dingman’s operations more efficient. Overall, he takes a more proactive approach to solving problems instead of constantly dousing fires.
Streamlined supplies: Seeking to cut waste from Dingman’s operations, Andy standardized supply cabinets for every technician. Instead of allowing techs to order their favorite supplies—which made for an ordering, invoicing and tracking nightmare—Dingman’s selected the highest-quality brands and now stocks the same materials for everyone. “It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to have different suppliers or different colors for something that does the exact same thing,” Dingman says.
Previously, Dingman’s had four vendors selling supplies; now it has one that provides the shop with 95 percent of its materials. It’s easier to track how much product technicians actually need; the switch also helps Dingman’s use its supplies much more efficiently. Since Andy made the change this spring, the shop reduced its supplies consumption by 20 percent, saving upwards of $1,000 a month.
Going green: Dingman’s recently installed energy-saving light fixtures. They switched to less toxic waterborne paint two years ago. And the staff makes a concerted effort to recycle more of its materials. A separate Dumpster for cardboard, which gets recycled once a week, prevents Dingman’s from filling its trash cans with empty parts boxes.
Another effort on the horizon: “I’m chomping at the bit to go paperless,” says Dingman. “That way we won’t have to spend so many man hours looking for files and invoices.”
Easier estimating: Facing a classic lean issue of inefficient estimating, Dingman made significant changes at the beginning of this year. Previously, Dingman’s would write an estimate, order parts, and start working on the vehicle. Inevitably, technicians would discover additional damage that required two or three supplements. Repair time dragged, workloads tripled, and the shop’s receivables were delayed significantly. Now when a vehicle comes in for repair, it gets washed, and the repair process manager photographs the damage and notes it in detail. The body team disassembles the vehicle, and the manager and technicians from the body and finish departments work together to write a thorough estimate.
That teamwork and better communication cut Dingman’s cycle time from 10 days to an average of seven and drastically improved its receivables. “You’ve got to take the time up-front to save time at the back end,” Andy says. “Now we do it once and do it right.”
Communicating changes: Big changes, like lean, require considerable communication and buy-in throughout the shop staff. That’s not always easy. But Dingman brought his family members and shop employees on board seamlessly by clearly communicating the reason and intention behind his proposals. He also opened the door early and often for co-workers to weigh in on the new processes.
It helped Dingman that his team quickly saw the benefit—and results—of eliminating some nagging, time-wasting glitches, he says. They quickly realized that the more vehicles Dingman’s repairs, the more money everyone can make. Dingman furthered the communication efforts by sending six employees to the Sherwin-Williams lean seminar.
“Just because we’ve always done things one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way,” says Dingman. “We want to be bigger than when we started. We’re trying to do things differently and smarter.”
Boyd Dingman imbued his company with the core belief that “It’s not about Dingman’s, it’s about our market. What’s good for our industry will eventually be good for Dingman’s.” That’s a philosophy Andy Dingman embraces. To that end, the young co-owner has been active in industry organizations. Dingman devotes time to serving as a national director of SCRS, and he’s on Omaha’s I-CAR committee. A gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference, he belongs to a community college auto body advisory board, too.
Through industry involvement, Andy has gleaned ideas on improving Dingman’s while staying on top of the rapid changes hitting the collision repair industry. He has big plans for the future of Dingman’s, including a potential new location or another line of business to capitalize on the shop’s loyal customers.
“It’s a very exciting time in the industry,” Dingman says. “It’s an always-evolving business and it’s fun to be a part of it.”