Running a Shop Operations

Break the Supplement Mindset

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A small man with a huge pencil checking of massive checklists

Supplements are just an unavoidable aspect of collision repair, right?

One might get that impression based on results from the 2021 FenderBender Industry Survey, where 74 percent of responding shops reported they had an average supplement ratio of 11 percent or more. Just more than 37 percent of shops reported their supplement ratio as 25 percent or more.

In the minority, though, were the 9.5 percent of responding shops that reported an average supplement ratio of less than 5 percent.

There’s a solid argument to be made for minimizing supplements, summed up succinctly by Jered Tucker, owner of Tucker Auto Body & Towing, which has an annual revenue of $3.8 million per year.

“They’re going to cost you money and time and time is money,” says Tucker, who got into the family business at 16 driving a tow truck and bought out his father to become owner of the Imperial, Calif., shop nearly five years ago. 

So how can collision repairers break away from the supplement status quo? 

AkzoNobel senior services consultant Tim Ronak argues a change in mindset is needed in how shops approach the early stages of repairs. He says some of the shops with which he works have gotten their supplement ratios down to 3 percent or less.

And then there’s how to actually head-off supplements in the repair planning stage, a process that Tucker has broken down into six steps.

Stop Guessing

So what’s wrong with repairers’ current mindset? Ronak pinpoints the very idea of starting the repair process with an estimate.

“The original estimate is exactly that—if you look up the definition of an ‘estimate,’ it’s a guess,” he says. “It’s not a precise amount, it’s a guess, an approximation.”  

Ronak advocates for a much more thorough process up front. That means shops should move away from the very concept of estimating.

”That ‘We’ll Get It Later’ approach is an ineffective way,” he says, suggesting a much better way to start the process is with repair planning.

“When you’re doing repair planning, you’re no longer guessing,” says Ronak. “We’re trying to get these guys to be far more detailed in their analysis of damage, and the term ‘estimator’ does a disservice.”

A starting place for getting past the estimate mindset, he says, is through strategic disassembly of every vehicle as it comes into your shop, no matter what.

“Take it apart and then fully document everything that’s required for that repair, at that moment in time,” Ronak says.

Like so many new ways of doing things on the shop floor, that’s easier said than done. Here’s where Tucker comes in.

The Process

Tucker says that, even before his staff puts its hands on a vehicle, employees first work with customers on the shop’s Client Relation Questionnaire.

“Our first step is we have to communicate with the customer on what happened in the accident,” he says. “Some people might get hit on the right side and they might not tell you they then hit a curb on the left side. [Without that] you’re not even looking for that damage.”

The questionnaire also asks who was in the car at the time of the collision, how it drives, and if any dash lights are lit, Tucker says.

With a more complete picture of the crash in hand, this is where Tucker Auto Body’s six-step repair planning process comes in, in the form of a blueprinting checklist that’s put in every job packet.      

“What it comes down to in blueprinting is we’re trying to tell a story, and build that story back together,” Tucker says.

  1. The first checkbox is for the researcher, who, before the vehicle is touched, makes sure its DTCs are covered, checks to see if it needs an alignment and gets it one if need be, and then identifies any missing parts, Tucker says.  The researcher also starts the process of pulling repair procedures and diagrams.
  2. Next is disassembly, during which a technician removes R&I parts and puts them in their designated box (the location of which is marked on the floor), putting parts that will be replaced into a different box, Tucker says. Clips from the disassembly are put in bags; damaged clips are marked and bagged and taped to the top of a parts cart. The technician signs off on the checklist that there was a 100 percent disassembly. 
  3. The third step is a second look at R&I parts. Another technician works with the tech who carried out the disassembly to double check there's no damage to those parts. Tucker says this step recently saved time when a tech noticed a parking sensor that had been considered R&I was missing a small tab. “Unless you look at it real close, you can’t tell it’s broken, so we’re trying to catch that little stuff,” says Tucker. The second tech then signs off on the step.
  4. The researcher returns with the diagrams and gives them to the blueprinter so he or she can study them and understand the repair procedures for the vehicle, Tucker says.
  5. Next, a painter takes a look at the disassembled vehicle to flag any operations he or she thinks could need to be done. “Say he thinks he needs a blend on the door, at that time he’ll tell them,” Tucker says.
  6. The final step is the repair planner signing off on the entire checklist, at which point the plan is approved, Tucker says.

There’s a simple logic behind that six-step process, says Tucker, whose shop has an average monthly car count of 100.

“If you put the work in, up front, you’re going to save a lot of time on the backend,” he says.

Makes and Misses

Despite his shop’s thorough and systematic repair planning approach, Tucker says needed parts can be missed, turning into supplements. 

He also says the supplement experience is completely different than it was before he put the system into place.

“We’re not ever having to pay for a big part or anything like that anymore,” he says. “Usually the only thing that’ll hurt us is we missed a little clip and it costs us a day.”

Ronak, who has consulted with Tucker Auto Body & Towing, says damage to mechanical or electrical components can also sometimes be missed because the systems couldn’t be powered up, or final scans show advanced driver-assistance systems that need calibration.

The gains far outweigh the setbacks, Tucker says, explaining that safety issues no longer crop up because repair procedures are pulled up front, and that they aren’t finding bent suspensions late in a job because of the early alignment checks.

Tucker says his shop’s biggest gains have been in time savings and profitability, “Keeping people from doing things twice.”


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