Carl Garcia has always been a firm believer in education and training. He faithfully sent his technicians to I-CAR classes, knowing a well-trained staff was essential to the success of his collision repair center. But the co-owner of Carl’s Collision Center in Fall River, Mass., soon realized that sending employees to training was a fast drain of resources. Having technicians leave work early to travel 45 minutes across town to class was causing a drop in shop efficiency.
So, in 2005, when Garcia purchased a new building to accommodate his growing business, he had a plan in mind: to dedicate part of the new space to training. He envisioned a center that would host on-site I-CAR classes, cultivate relationships with vendors, even educate clients. Garcia’s forward thinking has been a huge benefit to the shop. Now, he saves both time and money by keeping technicians close with on-site training, and by deepening vendor and customer relationships through education.
A SMART INVESTMENT
Garcia says the value of having a training center at the shop—which spans 33,000 square feet, has 60 employees and hits $8 million in annual revenue—is that it helps him establish buy-in from his staff on important business philosophies. “I can have the greatest idea in the world, but if I can’t sell it to all of my employees, it means absolutely nothing,” he says. “The only way to get everyone to buy into [shop policies] was to bring them to one place. That’s why it was so important to create the training center.”
The on-site space also saves Garcia time and money. He says his billable hours have improved by leaps and bounds. “We don’t have wasted billable hours. Whatever is dedicated to training is dedicated to training. It’s not [spent] getting them to and from the location.”
He allocates about 3 percent of his technicians’ total billable hours to training. Here’s how Garcia does the math: a 40-hour-a-week employee generates about 2,000 billable hours per year. Considering the employee is performing at a 92 percent efficiency rate—the goal at Carl’s Collision—that’s 1,840 hours per year. “If you can dedicate 60 of those hours to training, 3 percent, that’s making a better employee,” Garcia says. “To me, training is building equity in your company. The better you train them, the more efficient you become.”
To design the training center, Garcia gutted a showroom that was part of the building’s original floor plan. He then converted half the room to front office space, and the other half he developed into a robust education and meeting room. The space is adjacent to the shop’s lobby, enclosed by glass doors and proudly marked “Training Center.” The space is outfitted with an overhead projector, two large white boards and tables to seat nearly 50 people.
The training space provides Garcia with the opportunity to better serve three of the collision repair center’s most valuable stakeholders: staff, suppliers and customers. Here’s how the center has enhanced these critical areas of his business:
Better educated staff. Garcia facilitates 12 I-CAR courses per year in the classroom, and he plans to add more. As a board member of the Auto Damage Appraisers Licensing Board of Massachusetts, he intends to have one of the instructors on the board begin teaching night classes to help prepare folks for their licensing test. Garcia’s work on the board has also given him the opportunity to network with local insurers, and he plans to teach a class called “Sensible Estimating,” which will help repairers bridge better connections with insurance companies. The I-CAR courses, in conjunction with additional course offerings, will provide staff with plenty of educational opportunities—and that, in turn, will increase the overall knowledge base and competency of his team.
Stronger supplier relations. Garcia has made the classroom available for local supplier use, a decision intended to foster better communication and relationships between the two parties. This month, his local paint vendor, ChemSpec, will begin using the space. Pete Mahoney, ChemSpec’s Technical Field Support Trainer, says the classroom is in an ideal location to train his customers. Squared between New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Tellekamp says Carl’s Collision is a great spot for painters and shop owners on the East coast to travel to for hands-on training.
“A lot of guys turn down training because they don’t want to miss multiple days of work because of having to fly,” he says. “This makes it easy and attainable, as attendees can travel to scheduled classes via car, without missing a day of work.” The training center will also be a great way to test-drive ChemSpec’s newest products. “This is the perfect environment to get feedback,” Mahoney says. “We’ll get different opinions from the guys during training classes and can then make adjustments before sending any product out for large-scale market evaluation.”
More knowledgeable customers. In addition to providing training space for vendors, Garcia uses the room as a place to better educate customers about the repair process. Eventually, the space will be a library of collision repair resources, complete with PowerPoint presentations, videos, charts and paint samples that will help folks understand and see exactly what will happen to their car during the repair process. Garcia describes his vision as a “WebMD for the collision repair industry.” Right now, he uses his growing supply of pictures, charts and paint samples to explain the repair process to customers. This helps to capture that hard-to-get-sale, as well as to deepen the level of trust. “Once you explain [the repair process] to them, you’ve created a bond,” Garcia says. “Relationships are what build our industry.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Going forward, Garcia plans to open the training center to local college students. He hopes to spark their interest in collision repair by offering classes that cover the basics of the industry. “I see a real need for some of the smaller shops that want to continue to grow [to hire] quality people to run and manage them,” he says. “If you take [a] senior in college and teach them about our industry, the job opportunities are endless.” Currently, Garcia is working with Bristol Community College and the University of Massachusetts to set up classes and schedule tours of the body shop.
Future plans aside, though, Garcia says the greatest benefit of the training center is that it allows his team to put out a better product for his customers. “The true measure you see from training is more repeat business coming in,” Garcia says. “It creates a better product for my customers, and that continues our growth.”