Running a Shop Operations

What to Do When a Surprise Winter Storm Hits

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If you live in a state that experiences snow or ice storms—or lucky you, both—then you’re likely no stranger to the dreaded surprise winter storm that loves to sneak up out of nowhere. 

Whether it’s an inch of snow or a foot, the outcome is often the same for a collision repair shop … lots and lots of work pouring in from accidents that happen as a result of the hazardous driving conditions. 

While it’s great to have people knocking down your door, it also presents plenty of challenges—how do you make room in your schedule for these unexpected additions? Will you have enough staff to cover the amount of work pouring in? How will you set customer expectations around wait times? 

Jerald Stiele, owner of Collision Center 1 in Hopkins, Golden Valley, and Prior Lake, Minnesota, is no stranger to this kind of situation, and acknowledged that sudden influxes of work can be “a big challenge for shops.” These are his best tips for how to handle the situation should you ever find yourself in the midst of this kind of storm. 

As told to Lindsey Gainer 

Managing customer expectations is paramount. 

Over the past couple of years, we have not been affected as much by “the big winter storm” like we used to be … it seems the big storms with heavy snowfall are detected early enough now that people are better prepared. I think a lot of folks also have the ability to work from home now, and a heavy snow day gives them a good excuse to do so. What seems to give us a sudden, large influx of work is the “sneaky” 1-inch snowfall or sleet that people are not prepared for. After these types of winter events we can find ourselves overwhelmed with calls for tows or drop-offs of non-drivable vehicles. 

The most important thing we can do in these situations is manage the customer’s expectations. We only have the capacity to produce so much work and we need to make sure that our “in-process” inventory stays manageable. So, as difficult as it is, we sometimes get to the point where we can no longer accept additional tow-ins or non-drive drop-offs. Again, being a business owner, this is very difficult to do. We like to think that we should never turn work away or say no. In some situations, however, it is best for our business and our customers. We want to help everyone and profit from as many jobs as possible, but by accepting more work than we can efficiently handle we are setting ourselves up to disappoint our customers and overstress our staff. No one wins in that scenario. 

We try to continually evaluate what we have scheduled to come in and what we can efficiently produce and make decisions from there. 

Leave room in the schedule for the unexpected & communicate honestly. 

We try to proactively leave spots open in our schedule for this type of influx of work. These days we are scheduled out far enough that we can pull jobs in ahead of schedule if we don’t get the sudden winter storm. We have a scheduling system that an outside consultant helped us build based on our historical repair output. We categorize jobs into the different classes: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 size repairs. We take in a set number of each of these per day knowing that will maximize our efficiency.  

We do not completely turn a potential customer away when an influx hits—instead, we share honestly when we would realistically be able to start and complete their repair. We are very upfront about when our next Level 3 spot is available and, at times, that could be eight or more weeks out. We want to build life-long customers and ambassadors through honesty. 

Finally, don’t neglect to show appreciation to your staff. 

So much is demanded of us as a shop today—strictly adhering to ever-changing repair procedures, parts and supply shortages, staff shortages, increasing demands from insurance companies … I could go on and on. We have to truly value our entire team that is fighting these battles every day. We try our best to keep things fun and light at times and show appreciation, winter storm or not. 

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