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Improved Operations Might Be Hiding in Plain Sight

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It’s an endless struggle for many body shops.

How can you inspire your staff to improve its efficiency? Where can your staff eliminate time-wasting inefficiencies? In an effort to provide solutions, FenderBender surveyed shop operators all over the country, gauging their struggles.

Then, the magazine spoke to accomplished body shop leaders to glean definitive answers for achieving ultimate efficiency.

Here are their tips, which, if utilized carefully, can help shops shift into the passing lane and leave their competition behind.

Hundreds of shop operators nationwide took FenderBender’s annual Industry Survey, and these four collision repair businesses finished among the top 10 percent.

Arrigo Collision Group
Location: Tamarac, Fla.
Collision manager: Tara Brock
Staff size: 14
Point-of-pride KPI: Job-start-to-completion cycle time (5.5 days)

“Be out there, be on the floor calling the shots like a great point guard in basketball.”—Tara Brock, collision manager for Arrigo Collision Group, on the importance communication.

The mere thought of trying to call Tara Brock at her desk makes her bosses laugh. Far more often than not, it’s a fruitless endeavor.

“I’m not at my desk; I’m out in the shop probably 80 percent of the day,” says Brock, the collision manager for the Arrigo Collision Group in southern Florida. “You’ve got to see what’s going on, you’ve got to be there for your technicians.”

And, for Brock, that’s the easiest way to ensure that her staff works efficiently and productively. And it works, judging by the fact her shop produces stellar KPIs like a job-start-to-completion cycle time of 5.5 days. The main shop that Brock oversees in the Fort Lauderdale area claims a CSI score of 98.6 percent, and the facility produces an annual revenue of $5.5 million.

Over the past two years, after implementing a few process changes, Brock has especially seen cycle time improve. If there’s a single thing that Brock’s more efficient tactics boil down to, it’s solid communication throughout the repair process. Says Brock, “Be out there, be on the floor calling the shots like a great point guard in basketball.” Here’s more:

All on the Same Page
Ask 10 techs what makes for a good teardown, and you might get just as many answers. “What one guy thinks is a good teardown … and what I think is a good teardown is different,” says Brock, underscoring the need to communicate and unify the shop into maintaining the same SOPs, job by job.

“Just constant communication throughout the shop—having everyone on board with the process” is crucial, she says. “Especially when you bring a new member to the team.”

Having great communication throughout the shop floor greatly aids efficiency. And utilizing a parts runner can offer a major assist in that respect. At ACG’s 50,000-square-foot Tamarac, Fla., location, the parts runner communicates with six body technicians throughout the day, frequently delivering parts and quickly locating any that are missing.

There are fringe efficiency benefits to using the parts runner, Brock notes, “It just avoids technicians having to leave their stall.”

External Communications
Off the shop floor, Brock says it’s been helpful to embrace CCC’s text and email messaging options to better convey information to car owners. “Customers are more open to electronic communication,” she says.

Brock also stresses the importance of staying in touch with peers—others at the shop-level in the industry—as well vendors like your paint company. When it comes to having conversations with, say, a BASF, she says, “you’re always going to learn something new.”

And, through discussing your frustrations and hangups with your jobbers and vendors, Brock says, you might just push them into action. She says in a number of instances that her techs and writers have received free training from vendors who’d heard her concerns, which went on to improve her shop’s procedures, and thus its efficiency.

Such free training opportunities, Brock says, are out there, “no matter if you’re a huge MSO or a big independent.” She says owners just have to ask.

Says Brock, “If you don’t, you’re just hurting yourself.”

Emerald Coast Collision Repair, Inc.
Location: Fort Walton, Fla.
Owner: Eric Polson
Staff size: 21
Point-of-pride KPI: Touch time (approx. 4 hours per day)

“We’re doing the same amount of business as three years ago but we don’t feel as busy as three years ago.”—Eric Polson, owner of Emerald Coast Collision Repair, on the effect of refining his shop’s procedures.

Sometimes the need for change builds slowly over months and years--for Eric Polson, owner of Emerald Coast Collision Repair, it happened in a single day.

Hurricane Michael, the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the contiguous United States in more than 25 years, made landfall on the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018. Polson’s Fort Walton shop was spared, but as he and his production manager, Nick Chauvin, tell it, every body shop in Panama City, 65 miles away, was leveled. That means Emerald Coast was inundated, not by the storm but by cars.

In the two days following the hurricane, 120 vehicles showed up at Polson’s shop and keys piled on the front counter. “You don’t even know who owns those cars,” says Polson. Before the storm, Chauvin says he thought Emerald Coast was a tight operation, “But the hurricane showed us we needed to be more efficient.”

The storm damaged some 70,000 cars in the area, Chauvin says, and that meant, according to Polson, that every body shop within 200 miles was busy for the next year. During that time, Emerald Coast, a DRP-reliant shop that brings in $4.3 million annually, worked to refine its processes with the goal of making them repeatable, and thus efficient. Polson says he brainstormed with his staff and found success.

“We’re doing the same amount of business as three years ago but we don’t feel as busy as three years ago,” he says. Here’s more on how Emerald Coast Collision Repair found efficiency through process.

Starting out Strong
Chauvin pinpoints full teardowns and thorough blueprints as the beginning of a thorough process. “If you’re not doing that you really start to see it in delays on the back end,” he says.

The message of starting out strong is stressed on a daily basis at Emerald Coast. Chauvin says strong processes only work so long as there’s buy-in and employees can see that they work. Polson says when the shop underwent its changes toward greater efficiency, there was some pushback, mostly from veteran techs who were set in their ways, though that resistance blew over once they saw that the new SOPs were working.

Another way the shop found efficiency through procedure was with the use of parts carts and totes. Parts organization is key, says Polson, noting that Emerald Coast’s parts cart system is a customized version of what Mike Anderson recommends. Carts full of pre-ordered parts are delivered to techs as they begin their teardown, and each part is mirror-matched.

The process aims to avoid supplements. Polson says it’d be one thing if he were located in Atlanta and, in need of a KIA part, had three dealers in the area to call instead of a single dealership, a day away. “If we are not doing our full teardowns and getting our full parts list, that’s going to create a three-day delay,” he says.

Communication as Part of the Process
Each day at Emerald Coast begins with a production meeting, Chauvin says, where the status of each car—where it's in its own process, parts needs, payment—is discussed.

Maintaining strong communication between the shop’s 21 staff members is a means to effective processes. “It really is a team effort and everybody’s got to be involved,” he says.

Working as a connected group leads to greater efficiency, big and small: If payment is still outstanding on a car and a detailer knows it, Chauvin says, he or she won’t have to wash it twice.

“Everybody’s got to talk,” he says.

Tom’s Body & Paint
Location: Visalia, Calif.
Manager: Brandon Maxwell
Staff size: 19
Point-of-pride KPI: average technician productivity 120%

“Scheduling is the pillar of other efficiencies in our shop.”—Haylee Maxell, production manager at Tom’s Body & Paint, on where her shop’s efficiency begins.

In Haylee Maxwell’s mind, the numbers rarely, if ever, lie.

Maxwell, the production manager at Tom’s Body & Paint, spends the majority of her day monitoring shop metrics. You can often find her studying CCC ONE’s production schedule function and its floor-plan view.

“I just look at the numbers and look at what needs to go based on the ‘out’ date,” she explains. “I track as much as I can and then schedule, once I know ‘Okay, I know [a specific employee] can hit these numbers. Scheduling, I think, really goes hand in hand with efficiency.”

In fact, Maxwell says, the efficiency gains of recent years at Tom’s Body & Paint can all be traced back to the way vehicles are planned to move through the shop.

“We went from doing 30 to 40 cars per month, to doing 90 and 120 within a couple of years,” she says. “I would say the No. 1 thing for making us more efficient was scheduling.”

With that jump in car count, so came an increase in cash, with Tom’s Body & Paint bringing in some $3 million per year, while boasting a technician productivity of 120 percent.

Here’s more on how scheduling--by considering what goes into each job and knowing each technician’s capacity--has become a superpower at Tom’s:

Informed Planning
“Scheduling is the pillar of other efficiencies in our shop,” says Maxwell, “we base everything off scheduling.”

And the starting point for the schedule at Tom’s Body & Paint, she says, is a baseline knowledge of what’s happening with the techs--how many are available, what their work loads are, what they’re most capable of doing.

From there, Maxwell says she treats each job file as “a whole little person,” meaning each file has its own set of traits to consider. In practice, she says evaluating each file comes down to four factors:
-Who’s paying?
-How many body hours, how many paint hours?
-Capacity
-Parts availability

With respect to payment, Maxwell says waiting on insurance can add days to a repair, so it’s the first thing she considers when building out her schedule. “[If I know a tech] has 10 jobs but two are waiting on insurance, he can do a little bumper job.”

Next to consider, simply enough, is the number of body hours and paint hours each job will require. “I try not to overwhelm [painters], either,” she says.

With knowledge of the shop’s work capacity already in place (built off knowledge of what’s happening with its techs), the final factor comes down to parts availability. Located between Bakersfield and Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Tom’s Body and Paint is a little out there--”We’re kind of at the mercy of deliveries for a lot of things,” Maxwell says.

Cascading Jobs
Once those four factors are considered, she says, “I schedule it like a dentist’s or doctor’s office, based on how many hours each guy can get.” And she’s broken the Monday through Friday mindset.

“I definitely work backwards,” she says, placing smaller jobs like bumpers on Fridays and Thursdays so they can be out the door before the weekend; bigger jobs that are likely to bleed into the next week can be scheduled mid-week; while midsize jobs are scheduled for Tuesday or Monday, so they can be finished that same week.

Of course, exactly how each week’s schedule will be laid out goes back to Maxwell knowing what’s up with her techs.

“Your tech capacity and your schedule go hand-in-hand,” she says. “Knowing what your techs can do dictates how you schedule out.”

Sawgrass Collision Center
Location: Sunrise, Fla.
Collision repair center manager: Bill Condron
Staff size: 45
Point-of-pride KPI: Technician efficiency (211 percent)

“If you don’t start out with good Wi-Fi, don’t bother.”—Bill Condron, collision repair center manager at Sawgrass Collision Center on giving laptops to estimators.

These days, Bill Condron proudly oversees a dealership collision repair center that churns out an average monthly car count of 300.

But things didn’t always run as smoothly at Sawgrass Collision Center. A while back, the facility, which encompasses a total of 45,000 square feet in two buildings, struggled with cycle time. While Condron credits a plan of putting in place standard operating procedures for every car that comes through the center—windshield checklists are followed and morning walk-arounds get everybody on the same page—the true solution to his efficiency woes was a simple piece of hardware.

He even says it might not sound like much of a turning point: He gave his estimators wireless laptops to use out in the shop.

“If there was one single thing that changed and turned the corner, I would say it was that,” says Condron.

Come 2020, Condron, by replacing his estimators’ notepads with computers and all that followed, had led Sawgrass to a far more efficient operation. Average keys-to-keys cycle times were down to 7.9 days and the average technician efficiency surge to 211 percent. Here’s more on the switch from paper to harddrive, and considerations to make should you go the same way:

Breaking Old Habits
Though Condron says his “old school” estimators were sure they could work twice as fast sticking with their notebooks, the switch to laptops, he says, made the estimation process 40 percent faster.

Going digital meant fewer trips to the car, no more forgotten details, and higher estimation accuracy because all details were going straight into the computer.

Condron’s estimators work alongside techs to blueprint cars and collaborate. Having the laptop in tow heads off confusion about gussets, brackets, and wire harnesses, he says. “You have the parts right there with your estimating package.”

Sawgrass Collision Center also makes use of mobile estimation stations--they’re basically laptops on steroids, with 24-inch screens and printers--furthering the process of getting things right the first time. “Everybody can see everything on a big high-def screen,” Condron says.

With less confusion comes more estimation accuracy, he adds. Whether for a bumper or a $2,500 wreck, he would say the notepad estimate averages out to about 75 percent accuracy. Nowadays, the center strives for 95 percent accurate first estimations. What if a supplement is needed?

“Whenever we do a supplement, once they put it into the computer, it goes directly from ProfitNet on the parts employees’ screen, so they’re seeing it right away and getting those parts ordered,” Condron says.

Getting it Right
“It does make things much more efficient for everyone,” he says of implementing laptops, “but everybody does have to drink the Kool-aid.”

Making a lasting switch means setting yourself up to succeed, Condron says. When piloting a laptop program, it’s not necessary to give a computer to your best estimator—pick the one who’s the most tech-savvy. Nail down laptop procedures with that single individual and troubleshoot issues as they come up. As the more efficient system comes into focus, Condron says, the other estimators will notice and it’ll be “easier to bring them along and get them involved.”

Also, make sure you have the right infrastructure in place to begin using laptops. Condron says he’s seen the frustrations that can come from a patchy Internet signal, so “If you don’t start out with good Wi-Fi, don’t bother.” Beyond, get the hardware right the first time, too.

“Going cheap on the laptop is not the way to go,” he says, noting he uses Durabook computers that are about $2,500 each. “This is something you’re going to use 10 times a day for years.”

Though Condron says the initial investment can be daunting, he contends even a quarter gain in efficiency is well worth it.

“What’s 25 percent of your business?” he asks.

SHOP NAME: Emerald Coast Collision Repair Inc.
LOCATION: Fort Walton, Fla.
OPERATOR: Eric Polson
SIZE: 16,000 square feet
STAFF: 21
AVERAGE MONTHLY CAR COUNT: 140
ANNUAL REVENUE: $4.3 million
TECHNICIAN EFFICIENCY: 210 percent
TECHNICIAN PRODUCTIVITY: 120 percent
KEY-TO-KEY CYCLE TIME: 12 days
TOUCH TIME: 3.3 hours
AVERAGE TICKET: $3,800
YEARLY GROSS PROFIT: 40 percent

SHOP NAME: Sawgrass Collision Center
LOCATION: Sunrise, Fla.
OPERATOR: Bill Condron
SIZE: 45,000 square feet (in two total buildings)
STAFF: 45
AVERAGE MONTHLY CAR COUNT: 300
ANNUAL REVENUE: $10.5 million
TECHNICIAN EFFICIENCY: 211 percent
TECHNICIAN PRODUCTIVITY: 86.4 avg. hours per week
KEY-TO-KEY CYCLE TIME: 7.9 days
TOUCH TIME: 3.0 hours
AVERAGE TICKET: $2,400

SHOP NAME: Tom’s Body & Paint
LOCATION: Visalia, Calif.
MANAGER: Brandon Maxwell
SIZE: 15,000 square feet
STAFF: 19
AVERAGE MONTHLY CAR COUNT: 110
ANNUAL REVENUE: $3 million
TECHNICIAN EFFICIENCY: 150 percent
TECHNICIAN PRODUCTIVITY: 120 percent
KEY-TO-KEY CYCLE TIME: 10 days
TOUCH TIME: 4.7 hours (including RVs and fleet vehicles)
AVERAGE TICKET: $2,836

SHOP NAME: Arrigo Collision Group
LOCATION: Tamarac, Fla.
MANAGER: Tara Brock
SIZE: 50,000 square feet
STAFF: 14
AVERAGE MONTHLY CAR COUNT: 85
ANNUAL REVENUE: $5.5 million
TECHNICIAN EFFICIENCY: 205 percent
TECHNICIAN PRODUCTIVITY: 119 percent
KEY-TO-KEY CYCLE TIME: 10.7 days
TOUCH TIME: 5.3 hours
AVERAGE TICKET: $3,800

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